Relationship Ties Among a Division I Lacrosse Team: Who are the Leaders?

Did you know that shared leadership amongst a team has been found to be positively related to more cohesive teams? Also, that more cohesive teams have been found to have greater team performance (Mathieu, Kukenberger, D’Innocenzo, & Reilly, 2015)? Team cohesion and team dynamics has been a long interest of sport and org. theory researchers interested in investigating what is needed for teams to reach optimal performance levels. This semester for the Social Network Analysis (SNA) class, we are tasked with conducting a research project to apply the skills we have been learning throughout this semester. I am excited to begin this venture as an SNA researcher!

Before explaining my project let me explain some of the research on team cohesion and group dynamics. Carter, DeChurch, Braun, and Contractor (2015) offer a framework of why SNA can be a powerful tool to examine study leadership. The researchers provide the following reasons for using SNA to examine leadership: leadership is relational, leadership is situated I context, leadership is patterned, and leadership can be formal or informal. The researchers continued on to develop a framework of three network approaches that can be taken to further examine leadership networks. The first is “Leadership in Networks”, this would be examining relationship ties such as trust and communication to examine leadership emergence. Second, is “Leadership as a Network”, this would be actual leadership ties between members of a team who recognize and accept leadership relations. Lastly, “Leadership in and as Networks” which would be researchers who try to examine the embedded social context and model the phenomenon of leadership as a relational network. There is evidence to show that if formal leaders are more centralized in social context networks predicts follower’s perceptions of that leader (Carter, DeChurch, Braun, and Contractor, 2015). For my small project this framework fits perfectly, I will be looking at “Leadership in and as a Network” by examining social contexts such as individual’s perceptions of technical skills and leadership and where the formal leaders are within the boundary of the network in regards to these relational ties.

Coaches are always looking for athletes who are leaders. Focusing on both informal and formal leadership roles among team members is a recently new conceptualization as a team-level construct (Mehra, Smith, Dixon, & Robertson, 2006). Formal leaders and those who are emerging must recognize their shared leadership for one another for a team to have optimal performance. So, a question to ask is, “do the leaders on the team see each other as leaders”? My study will also be taking into account the informal (ex: a player with high interpersonal skills) and formal leadership (ex: captain assignment) roles of whole team rather than just examining formal leadership roles. One of my favorite motivational speakers and life coaches is Robin Sharma. Below I think he sums up what a leadership role is all about. How do individuals see and perceive other’s leadership behaviors on a team and do these ties make a difference based on formal and informal leadership roles?

Team cohesion and its effect on performance has been primarily focused on the relationships among the actors of the networks. In my last blog post I referred to an article by Warner, Bowers, and Dixon (2012) that examined relationships among players on two basketball teams. The study was longitudinal and followed the structure and cohesion of the two teams at four times over the course of a season. They specifically examined each actor and team member’s role, centrality, and position within the network as well as the group’s overall structural cohesion throughout the season. Similarly, to how I will be conducting my small project they examined social constructs of friendship, advice, efficacy, and trust. They found that teams with more structural cohesion within the network on the four social constructs had a higher winning percentage than the team with less structural cohesion. They aso found that those with informal leadership roles were central to the network, I believe this lies a finding that warrants for further investigation because it contradicts past research on formal leadership. Cotterill and Fransen (2016) also address the need that there is a gap in the literature in the examination of informal and formal leadership roles on athlete leadership. Therefore, the purpose of my project is to investigate relationships and player perception of their teammates amongst a network of a college lacrosse team, as a way to examine team cohesion.

My small project will be guided by the following research questions:

  • Do team members who perceive playing ability of their teammates to be related to having more perceived leadership qualities than those with less playing ability?
  • Do team members perceive those who hold a formal leadership position on a team to be related to having more perceived leadership qualities than those who don’t hold formal leadership positions?
  • Do team members perceive playing ability of their teammates to be related to having more perceived technical skills than those with less playing ability?
  • Do team members who perceive those who hold formal leadership positions on a team to be related to having more perceived technical skills than those who don’t hold formal leadership positions?

Operational definitions were derived from the variables under examination. Perceived playing ability will be measured by “starter” “starts sometimes” and “non-starter”. Formal leadership will be defined if they are an assigned captain or squad leader (six squads). The edge attributes of leadership quality and technical skill ability are relational ties in which each player answered about each teammate on the following questions “Our team relies on her for leadership” and “Our team relies on her for her technical lacrosse skills”.

The data I will be using was gathered during a survey in the 2016-2017 pre-season from a mid-major NCAA Division I lacrosse team. There is a defined network boundary for this team case analysis of 31 players (Nodes). Node attributes I am interested in examining for the research questions are formal/informal leadership assignment; playing ability (starter/non-starter); position played (offense/defense); tenure on the team (number of years played). The edge attribute I am interested in examining are the in-degree and out-degree from each player based on their perceptions of the teammates leadership (RQ1) and teammates technical skills (RQ2).


Carter, D. R., DeChurch, L. A., Braun, M. T., & Contractor, N. S. (2015). Social network approaches to leadership: An integrative conceptual review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(3), 597-622.

Cotterill, S. T., & Fransen, K. (2016). Athlete leadership in sport teams: Current understanding and future directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 9(1), 116-133.

Warner, S., Bowers, M. T., & Dixon, M. A. (2012). Team dynamics: A social network perspective. Journal of Sport Management, 26, 53-66.

Mathieu, J. E., Kukenberger, M. R., D’Innocenzo, L., & Reilly, G. (2015). Modeling reciprocal team cohesion–performance relationships, as impacted by shared leadership and members’ competence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(3), 713-734.

Mehra, A., Smith, B. R., Dixon, A. L., & Robertson, B. (2006). Distributed leadership in teams: The network of leadership perceptions and team performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 17(3), 232-245.

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