Gender differences in perceived role conflict among university student-athletes

Gender differences in perceived role conflict among university student-athletes

Larry M. Lance

Perceptions of role conflict of university student-athletes were explored, with a focus on differences in perceptions of role conflict between female and male student-athletes. Data were collected from 169 university student-athletes attending a southeastern university using a group administered questionnaire. Analysis of a ten item role conflict index indicated that on only two of the ten items did a majority of the student athletes express role conflict. Female student-athletes generally experienced more role conflict than male student athletes. However, male student-athletes participating in the revenue sport of basketball experienced more role conflict than female student-athletes participating in the non-revenue sport basketball.

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Very often individuals recognize that discrepancies exist between societal expectations and their own personal values. As a result, role conflict is deemed to be present when a person perceives and/or experiences her or his role expectations as being incompatible (Sage & Loudermilk, 1979). Since sport has traditionally been considered as being more of a masculine activity, a female participant might perceive a conflict between her role as a female and that as an athlete.

Combining the roles of woman and successful athlete was extremely difficult in American society until recently. Women wanting to be involved in competitive sports and continue to be “feminine” were confronted with social isolation and ridicule. By selecting a physically active life, women were disassociating themselves from traditional female gender-role expectations. Women athletes failed to fit the ideal of femininity, and those who persisted in sport activities suffered as a result (Coakley, 2001). Tradtional perspective of female participation in sport has been summarized by the statement: “Sports may be good for people, but they are considered a lot gooder for male people than for female people” (Gilbert and Williamson, 1973:88).

Despite sport being generally considered as a male activity, athletic involvement for females has changed in recent times. Female athletes are receiving greater visibility, better facilities, and improved training and working techniques (Coakley, 2001). Nevertheless, in spite of these advances, female athletes are still confronted with confusing messages regarding the value of their athletic involvement.

Traditionally, the predominant perspective in the American society considers the roles of female and athlete as being incompatible. Besides having long been considered as a masculine activity, sport is also male-oriented by the masculine sex-typed traits and behaviors that are deemed appropriate. Females involved in sport have the chance to develop stereotypically masculine traits such as assertiveness, competitiveness, and independence. Further, females involved in sport activities are faced with issues and behaviors which are not a focus of female gender-role appropriateness. As a result, female athletes must, at least on a temporary basis, move out of stereotyped female gender roles to achieve success in sport.

Another source of role conflict for male and female student-athletes involves membership in multiple groups to achieve personal goals. This involves roles or expectations for a person’s behavior in one group clashing or conflicting with the roles or expectations for a person’s behavior in another group. An example of role conflict would be clashing or conflicting roles or expectations a person faces as a result of belonging to a sport group and a school group. While coaches expect the female or male student-athlete to be present at practice, faculty members expect the person to attend classes. Many examples of role conflict involve multiple group memberships including sports and other activities such as clashing or conflicting roles or expectations between sport and family groups, sport and work groups, and sport and social groups.

One such example, the focal point of this research, involves persons who simultaneously belong to a formal sport group and are also enrolled in educational groups or classes – the student-athlete. On one hand the person who is a student-athlete is expected to conform to the roles or expectations associated with the occupied status of the sport group. A person who is a member of a basketball team is expected to attend practice sessions, team meetings, play games, take road trips, etc. On the other hand, the person who is a student-athlete is expected to conform to the roles or expectations associated with the status of student. A person who is a member of academic classes is expected to read assignments, write papers, attend classes, etc. Student-athletes experience role conflict when roles or expectations for behavior as a student clash or conflict with the roles or expectations for behavior as an athlete.

For example, through differential socialization people incorporate gender identities into their personal self concept. This results in a learning process encouraging behavior according to cultural conceptions of masculinity and femininity. Gender roles, attitudes and behaviors culturally prescribed to each sex, become an active expression of gender identity. In other words, since cultural prescriptions stress males as being ambitious and competitive, people expect males to seriously engage in team sports, become committed to long and strenuous practice sessions, and make sacrifices to achieve success. Based on this reasoning, it might be thought that male athletes experience extensive role conflict, since they are confronted by societal expectations to be extremely competitive and involved in both academic responsibilities and athletic activities. Also, based on this reasoning, it might be thought that female athletes experience extensive role conflict, since they are confronted by societal expectations to be soft-spoken, gentle, and passive-traits associated with femininity, and aggressive and competitive-traits associated with masculinity.

In addition to gender being associated with role conflict, the commercialization of college sport has impacted upon the role conflict experienced by university student athletes. Despite critics of commercialized sport extending over 100 years ago, big-time university sport has become a multimillion dollar industry (Farrel, 1985). Eliot maintained that commercialism diverts student attention from educational pursuits. This trend toward the commercialization of sport has contributed to role conflict of student-athletes through extensive control of athletes’ behavior on and off the court of field, along with increasing the time devoted to training and preparation for contests.

Background Literature

Much attention in the sociological literature has been given to the concept of role conflict (e.g. Merton, 1957; Turner, 1962; Goode, 1973; Marks, 1977; Spreitzer, et al., 1979). In addition to the overall attention that has been given to role conflict in terms of sport activity (e.g. Snyder 1988; Allison and Butler, 1984; Anthrop and Allison, 1983; Sage and Loudermilk, 1979; Lance, 1987; Stein and Hoffman, 1978; Coakley, 2001; Sage, 1979), it has been maintained that varsity university student-athletes often have difficulty coping with the roles associated with their statuses as athletes and students (Stein and Hoffman, 1978; Coakley, 2001; Sage, 1979). In fact, Coakley takes the position that pressure to win and to attract spectators requires commitment by athletes that can seriously interfere with the commitment necessary to be a good student (Coakley, 2001). The following narrative of a serious student-athlete illustrates the role conflicts student-athletes experience with respect to athletic activities and academic pursuits.

We got to go two-a-days, get up as

early as the average student, go to

school, then go to practice for three

hours like nothing you have ever

strained … It’s brutal ’cause you be

so tired. Fatigue is what makes a lot

of those guys say “”Chuck it, I’m

goin’ there ‘reading’ a book and ‘you

not goin’ comprehend that much

anyway ’cause you so tired (Adler

and Adler, 1985, 244).

While critics of commercialized university sport frequently assume that student-athletes experience role conflict (e.g. Eitzen and Sage, 2003; Sack, 1979), it can be argued that this conflict is exaggerated. Since leisure activities largely occupy free time (Degrazia, 1964), it could be maintained that university student-athletes are forced to continue playing sports when athletic demands conflict with academic performance. From this perspective, university sport is an extracurricular activity engaged in for fun and recreation (NCAA, 1983:7). This being the case, student-athletes can reduce or eliminate athletic demands when they conflict with academic demands.

This position can be criticized from two points of view. Activities engaged in during free time, from one point of view, are characterized by normative constraints (Etzioni, 1964). Coaches who pressure their players to “win one for the Gipper” or promote conformity by indicating a player is not giving his/her fair share is using normative constraint. Normative constraint, focusing on deeply entrenched values and norms, is manifested by pride and determination which results in first-priority being given to expectations or roles associated with sport when expectations or roles conflict with academic expectations or roles. From a second point of view, university sport is often not a leisure activity. University sports in many cases are characterized by utilitarian or instrumental constraint (Etzioni, 1964) rather than being pursued strictly for their own sake. Athletic scholarships can be reduced or eliminated or other material rewards and punishments can be introduced which are related to the economic welfare of the student-athlete.

Pressure with respect to the scholarship status and other punishments or rewards for student-athletes may be linked to the commercialization of sport. Coaches under pressure to draw large crowds and produce extensive revenue are generally faced with winning to keep their positions (Snyder and Spreitzer, 1983). As a result, these coaches are probably under greater pressure than coaches in non-commercialized sport to pressure student athletes to give first priority to their roles as athletes.

Methods

Objective

Does role conflict exist for student-athletes? This study was condicted to examine how much role conflict exists with respect to student-athletes. Another related purpose of this study was to explore which aspects of role conflict were pronounced for student-athletes. In addition, gender differences and commercialized differences in role conflict were investigated.

Hypotheses

Hyp. 1: It was hypothesized that male student-athletes would experience greater role conflict than female student-athletes (Sack and Theil, 1983).

Hyp. 2: Student athletes involved in commercialized sport will experience greater role conflict than student-athletes involved in non-commercialized sport (Eliot, 1883).

Sample

Student-athletes involved in sports at a southeastern metropolitan university were selected for this study. A total of 169 student-athletes involved in all of the university sports participated by filling out questionnaires.

Instrument

A four-page self administered questionnaire was constructed for this study. Part one of the five-part questionnaire contained social demographic information. Part two contained items used to determine the closeness of personal ties of the student-athletes with various significant others. In part three items were included to determine the strength of athletic encouragement and academic encouragement from various significant others. Part four consisted of items constructed to determine the extent of role conflict perceived by the student athletes. In part five student-athletes were asked what they enjoyed most and what they found most difficult about being a student-athlete. In addition, they were also asked to suggest changes in academic and athletic policies.

Measurement

Role conflict, the major concept in this study, was measured by a ten-item index using a modified Likert response format. For each of the ten items the student-athlete was asked to express his/her intensity of feeling by checking strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree. To analyze the individual role conflict items, the strongly agree and agree responses were combined and the strongly disagree and disagree responses were combined to assure a sufficient number of cases in each of the table cells. In an analysis of the entire role conflict index, each item was scored I-4, with a score of one representing the greatest sense of role conflict. Thus, the total score for the entire role conflict index could range from 10-40, with 10 representing the strongest sense of role conflict and 40 representing the weakest sense of role conflict.

Data Analysis

A total of 169 southeastern metropolitan university student-athletes participating in basketball, tennis, baseball, softball, golf, volleyball, cross country, and swimming were involved in this research. Of the various sports, the male basketball team was the only commercialized sport. Of the 169 student-athletes, 100 or 59.2% were males.

Items in the role conflict index along with the distribution of the responses of the student-athletes are presented in Table 1. On only two of the 10 role conflict items did a majority of the student-athletes express role conflict. Over 55% of the student-athletes agreed that “it is difficult to meet both athletic and academic expectations.” About 51% of the student-athletes disagreed that “it is easy to find enough time to study during my athletic season.” For the other eight items, less than 50% of the student-athletes expressed role conflict. Most striking of the responses to the eight items were with respect to items 9 and 10. Eighty-four percent of the student-athletes disagreed that “athletic demands of my work make it difficult to keep up with my studies.” About 72% of the student-athletes disagreed that “the length of my athletic season makes it difficult to concentrate on my studies.”

Statistically significant differences with respect to gender were found to exist with three of the ten role conflict items. With respect to “it is difficult to meet both athletic and academic expectations,” 50% of the male student-athletes disagreed compared to only 36.2% of the female student-athletes (See Table 2). This relationship was statistically significant beyond the .05 level.

Also, a statistically significant difference in gender responses was found with the item that “university faculty are not very flexible academically when dealing with student-athletes.” About 44% of the male student-athletes compared to 24.6% of the female student-athletes agreed with this item (See Table 3). This relationship was statistically significant beyond the .07 level.

Results of the gender differences with respect to the ten item role conflict index is presented in Table 4. Eight percent of the male student-athletes compared to 20.3% of the female student-athletes were high on the role conflict index. This relationship was statistically significant beyond the .05 level.

Commercialization of sport on gender differences in role conflict was also investigated. About 36% of the male student-athletes involved in commercialized basketball were high on role conflict compared to 20% of the female student-athletes who were involved in non-commercialized basketball. This relationship was statistically significant beyond the .06 level.

Discussion

Role conflict exists for most people in the American society to some extent. Most people belong to several social groups, with roles in one group clashing with roles in another group. For example, it may not be possible to fulfill all of the expectations in the family while fulfilling academic expectations. Or it may not be possible to fulfill all of the expectations of the family while fulfilling full-time work expectations.

Much attention has been paid in recent times to the role conflict faced by the student-athlete. On one hand the student-athlete is confronted by numerous expectations pertaining to his/her academic studies (Suggs, 2000; Wieberg, 2001). The student-athlete is expected to attend classes, read assignments, write papers, etc. On the other hand, the student-athlete is confronted by numerous expectations pertaining to his/her sport activities. The student-athlete is expected to practice, attend team meetings, participate in road trips, play several games in short periods of time, etc. As a result of numerous expectations associated with being a student and with being an athlete, the student-athlete is considered to experience considerable role conflict.

However, in this study it did not appear that the student-athletes perceived extensive role conflict. It did not seem that the multiple roles of the student-athletes surveyed produced extensive psychological stress. There was not strong support expressed for Goode’s position (1960:485) that “The individual is likely to face a … conflicting array of role obligations. If he conforms fully or adequately in one direction, fulfillment will be difficult in another.” Or, in other words, there was not strong support to suggest that student-athletes committed to academic efforts would not have enough time and energy for athletic endeavors (Coleman, 1961).

Instead, the findings from this study suggest that serious commitment to multiple roles may result in the production of more energy (Marks, 1977). It may be that benefits from feelings of high self esteem resulting from both academic and athletic roles could have an additive effect as compared to involvement in roles in either the academic or athletic spheres (Spreitzer, Snyder and Larson, 1979). Future research using qualitative information would be useful in assessing how social support and intrinsic and extrinsic rewards relate to the student-athelte’s dual commitment (Snyder, 1985).

Analysis of the information in this study suggested that female student-athletes perceived more role conflict between academic and athletic expectations than male student-athletes. Since role conflict is considered to exist when a person perceives and/or experiences role expectations as being incompatible (Sage and Loudermilk, 1979), female athletes might perceive conflict between her role as a female and her role as an athlete. Not only has sport been traditionally considered as being in the male domain, it is also male-defined by the masculine sex-typed traits and behaviors that are considered appropriate. For female student-athletes the role conflict may result from incompatible perceptions of what it means to be feminine and an athlete. The predominant view in the American society defines the roles of female and athlete as incompatible. Females involved in sports have the opportunity to develop stereotypically masculine qualities such as competitiveness and assertiveness. Thus, the female student-athlete must step out of her stereotyped gender role to experience success in sport. Studies on role conflict and female student-athletes found that role conflict was perceived and experienced in high school and college female athletes (Anthrop and Allison, 1983; Sage and Loudermilk, 1979). Sage and Loudermilk found that female student-athletes participating in traditionally unacceptable sports such as softball and basketball, sports considered in this paper, experienced greater role conflict than those involved in socially approved sports.

While female student-athletes generally perceived more role conflict than male student-athletes, when comparing male student-athletes in a revenue sport compared to female student-athletes in a non-revenue sport the reverse was true. Male student-athletes participating in the revenue sport of basketball perceived more role conflict than female student-athletes participating in the non-revenue sport of basketball. As a result of the revenue producing potential of male sports such as basketball, the pressures are considered intense to win (Odenkirk, 1981; Underwood, 1980). Coaches in these sports are likely to be excessive in their demands on the time and energy of student-athletes. Demanding practice sessions, road trips, intensive game schedules, etc. may sever to intensify the role conflict perceived by male student-athletes involved in revenue sports. Ongoing qualitative research is needed to assess change in the intensity of the role conflict during the academic year (Purdy et.al., 1983)

Table 1

Frequency Distribution of Role Conflict Items For Southeastern

Metropolitan University Student Athletes, (N = 169)

Role Conflict Items N %

1. It is difficult to meet both athletic and academic

expectations.

Agree 94 55.6

Disagree 75 44.4

Totals 169 100.0

2. Road trips interfere with success in academic

studies.

Agree 61 36.7

Disagree 105 63.3

Totals 166 100.0

3. I feel too much attention is focused on eligibility

rather than learning and graduation.

Agree 61 36.1

Disagree 108 63.9

Totals 169 100.0

4. It is easy to find enough time to study during my

athletic season.

Agree 82 48.8

Disagree 86 51.2

Totals 168 100.0

5. University faculty are not very flexible

academically when dealing with student athletes.

Agree 60 35.9

Disagree 107 64.1

Totals 167 100.1

6. It is easy to focus on my studies during my

athletic season.

Agree 85 50.6

Disagree 83 49.4

Totals 168 100.0

7. Athletic contests should be scheduled only during

weekends to give athletes time to concentrate on

their studies.

Agree 59 35.3

Disagree 108 64.7

Totals 167 100.0

8. In order to give 100% to my sport I must make many

academic sacrifices.

Agree 55 32.5

Disagree 114 67.5

Totals 169 100.0

9. Athletic demands of my coach make it difficult to

keep up with my studies.

Agree 27 16.0

Disagree 142 84.0

Totals 169 100.0

10. The length of my athletic season makes it difficult

to concentrate on my studies.

Agree 47 28.0

Disagree 121 72.0

Totals 168 100.0

Table 2

Perceived Difficulty in Meetin Both Athletic and Academic Expectations

by Gender for Southern Metropolitan University Students, (N = 169) %’s

Gender

Male Female

It is difficult to meet both athletic

& acandemic expectations.

Agree 50 63.8

Disagree 50 36.2

Totals 100 (N=100) 100.0 (N=69)

Yule’s Q = .28

p < .05

Table 3

Perception That University Faculty Are Not Very Flexible Academically

When Dealing With Student Athletes By Gender For Southeastern

Mtropolitan University Student-Athlete, (N = 169) %’s

Gender

Male Female

University faculty are not very

flexible academically when dealing

with student athletes.

Agree 43.9 24.6

Disagree 56.1 75.4

Totals 100.0 (N=98) * 100.0 (N=69)

* Missing Observations = 2

Yule’s 0 = .41

p < .01

Table 4

General Perceptions of Role Conflict By Gender For Southeastern

Metropolitan University Student-Athletes, (N = 169) %’s

Gender

Male Female

Role Conflict Index Perceptions of

Role Conflict

High (< 15) 8.0 20.3

Moderate (15-21) 70.0 60.9

Low (>22)) 22.0 18.8

100.0 (N=100) 100.0 (N=69)

Yule’s Q = .24

p < .05

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Larry M. Lance

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

COPYRIGHT 2004 Project Innovation (Alabama)

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group