Study Shows Correlation Between Team and Individual Performance Among Distance Runners

By LetsRun.com
February 24, 2010

Back in August of 2009, we received this email from Curtis Suver:

"...My name is Curtis Suver and I'm a graduate student at UO in psychology (small groups lab) doing my masters thesis on group dynamics on cross country and track teams, specifically gender differences. I ran XC this last year for the ducks before getting hurt right before NCAA's.

To complete my research I need at least 1,000 people to fill out my completly anonymous online survey which takes about 15 minutes.

Once my thesis is complete I plan on writing an article about running team dynamics and would be more than happy to share my work with you.

Please feel free to e-mail or call anytime with any questions.

THANKS!"

We posted the survey for Suver (of course the big corporate running websites refused) and he wrote us back in a few weeks thanking us. LetsRun.com readers had responded and helped Suver get hundreds of responses. Using the anonymous surveys, Suver and Dr. Holly Arrow completed their study and found a striking result. Quoting Suver's summary that you can read in full below, we found this very interesting:

STATE CROSS COUNTRY "The most striking result was that although the levels of the group dynamics variables were very similar for males and females, they played a stronger and more consistent role in predicting individual performance outcomes for the men.  Men who strongly identified with their teams and reported high group cohesion also reported a higher level of effort and satisfaction with their running performance.  For women, the association of these variables with performance was weaker or absent altogether."

It's not shocking to us that the team identity is so important to the performance of male distance runners, but we had never seen it before in a scientific study. Thumbs up to Suver and Dr. Arrow for designing and pulling off this research. It's clear proof that cross country and even track and field are team sports despite individuals running their own races. It's also clear evidence for coaches (especially of male teams) that getting your team to buy into the team concept will help the individuals perform better.

 

 

 

*****************
Suver's summary of the complete report:

************************
"Running on Separate Tracks"

Curtis Suver and Holly Arrow

Athletes who compete in teams want to be seen as good team players, but in some sports, the ability to perform well does not actually require a cohesive team. Cross Country runners, for example, may coordinate with team mates during a race, but the team result is comprised of individual performances. Does this make Cross Country an individual or team sport? It is a bit of both.  Running coaches have to attend to and promote both teamwork and individualism. National Championship coach Andy Powell from the University of Oregon says, “the challenge in coaching is always trying to accomplish the team goal, make sure everyone is out there running for the team, but still meeting the individual needs of each athlete at the same time.”   Our research project was designed to explore the degree to which team factors contribute to runners’ individual effort and satisfaction with their own performance. 

      Runners completed an online survey, which they learned about from coaches, friends, or the website www.letsrun.com, which asked about their experiences with a running group.  They completed questionnaires measuring group dynamic variables such as collective interdependence, group identification, and cohesion, and also reported their perceived level of effort and their satisfaction with their running performance as part of the group.  We used these measures to test the degree to which group dynamic variables predicted performance for male and female runners.  This could be useful information for coaches who are trying to help their teams perform at the highest possible level.

      The most striking result was that although the levels of the group dynamics variables were very similar for males and females, they played a stronger and more consistent role in predicting individual performance outcomes for the men.  Men who strongly identified with their teams and reported high group cohesion also reported a higher level of effort and satisfaction with their running performance.  For women, the association of these variables with performance was weaker or absent altogether.

      We also measured the overall importance of group relationships generally for each individual. Regardless of how strongly a person identifies with any particular group, people differ in how important belonging to groups is to them.  Men and women in our study generally gave high ratings for the importance of group relationships in their lives, but this only predicted individual running performance for men.   Male runners who especially value group relationships reported better individual performance on their teams than men for whom groups were less important.  For women, the importance of groups appeared not to affect their performance.   When it comes to group dynamics variables, it appear than men and women are “running on separate tracks.”  

      It is important to recognize that identifying with their teammates and having a cohesive team may matter a great deal to women, just as it does to men.  What seems to be different is that female runners’ level of effort and success in individual performance is less affected.  For women, putting out their best effort and competing well seems equally likely with or without these team aspects. As University of Oregon All-American Mattie Bridgmon said, “the team definitely helps, but in the end it comes down to me performing.”  For men, low group cohesion and group identification are more likely to go with reduced effort and less satisfactory performance in competition.   Strong group dynamics go with strong individual performance.  Olympian Galen Rupp expressed this connection when he told me “with a real close group of guys you want to perform well mostly so you don’t let your teammates down.”

      Results from this study have, we hope, shed a little more light on how teamwork is connected to performance in sports in which performance is individual rather than a product of highly interactive group coordination. For male distance runners, we found a consistent connection between group variables and individual effort and performance. For female runners, we ended up with more new questions than answers.  If the variables we measured didn’t predict performance, would some other social variable, such as each individual runner’s relationship with the coach, be more predictive of performance? We found no reason to discourage coaches and athletes in both men’s and women’s teams to strive for good teamwork as well as attending to the individual coaching needs of each runner. But contrary to our expectations when we began the research project, the performance of female runners seems to be less affected by teamwork than men’s.  Texas A & M’s national championship Head Coach Pat Henry states “We are an individual sport, but we better be a team sport in today’s athletic environment.”

 

 

 

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