Doctoral dissertations

Egil Trasti Rogstad: Virtual(ly) Women Athletes; A Study of Gendered Power Relations and Inequality in Sports-Themed Esports

This thesis focuses on gendered power relations and inequality in sports-themed esports (esports based on sports simulation games). Due tothe continuing merging of sports-themed esports and traditional sports, the esports industry’s deeply rootedissues concerning a significant underrepresentation of women, sexist stereotypes and harassmentconstitute a major challenge. The aim of thethesis is to contribute to a deeper understanding of the complex issues and challenges that women players face within sports-themed esports. The following main research question is posed: How do gendered power relations influence gender inequality in sports-themed esports?

This research question is addressed by means offour separate studies, each with their ownresearch questions and methodological approaches. Article I is based on a traditional narrative review that presentsthe current research on gender and esports. In Article II, a document analysis is used to examine the gendered challenges and opportunities relating tothe IOC’s strategy to include esports in the Olympic Games. Article III is based on a Foucauldian discourse analysis andexamines how the media constructed Chiquita Evans whenshe became the first woman player in the NBA 2K League. Article IV draws on an online survey of sports video game players to examine their perceptions of gendered character representations in thesegames.

Although esports is regardedas a non-physical form of sport in which men have no physical competitive advantage over women, the findings in thethesis further demonstrate how sports-themed esports participationinvolvesadditional challenges for women players. As a result, the traditional dynamics of male domination in sports seem inescapable, even in the virtual space of sports-themed esports.

Mads Skauge: Non-levelled playing fields and the rise of fitness. Social inequality in late modern youth sport in Norway

Participation in organised youth sport is an integral part of state sport policies. The legitimacy of state funding rests on attributed, but poorly documented, side effects such as public health and integration (an arena where strangers from different backgrounds can bond). When participation in club sport for everyone (sport for all) is considered a public good contribution to the benefits of the social democratic welfare state, knowledge is needed about the social inequality in participation: dividing lines along gender, age, social class, ethnicity, etc.

Contrary to what the sport policy advocates, the physical activity patterns of youths (and adults) point to the fact that the role of sport clubs as creators of activity is on the downswing. For instance, how can we understand the growth of the commercial gym industry? Which young people are active in which training arenas and why?

In tackling such questions, I have applied the Ungdata survey from 2010–2019, with nationally representative data for youth aged 13–18. I find that 93% of youth in this age span have participated in club sport during their upbringing. Comparative analyses of clubs and gyms reveal that the inequalities are far greater in fitness: socio-economic status has over four times as much importance for participation in sport as in gyms. There is a higher proportion of girls in fitness and boys in sport, which can be explained by the fact that boys are more competitive (value competition more in their exercise motives).

Club sport is dominant among secondary school students, whereas fitness in upper secondary school age (from 16 years). There is, however, a link between young people’s participation in the two venues: The longer you are in a sport club, the greater the chance that you will start at a training center and/or do self-organised training later in your teens. This may indicate that children’s sport socialise into a physically active youth. Non-Western (Muslim) minority girls are the least represented in club sport. This can be due to a combination of tight family finances (parents prioritises the boys), a lack of sport culture for girls in the parents’ home country, a home-related leisure pattern with expectations of contributing to housework, religious norms and ideals for instance related to showing skin and prioritising school work: immigrant youth’s most important reason for not participating in club sport is the desire to prioritise homework.

As a theoretical starting point for interpreting my findings, I ask, inspired by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s thinking (the habitus principle): How can the individualised body logic of fitness and the competitive logic of sport appeal differently to different groups? In general, the individualisation thesis is relevant here: The American political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Robert Putnam show how people are generally more concerned with realising themselves, at the expense of the community, and that this shift is happening to an increasing degree. The British sociologist Anthony Giddens has discussed the consequences of late modernity for the individual’s identity construction. Today, categories such as place of upbringing, gender and class are less determining for one’s opportunities and life choices. Therefore, self-identity must be continuously created through reflexive choices that say something about who you want to appear as (providing the outside world a glimpse into the self). The body is one of the few fixed points of reference for identity. In an increasingly sedentary society, exercise has also become something that is chosen, and the choices one makes thereby become an integral part of the self-presentation.

Keeping fit and getting an attractive body are the most common training motives among young people. The most common reason for not participating in club sport is to prioritise differently and reluctance to commit to fixed exercise hours. This suggests that the fitness logic is probably a better fit with the needs of contemporary youth than that of sport. The results imply that inequality in and dropout from sport must be understood from the outside rather than from the inside: In general, youth are not excluded from sport, but they choose not to participate, which must be interpreted in terms of social structures and motivations beyond the control of sport. There is also a need for a sport policy that takes into account young people’s activity patterns and motives.


Line Dverseth Danielsen: Coaching and leadership for elite female soccer players

Background: The learning, development and performance of athletes are affected by both their coaches and the teams to which they belong (Horn, 2008; Jowett & Lavalee, 2007). According to Chelladurais’ multidimensional model, a coach’s behavior is influenced by the athletes’ characteristics, their own characteristics and the situational characteristics (Chelladurai, 2001; 2007). Previous research (Fransen et al., 2015a; Gould et al., 2002; Gucciardi & Gordon, 2009; Madsen et al., 2020; Sheard, 2013) has found that athletes´ psychological characteristics affect the achievements of their teams, and mental toughness and self-confidence are regarded as important psychological factors of success in elite sport (Gould et al., 1987; Kristjánsdóttir et al., 2019; Sheard, 2013; Vealey, 2009; Weinberg et al., 2011). Coaches play a key role in the development of athletes’ psychological characteristics (Côté et al., 2014; Nesti, 2010; Weinberg et al., 2011). This indicates that coaches should consider an athlete´s psychological characteristics in their coaching style (Côté, 2006; Høigaard, 2020). A team can possess different types of highly influential players, and these players may contribute positive attitudes and behavior to the team, as well as influence the team culture positively (Carron et al., 2005; Collins & Collins, 2011; Cope et al., 2011; Cotterill & Fransen, 2016; 2021; Loughead et al., 2019). A coach can contribute to developing highly influential players through guidance and the establishment of mentor schemes (Bucci et al., 2012; Hoffman et al., 2016; Høigaard, 2020). Furthermore, the role of a coach is complex (Cushion et al., 2006), and different challenges may arise that need to be addressed. Previous research (Andersen, 2011; Quested & Duda, 2010) has argued that in team sports such as soccer, it is especially important to establish a team culture that contributes to creating unity and enhancing performance in both the short and long term.

Melkersson (2013) and Norman (2015) mentioned a lack of research on coaches for female soccer players and argued that this is an important research area. The purpose of this dissertation is to investigate key aspects of coaching and leadership roles for elite female soccer players in Norway.

Methods: The dissertation consists of two sub-studies with different methodological approaches. The first sub-study (article 1) used a quantitative method with a questionnaire (Sports Mental Toughness Questionnaire) to examine players’ mental toughness (MT). The respondents consisted of 298 players distributed across three different performance levels (elite, second and third leagues). The second sub-study (articles 2, 3 and 4) used a qualitative method of conducting interviews with 10 elite soccer coaches for women.

Results: The purpose of article 1 was to explore the psychological characteristic of mental toughness in players in three different performance levels. The analysis showed that players in the elite league had higher mental toughness scores compared to sub-elite players (players in the second and third leagues), even though not all results of the questionnaire differed significantly (subscale MT-control). The elite league players scored higher compared to the third league players on MT-confidence. This indicates that mental toughness and MT-confidence are important characteristics to progress in female soccer.

Article 2 examined athlete leadership. The analysis identified highly influential players, who we labeled cultural architects, with unique team leadership abilities. Based on the respondents’ descriptions, three overarching characteristics of cultural architects were identified: 1) personal characteristics, which include elements related to their achievements on the soccer pitch, mind-sets and collective orientations; 2) relationship to the coach, which includes integrity and trust and 3) intrateam facilitator, which includes their influence as task-team and social-team facilitators.

Article 3 examined the unique challenges that the interviewees experienced when coaching elite female soccer players. The interviewees identified that; professionalism, early-career termination, mental characteristics, soccer knowledge, intrateam communication, romantic relationships, access to the locker rooms and team selection are perceived as the main challenges for coaches in elite female soccer.

Article 4 provided insight into the interviewees’ views of team culture in elite female soccer, what they experienced as important factors for maintaining performance culture and the impact of team culture on the coaching role. The analysis of the data revealed two main categories: 1) unity and social relations in elite female soccer teams, including communication, romantic relationships and highly influential players and 2) the coaching role in female team culture, including how coaching behavior affects team culture and the measures that elite soccer coaches use to establish good team culture. The informants reported a difference between male and female team culture. For example, romantic relationships among players are a social relationship unique to elite female soccer.

Conclusion: This dissertation identified three key aspects that may contribute to better understanding of elite female soccer players in Norway: a holistic athlete approach, the coach-athlete relationship and team culture. It concluded that coaches should adapt their behaviors and leadership styles to players’ genders, backgrounds, psychological characteristics and coaching preferences. Adapting coaching behavior to these factors may help increase players’ motivation, mental toughness, confidence, overall performance and improve team culture. Furthermore, cultural architects are important contributors to their coaches, fellow players and teams. Recruitment or development of cultural architects can be crucial for the coach’s job and team performance.