3. The concept of the group

Humans are social animals. From the moment of our birth we are related to, and interact with other members of our species, having an effect on them and being affected by them. Beyond having a relation with other people in general, we become members of several groups during our lifetime, being involved of the activities of those groups.

Belonging to different groups seems to be an ancient drive for humans, that may have an evolutionary psychological explanation that belonging to groups may have provided a higher chance for the individual to survive, and to successfully bring up their offsprings.

Although the work of Zajonc (Zajonc et al., 1969) cited above showed that the mere presence of others, without any additional cognitive processes, have an effect on the individual, but groups including sports teams as well, are not only a mere gathering of individuals but have additional characteristics, hence the presence of others is a necessary but not sufficient condition for groups to form.

There is a plethora of definitions of groups social psychology offer of which probably Tajfel’s (1981) definition can be considered to be the simplest one. In Tajfel’s view we can define a group if two or more persons define themselves as members of the group. Other theoreticians gave a somewhat more elaborated definition, using different points of views. Sherif defined group as (Sherif & Sherif, 1969, p. 131.) as follows: “A group is a social unit consisting of a number of individuals who stand in role and status relationships to one another, stabilized in some degree at the time, and who possess a set of values or norms of their own regulating their behavior, at east in matters of consequence to the group.

Shaw (1976, p. 11) gives a more concise definition of groups: „Two or more persons who are interacting with one another in such a manner that each person influences and is influenced by each other person.” I case of sports teams it is an important characteristic of the group that there is interaction among the members of the group (at least in most cases, as we shall see), while there is a sense of common goals and common faith, as well as the not necessarily formal structure of the group. Hence it is characteristic of the people (of any number) forming the group that

  • they are aware of each other

  • they are related to each other

  • they consider themselves as a group

  • others consider them as a group

  • they behave according to the rules and norms of the group (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2005.)

There are several theories explaining the importance of being member of groups (Hewstone, Stroebe & Jonas, 2012):

The sociobiological approach emphasizes the (above already mentioned) adaptive value of groups, that is, the function of the group that it supports the survival of the individual, because s/he is more likely to obtain enough food, less likely to become a prey, more likely to be able to bring up their offsprings, etc. The tendency of human beings to create, and uphold groups is called the need to belong.

Social comparison theory emphasizes that we need feedback from our peers in order to validate our perceptions about the world. This drive is especially strong in such cases (for example when forming preferences, or in case of beliefs), when there is no “reality” that could be perceived objectively. According to social identity theory and self-categorization theory groups are important for people (as well), because group membership provides such a category system, that provides a great deal of information for us to be able to position ourselves in the world.

According to the utilitarian approach, based on social exchange theory, belonging to a group helps to have advantageous, many times mutually advantageous interactions, group membership support exchange among the members. This exchange may be verbatim sharing, like when you borrow the neighbor’s chain saw, but it may involve more abstract constructs like friendship, love, reinforcement, etc. Based on this theory we are happy, if the sum of the profit of these interactions exceeds the sum of the costs, resulting in a positive balance.

As far as belonging to sports groups are concerned, the most likely motivation to belong to a sport group is the need to belong, that is, the need to be in touch with others. This need is considered to be a basic human motivation, as it is seen as significant in a great variety of situations, has an effect on our cognitive and affective processes, in its absence the psychological adaptation and well-being can be harmed, that is, belonging to groups is satisfies a natural born need, and hence necessary form mental health. (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2005.)

Types of groups

There are a great number of approaches when it comes to categorizing groups, depending on the basis of the categorization.

A fundamental differentiation of groups is the differentiation between formal and informal groups in organizations.

In case of formal groups, the group’s existence is officially declared. Examples of these kinds of groups include work groups, project groups, or sports teams. In case of formal groups the group boundaries are usually officially defined and the formal roles within the group are known as well. Such formal groups are most of the time created within the frame of an organization, to accomplish some kind of specific goal or task.

Informal groups emerge spontaneously within the organizations. These informal groups mostly help to accomplish the individual goals of the members, and not that much of the goals of the organization. The informal groups within the organization bear a large impact in certain instances, and the information of these informal groups provide an advantage for the leaders of the organization, as many times it is easier to communicate and convince the members of the organization via these informal groups and relations. This is so because in the informal groups usually a higher level of trust is experienced among the members. Knowing the informal groups may be advantageous also for example in case of a sports team, as it may foster finding the proper way of intervention, for example when developing the formal group that includes the informal group.

Lickel et al. (2000) in their study made an attempt to categorize different kinds of groups. In their investigation the subjects were to classify forty groups into categories. The resulting classification was rather consistent for both the American and Polish sample. Based on their results four kinds of groups were described:

  • intimate groups (e.g., family, friends)

  • task groups (e.g., sport teams)

  • sociological groups (e.g., men, Afro-Americans, etc.)

  • and loose relations (e.g., group of people queuing in the post office) These four group types can be characterized with the following features:

  • interaction

  • importance

  • common goals

  • common results

  • similarity

  • endurance

  • permeability

  • size

  • entitativity (how much can the group be considered as an independent unit)

The groups can be located as low or high on these dimensions.