One of the best ways to understand how people, groups of people or a social entity relates to one another is through social network analysis. This concept has been used for many times in analyzing the relationships between individuals or a group with the aim of either improving the performance of such groups or for other purposes.
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One of the fields where social network analysis is very much applicable is in the world of sports. This paper discusses the concept of social network analysis, its importance and applicability in the field of sports for both amateurs and professionals.
A social network refers to a group of individuals who have come together for a common purpose and the achievement of such a purpose depends on the social relationships among the different members of the network in terms of behaviors, perception, beliefs, values and attitude. A social network are all over the society and can be seen in organized groups such as drug cartel networks, school and college student networks, sports networks among others.
Luschen (1980) gave an example of a social network “sport is an institution or social behavior whose core objective is competition based on skill and strategy; the specific behavior ranges from games of children to the contests of professional athletes” (Luschen, 1980, p. 1).
Social Network Analysis
Social network analysis as the name suggests refers to the art of analyzing the different connections between two or more people who have a common objective or reason for being together such as analysis of a football team.
The analysis aims at understanding different personalities in each individual, how they relate to the other entities, their influence, their perception about the other members and so many other aspects. Social network analysis can thus be seen as a multi-factorial study and analysis of behaviors and relationships between and among a group of entities.
Dean, Garry and, Peter defined social network analysis as “a set of methodological tools that focus on the relationships among social entities, and on the patterns and implications of these relationships” (Dean, Garry and Peter, 2010, p. 4).
One of the applications of social network analysis (SNA) is in the field of sports. This is because any sports team replicates a social system whose performance depends on all the possible relationships among all the participants.
Social network analysis in the world of sports is so imperative that so much studies and investments have been made in order to enhance the performance of teams especially in these competitive times. Sports social network analysis may be focused on identifying players who are most influential in a team, understand the flow of information from different levels of hierarchical structure of a team management and also among team members (Park and Yilmaz, 2010).
Importance of Social Network Analysis in Sports
It is worth noting that in a sports team all teammates can never be the same in terms of personality, experience, abilities, influence, and talent wise. In addition, all team members do not play the same roles and even those who do may have different ways and methods of handling tasks and issues.
It thus becomes imperative to qualitatively comprehend all these relationships and how best to use the information gathered for the benefit of a team. Social networks have different concepts that are used to determine the different relational perspectives in a social network.
According to Dean, Garry and Peter (2010), reciprocity is “the tendency for mutuality in relations between people in a network” (p.9). By use of SNA it may be easier to understand how different team members such as football players interact with each other. While some team players may value reciprocity such that they respond positively to actions of other team members others may be different.
This information is valuable to a professional player as it can be easily be used to understand teammates (Fast and Jensen, n.d.). This will enable the player to enhance his interpersonal relation with other team members both in and out of the field. An amateur may be advised to relate more with individuals who are more likely to reciprocate his actions and this will enable him to learn faster from the other experienced team mates (Dean, Garry and Peter, 2010).
Centrality refers to the characteristic of a team player to have an influence or have an element of prominence. Some people are more prominent and influential in any social set up be it in decision making or practical activities in the fieldwork. It is argued that:
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Actors who have more ties to other actors may be in advantaged positions. Because they have many ties, they may have alternative ways to satisfy needs, and hence are less dependent on other individuals. Because they have many ties, they may have access to, and be able to call on more of the resources of the network as a whole. (Hanneman, n.d. p. 1)
Influential and prominent players are always given the critical positions in the team. Understanding this concept may be very important for a professional sports person in that it will enable one to acknowledge the importance of other influential team players and how best to interact with them. For amateurs it may be necessary to know and understand the key players in any team and the best way to interact with them both socially and in the field to enable them gain experience and expertise quite fast (Hanneman, n.d.).
These are members of social network who share common behaviors and are usually referred to as cliques. It is claimed that “a clique is one possible representation of a cohesive subgroup; within such subgroups, different norms of behavior may operate” (Dean, Garry and Peter, 2010, p. 10). Most social networks do have cliques and unless one understands the formulation movement and how these subgroups relate it will be quite difficult to relate with them.
It is also claimed that a subgroup “consists of actors connected through dense, direct, reciprocated choice relations that enable members to share information, create solidarity, act collectively” (Wasserman and Faust, 1994, p. 6) Team players both professionals and amateurs need to understand these subgroups and their characteristics in order to socially integrate with them and also enhance cooperation in the field.
Different people in a social network have different levels of influence, personality and technical knowhow however, it may happen that in a social network such as in a sports community two or more players may have more or less influence in the team thus attracting groups of junior players who always look up to them as role models.
This is very important in structuring the flow of information as well as mentorship (Duch, Waitzman and Amaral, 2010). Professionals need to understand their level of influence in teams and also the levels of influence of other team players to avoid conflicts in the social network. Amateurs also need to be aware of such structural influences and decide which one would be the best for them and also avoid conflicting with other structures in the team (Jenny, 2010).
Structural holes and bridges
There are those individuals in a sport social network that are very important such that their absence may bring instability in the team especially in football. This can be clearly seen when some football players are taken off in an important match.
The chances of the team winning are greatly reduced. Such players are usually referred as bridges and the positions that they hold are called structural holes (Burt, 2001). Jenny argues that players on these posts are indispensable he claimed that “in this sense, players have more active roles in deciding what social interaction would occur in their social structure” (Jenny, 2010, p. 1).
Professionals in sports need to understand such structural bridges and this is very important when making core decisions in the team (Sports, 2011). Making a replacement for such team players may need understanding of the role of such players and only replacing them with equivalently talented players (Houlihan, 2008).
This is the tendency of individuals in a social network to group together or form friendship based on certain characteristics. This can be seen in sports networks whereby player form relations based on attributes such as similarity in culture, race, language, age or even similarities in physical attributes (Patterson, Carron and Loughead, 2005).
Understanding how different social networks form relations is of utmost importance to both amateurs and professionals in that they will know which groups are likely to accommodate them with ease than others. In addition the concept may also be used to initiate and attract new social networks and this can help boost the relations among the team mates who will eventually lead to better performance (Park and Yilmaz, 2010).
It is also suggested that “friendship segregation is highest in moderately heterogeneous settings because the body of literature on homophily strongly suggests that people have the propensity to build relations with people to whom they are similar across a variety of dimensions” (Heidi, 2008, p. 1).
It is evident that social networks are very important in the world of sports to not only amateurs and professionals but also sports managers, coaches and other stakeholders. Understanding the different concepts of a social network is very important in improving relations and performance of a team.
There are so many concepts of social network but we only dealt with the most important and how important they were to the world of sports both to professionals as well as amateurs. Some of the concepts considered were homophile, structural holes and bridges, cohesive subgroups, structural equivalence, reciprocity as well as centrality. By discussing them and their applicability to the world of sports it came out clearly that indeed social networks are important in the world of sports.
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