Same-sex and mixed-sex sport teams: how the social environment relates to sources of social support and perceived competence.
Abstract: Relationships with peers and coaches are important predictors of motivational variables in sport settings for both male and female athletes. However, participating on same-sex (SS) and mixed-sex (MS) teams may influence the specific types of interactions athletes experience with coaches and peers during their sport participation and consequently relate to sources of social support, sources of competence information used, and levels of perceived competence. This study examined differences between athletes on SS and MS competitive sports teams on social support, perceived competence, and sources of competence information. Collegiate athletes (61 male, 46 female) from SS and MS sports (n = 63 and 44, respectively) completed questionnaires assessing social support, perceived competence, and sources of competence information. A participants' gender by team type interaction revealed that perceived support from coaches and peers differed for men and women in each environment. In addition, although level of perceived competence did not differ, sources of competence information differed by gender and by team type. Coaches, administrators, and researchers should consider the differences between MS and SS environments with regard to social interactions and social support in sport.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Sports teams (Demographic aspects)
Sports teams (Psychological aspects)
Social networks (Psychological aspects)
Authors: Stuntz, Cheryl P.
Sayles, Julia K.
McDermott, Erin L.
Pub Date: 03/01/2011
Publication: Name: Journal of Sport Behavior Publisher: University of South Alabama Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health; Sports and fitness Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 University of South Alabama ISSN: 0162-7341
Issue: Date: March, 2011 Source Volume: 34 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 249309846
Full Text: While some men's and women's competitive sport teams practice separately and have separate coaching staffs (e.g., most basketball, hockey, and lacrosse teams), other men's and women's sport teams practice together and share coaches (e.g., many swimming, track-and-field, and skiing teams). How does the presence or absence of opposite-sex athletes on a sports team influence thoughts and social processes in sport? Do athletes think and act differently when they are surrounded only by individuals of the same sex than by individuals of both sexes? Currently, the relative presence or absence of opposite-sex athletes on a sport team varies tremendously from campus to campus. A survey of four colleges within the same athletic conference revealed wide variability, with between 7% and 65% of athletes at a particular school participating on sports teams with members of the opposite-sex (personal communications, J. Little, August 13, 2008; S. Viscomi, August 14, 2008; K. Culligan, August 15, 2008; D. Steward, August 19, 2008). With the current economic downturn and associated budget cuts likely to affect sports programs at many institutions, several sport programs may consider reducing the number of head coaches by turning some same-sex (SS) teams into joint mixedsex (MS) teams. The relationship between the presence or absence of opposite-sex teammates in competitive sport settings and social behaviors and cognitions warranted study.

The purpose of this study was to make a preliminary investigation into the different psychological experiences of athletes who participate in MS and SS competitive sport environments. Due to the known importance of social support and perceived competence as predictors of motivated sport beliefs and behaviors (e.g., Duncan, 1993; Ebbeck & Weiss, 1998; Kimiecik, Horn & Shurin, 1996), as well as the known connections between social support, perceived competence, and gender (e.g., Black & Weiss, 1992; Brustad, 1993; Eccles & Harold, 1991; Holt, Hoar, & Fraser, 2005; Horn, Glenn, & Wentzell, 1993), the potential differences in level of perceived competence, sources of competence information, and sources of social support among male and female athletes participating on MS and SS teams were examined in the current study.

Social Support

Social support is defined as feeling loved and that others are there to help should a problem arise (Sarason, Sarason, & Pierce, 1990). Social support can help individuals cope with stress, reduce levels of burnout, increase sport enjoyment, prevent sport injuries, speed recovery from injuries, and enhance physical activity and performance levels (e.g., Andersen & Williams, 1998; Duncan, Duncan, & Strycker, 2005; Weiss, Kimmel, & Smith, 2001). The types and sources of social support used vary for men and women. For example, female athletes were more likely to seek and receive emotional support than male athletes (e.g., Hardy, Richman, & Rosenfeld, 1991). Men also focused more on problem-focused coping strategies, and women focused more on emotion-focused coping strategies (see Holt et al., 2005). Men and women also tend to show differences in terms of sources of social support. In general, women received more support from peers (especially friends and neighbors) than men, while men received more support from spouses" than women. Gender is clearly a highly relevant factor in sources and types of social support, suggesting that MS and SS environments may relate to differences in perceptions of social support.

However, these gender differences in types and sources of social support depend in part on the social context or domain considered. While research in academic, work, and social settings generally revealed greater support from same-sex individuals than opposite-sex individuals (e.g., Cramer, Riley, & Kiger, 1991), Riemer and Toon (2001) found that female tennis players with opposite-sex coaches preferred and perceived greater social support than did female tennis players with same-sex coaches. (Riemer and Toon were unable to make comparisons between male athletes with female coaches and with male coaches- no male athletes played for a female coach.) This difference in findings highlights the need for further study of gender-effects in competitive sport as a unique context, as the effects of gender on social support in competitive sport contexts may differ from the effects shown in other social contexts.

Perceived Competence

Individuals with high levels of perceived competence believe that they are more competent or capable at their particular sport or physical activity (Horn & Harris, 2002). High levels of perceived competence are adaptive in sport, predicting greater enjoyment and satisfaction, less boredom and anxiety, more adaptive attributional patterns, greater intrinsic motivational orientation, more internal locus of control, greater persistence, and higher physical activity levels (e.g., Ebbeck & Weiss, 1998; Kimiecik et al., 1996; Ommundson & Vaglum, 1991).

Gender differences in boys' and girls' perceived competence have not been consistently identified. For example, although some studies showed that boys have higher perceived sport/ physical competence than girls (e.g., Brustad, 1993; Eccles & Harold, 1991), other studies did not (e.g., Horn & Hasbrook, 1987). Horn and Harris (2002) suggested that these gender differences in perceived competence may be more prevalent among general populations than among individuals engaged in competitive sports, again emphasizing the need to consider the social context more fully.

Given the strong motivational profile of individuals with high levels of perceived competence, fostering higher levels of perceived competence in all athletes and exercisers seems a reasonable goal for practitioners. In order to enhance levels of self-perceptions, understanding the sources that lead to perceived competence is necessary.

Individuals use a broad variety of sources of information to determine their perceived competence, and the sources used vary depending upon age and gender. Evaluative feedback from peers and coaches increases in importance from childhood to adolescence, while the use of feedback from parents declines (e.g., Horn & Hasbrook, 1986; Horn & Weiss, 1991; McKiddie & Maynard, 1997; Weiss, Ebbeck, & Horn, 1997). Gender differences in sources of competence information are commonly noted. For example, work by Horn et al. (1993) found that during late adolescence, boys were more likely than girls to use competitive outcomes (statistics, win-loss records, speed/ease of learning compared to others) as sources, while girls were more likely than boys to use self-comparisons, internal information, and feedback from coaches, spectators, and peers as sources. Similar to Horn et al., Ebbeck (1990) found that female weight training program participants were more likely to use self-referenced sources such as goal achievement, effort, skill improvement, and learning. In contrast to Horn et al., Ebbeck showed that men were more likely to use peer feedback than women. These findings point to gender differences in the information physically active individuals use to decide how good they are at their physical activities. What is not known yet is the relationship between SS and MS environments and sources of competence information used by athletes in these contexts.

Research Examining Different Gender Environments

Given that gender is an important factor to consider regarding social support and perceptions of competence, it is highly probable that the gender of the individuals in the social context will also factor into provisions for social support and perceived competence. The following sections detail research examining differences in participants' experiences and responses to social contexts that are SS or MS.

MS and SS schools. While little research has examined the influence of MS and SS physical activity environments, since the enforcement of Title IX a great deal of theory and research has proposed and examined potential benefits or advantages of SS and coed schooling for male and female students. Research testing these outcomes has been surprisingly equivocal (see Mael, Alonso, Gibson, Rogers, & Smith, 2005 for a review). For example, conclusions concerning the effects of SS and coed school on self-concept and self-esteem have been difficult to make as several studies found that there were no differences, some have found that girls and/or boys in SS schools benefited in comparison to those in coed schools, and others even suggested that boys in coed schools had higher self-concept than boys in SS schools. Sense of belonging may also vary with setting, and some studies showed that girls' sense of belonging was greater in SS settings. No consistent differences in psychological correlates of coed and SS academic settings are apparent.

MS and SS physical settings. Despite these equivocal findings regarding SS and MS schooling, the impact of SS and MS environments in the physical domain appears to be more consistent. In contrast to the cognitively-oriented academic domain (see Freeman, 2004), male and female sport participants differ widely in terms of physical ability and performance levels after adolescence. Differences between men and women in aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, body composition, physique, cardiac output, endurance performance, and muscle strength are well-documented (e.g., McArdle, Katch, & Katch, 2001). These physical differences between the sexes after adolescence are striking and easily observable--with men generally outperforming women in most physical activities. While these differences are physical in nature, they could also influence the way men and women in MS and SS physical activity settings respond psychologically regarding levels of perceived competence and sources of competence information. For example, women participating in coed settings may be at a disadvantage compared to women in SS settings if they use peer comparison as a source of competence information (as most men would outperform most women). As differences between individuals in academic settings are less pronounced and not as visible to others, gender differences between MS and SS physical environments may be much larger in magnitude.

In fact, research examining differences between male and female participants' experiences in SS and MS physical environments revealed consistencies not found in the general education literature. While most students liked interacting with the opposite sex dr, ring MS physical education (PE) (e.g., Hill & Cleven, 2005; Koca, Asci, & Demirhan, 2005), there were situations in which having the opposite sex present changed levels of cooperation and effort, made students feel uncomfortable, and increased awareness of their bodies (Osborne, Bauer, & Sutliff, 2002). As one girl summed up, "I'd be more interested in doing gym if it was an allgirls class and if there was a female teacher. I'd be more comfortable." (Olafsen, 2002, p. 72). In fact, girls in SS classes spent more PE time involved and on-task, had more positive social interactions with teachers, and received more teacher feedback than girls in MS classes did (e.g., Derry & Phillips, 2004; Hannon & Ratliffe, 2005; Lirgg, 1994). This suggests that girls perceived more social support from peers and teachers in SS than in MS classes. Generally, most studies have reported differential treatment of male and female PE students; male students interacted more often with teachers and received more questions and correction and less praise than female students (see Davis, 2003). Weiller and Doyle (2000) showed that PE teachers interacted more often with opposite-sex students than with same-sex students. Furthermore, Nicaise, Cogerino, Fairclough, Bois, and Davis (2007) demonstrated that student gender, teacher gender, and specific activity all need to be considered together to best predict the type of teacher-student interactions. Different interactions between male and female students and teachers are clearly apparent in MS PE settings.

These differences in instruction, support, and feedback from teachers can influence selfperceptions. Lirgg (1993) found that boys in MS PE classes had greater confidence than boys in SS classes. In addition, girls in SS classes did not differ significantly from girls in MS classes on confidence, although trends suggested that girls in SS classes may have higher confidence in comparison to girls in MS classes. Lirgg however did not examine whether boys and girls in MS and SS settings use different sources of information to determine their level of confidence. Individuals in different environments may favor some sources over others. Students may choose to use sources that would be most beneficial to their self-perceptions, ignoring or discounting sources that would not be as beneficial; the sources that are most beneficial may change in response to exactly who is present in that social setting.

In addition to level of involvement and self-perception-related differences between male and female participants in SS and MS PE environments, Kruisselbrink, Dodge, Swanburg, and MacLeod (2004) examined males' and females' social physique anxiety and exercise intentions in hypothetical exercise class settings. While males' social physique anxiety did not differ, females' level of social physique anxiety increased as the percentage of males in a class increased. Having males in class also encouraged female exercisers to stop their exercise session prematurely. Clearly, in physical settings, MS and SS environments relate to differences in level of motivation, anxiety, and self-perceptions.

Current Study Purposes

Taken together, the research summarized above shows that SS and MS physical education and exercise classes have different social and psychological effects for males and females. The current study extended the SS vs. MS debate beyond physical education and exercise classes to the competitive sport arena. There are many aspects of competitive sport that distinguish it from other areas in the physical domain and the academic domain. As competitive level increases, only the more-skilled individuals participate and compete, and total variance in ability declines for each gender as well. For example, NCAA (2007) statistics show that only about 3 to 11% of high school athletes compete in college. As it is often easy to count goals scored or observe who the fastest racer is, the outcomes of sport competitions are often highly visible to observers. Philosophical differences also set sport apart from other physical settings (e.g., Mountakis, 2001). Maximizing performance, excelling, and being the best are heavily emphasized in sport, increasing the chances that athletes will compare to other athletes to assess their abilities. In addition, when participating in sports, athletes belong to a group that works consistently towards a common goal and persists throughout a season or longer. These contextual differences may magnify any effects of SS and MS environments typically seen in non-sport, educational or exercise contexts.

Thus, the main purpose of this study is to examine differences in sources of social support, level of perceived competence, and sources of competence information for men and women competing on SS and MS collegiate competitive sport teams. More specifically, the following three research questions were addressed: (a) Do the sources of social support differ between males and females on SS and MS teams? Based on the research examining MS and SS physical education (e.g., Hannon & Ratliffe, 2005; Lirgg, 1994; Olafsen, 2002), we hypothesized that women on SS teams would perceive more social support from teammates and from coaches than women on MS teams. Similarly, we hypothesized that men would perceive greater social support from coaches and teammates in MS environments than in SS environments (Lirgg, 1994). (b) Does level of perceived competence differ between males and females on SS and MS teams? Based on Lirgg (1993), we hypothesized that men on MS teams would have higher levels of perceived competence than men on SS teams. (c) Do the sources of competence information differ between males and females on SS and MS teams? Due to the exploratory nature of this research question, no specific hypotheses were suggested regarding the team type by gender interaction effect and the team type main effect. However, based on Ebbeck (1990) and Horn et al. (1993), we hypothesized that female athletes would prefer the use of internal sources, while male athletes would prefer use of competitive outcomes and comparative ease or speed of learning new skills as sources of competence information.



Participants were 107 Division III collegiate athletes (61 male, 46 female) drawn from both MS (alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, track and field), and SS teams (basketball, lacrosse) (see Table 1 for more detailed demographic information). MS sports had athletes from both sexes who shared a common coach, practiced and traveled together, but competed separately by sex. SS sports practiced, traveled, and competed separately from their opposite-sex counterpart sports. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 23 years old (M = 19.64, SD = 1.23). Participants were predominantly Caucasian (93.5%), with Black (4.5%) and Asian or Pacific Islander (1.9%) also represented.


Social support. Participants completed a social support questionnaire with a structured alternative response format adapted from Neemann and Harter (1986). SS team participants completed a 12-item questionnaire which addressed three sources of social support (close sport friend, coach, and teammates). MS team participants completed a 16-item questionnaire which addressed four sources of social support (close sport friend, coach, same-sex team mates, and opposite-sex teammates). The friend and coach social support items were identical for MS and SS athletes. However, SS athletes completed teammate items that only referred to "teammates" (all teammates were same-sex teammates) while MS athletes completed teammate items twice, once for "same-sex teammates" and once for "opposite-sex teammates." Sample items include, "Some athletes have a close sport friend who wants to hear about their problems BUT Other athletes do not have a close sport friend who wants to hear about their problems" for close sport friend, "Some athletes do feel they have the support of their coach BUT Other athletes feel they do not have the support of their coach" for coach, and "Some athletes feel that their (opposite-sex, same-sex) teammates treat them like a person who matters BUT Other athletes feel like their (opposite-sex, same-sex) teammates do not treat them like a person who matters" for teammates. Once the participants had read both statements, they chose the statement that best fit their beliefs. Participants then decided if the statement was "really true" for them or "sort of true" for them. "Really true" responses indicating high levels of support were coded as 4, "sort of true" responses indicating moderately high levels of support, 3; "sort of true" responses indicating moderately low levels of support, 2; and "really true" responses indicating low levels of support, 1. (Some items were reverse coded.) Reliability and validity have been established for this measure by Neemann and Harter (1986) and others (e.g., Antle, 2004).

Level of perceived competence. Three items from Amorose (2003) measured perceived sport competence. Athletes read each item ("How skilled do you think you are at your sport?", "How good do you think you are at your sport?", and "When it comes to your sport, how much ability do you think you have?") and then responded to a 5 point Likert-type scale ranging from "not at all" to "very." Validity and reliability have been demonstrated by past research (e.g., Amorose, 2003; Hollembeak & Amorose, 2005).

Sport Competence Information Scale (SCIS). Participants completed a scale by Horn and colleagues assessing various sources athletes use to determine their perceived sport competence (see Horn & Amorose, 1998). Depending upon whether or not participants participated on a MS or SS team, they completed one of two different versions of the measure. All items were identical between the two versions with the exception of peer evaluation and peer comparison items. Participants on SS teams responded to generally-worded peer evaluation and comparison items. For participants on MS teams, participants completed peer evaluation and comparison items twice - once for "same-sex teammates" and once for "opposite-sex teammates." Table 2 includes sample items from the 13 (for SS participants) or 15 (for MS participants) subscales.

Participants rated how important each source was for them to determine how well or not well they are doing in their sport. The response scale ranged from 1 ("not at all important source") to 5 ("extremely important source"). Validity and reliability have been established by past research (see Horn & Amorose, 1998). This scale has been used successfully by individuals at a broad variety of developmental levels (e.g., Horn et al., 1993; Horn & Hasbrook, 1986; Horn & Weiss, 1991; Weiss et al., 1997).


This study was approved by the university institutional review board, the athletic director, and coaches of respective teams. The researchers attended selected practices and introduced the project to the athletes. After informed consent was obtained from all interested athletes age 18 years or older, questionnaires were administered in a group setting either before or after practice. Athletes completed the questionnaires during the competitive season at least 3 weeks after inter-collegiate competitions began. Participation was completely voluntary, names were not included on questionnaires, and all responses were confidential. After completing the survey, participants could enter a drawing to win prizes at the university bookstore. Athletes completed the survey in approximately 10 to 15 minutes.


Preliminary Analyses

Reliability analyses, correlations, and descriptive statistics were examined (see Table 3). Four of the original SCIS subscales (skill improvement [alpha] = .56, performance statistics ct = .48, internal information [alpha] = .60, and same-sex peer comparison [alpha] = .66) did not meet the standard for reliability ([alpha] < .70) and were left out of subsequent analyses.

Sources of Social Support

To address the first research question, a two-way MANOVA was run with team type and participants' gender as independent variables and three sources of social support (coach support, friend support, and [same-sex] teammate support) as dependent variables. The gender main effect did not reach significance, Wilks' [lambda] = .93, F (3, 101) = 2.69,p = .05, indicating that (while controlling for team type) men and women did not differ regarding sources of social support. Also, the team type main effect did not reach significance, Wilks' [lambda] = .98, F (3, 101) = .78, p =.51, indicating that (while controlling for gender) athletes on SS and MS teams did not differ regarding sources of social support. However, the overall interaction effect was significant, Wilks' [lambda] = .88, F (3, 101) = 4.49, p = .005, demonstrating that differences in sources of social support emerged only when both gender and team type were considered together. As strength of association is determined by 1- [lambda], the interaction effect accounted for 12% of the variance (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). Follow-up discriminant function coefficients, which consider the correlations between dependent variables while also decreasing Type 1 errors, examined the contribution of each dependent variable towards discriminating the four gender x team-type groups. As all three coefficients were greater than the .3 criterion, coach support, same-sex teammate support, and friend support all contributed to differences between the four groups (coach support, .78; same sex teammate support, -.73; friendship support, -.35).

While the interaction effect tested generally whether or not both gender and team type need to be considered simultaneously to predict sources of social support, Cohen's d can provide micro-level effect sizes for specific comparisons of means. All 12 pair-wise Cohen's d

values were calculated, but only those values that were moderate (.5) or large (.8) in size are described here (Cohen, 1992). Female athletes on MS teams perceived greater social support from friends (d = .90) and from same-sex teammates (d = .88) than male athletes on MS teams did (see Table 4). Women on SS teams perceived greater social support from coaches than men on SS teams did (d =.70). In addition, men on MS teams perceived more social support from coaches than men on SS teams did (d = .50), while men on SS teams perceived more support from same-sex teammates than men on MS teams did (d = .73). These results clearly indicate that both athlete gender and type of team need to be considered together when predicting sources of social support.

To examine differences between male athletes on MS teams and female athletes on MS teams regarding opposite-sex teammate support, independent t-tests were run. (As athletes on SS teams did not have opposite-sex teammates, it was not possible to include this dependent variable in the MANOVA described above.) Results indicated no significant difference between male athletes on MS teams and female athletes on MS teams on social support from opposite-sex teammates, t (41) = 0.33,p = .74.

Level of Perceived Competence

To address the second research question, a two-way ANOVA examined whether team type (SS, MS) and participants' gender predicted level of perceived competence. None of the three effects were significant: team type main effect, F (1,103) =. 13, p = .72; gender main effect, F (1, 103) = 2.89, p = .09; and the interaction effect, F (1,103) = .08, p = .77. Level of perceived competence did not vary depending upon gender or team type.

Sources of Perceived Competence

To address the third research question, a two-way MANOVA with team type and participants' gender as the independent variables and the 9 remaining sources of competence information as dependent variables was run. While the team type by gender interaction did not reach significance, Wilks' [lambda] = .88, F(9, 94) = 1.40, p = .20, both the team type, Wilks' [lambda] = .70, F (9, 94) = 4.38, p < .001, and gender, Wilks' [lambda] = .72, F (9, 94) = 4.02, p < .001, main effects were significant. The team type main effect and gender main effect accounted for 30% and 28% (respectively) of the variance in sources of perceived competence used by athletes.

To determine more specifically how athletes' sources of competence information differed by team type and participants' gender, the multivariate standardized discriminant function coefficients were examined. A minimum criterion of > |.3| was set for determining which variables were important contributors to the multivariate relationship. (See Table 5.) With regard to the team type main effect, athletes on SS teams rated same-sex peer evaluation, spectator evaluation, and speed of learning as more important than athletes from MS teams did. In contrast, athletes on MS teams rated goal achievement as more important than individuals on SS teams did.

With regard to the gender main effect, female participants rated coach evaluation and goal achievement as more important sources of competence information than male participants did. Men, however, rated spectator evaluation as a more important source of competence information than women did.

To examine differences between male and female MS athletes on the use of opposite-sex peer evaluation and opposite-sex peer comparison as sources of competence information, independent t-tests were performed. Neither analysis was significant, t (41) = 1.21, p = .24 and t (41) = .78, p = .44, respectively, indicating no gender differences in the use of these opposite-sex peer sources among MS athletes.


The purpose of this study was to examine differences in sources of social support as well as level and sources of perceived competence between athletes on SS and MS competitive sports teams. Male and female athletes participating on SS and MS teams experienced differences in sources of social support and sources of competence information. Examining these differences may help identify ways to make specific sport environments more inviting to athletes, potentially enhancing enjoyment, self-perceptions, and motivation to continue.

Sources of Social Support

Concerning the first research question, sources of social support varied among men and women on SS and MS teams. With regard to social support from teammates and close friends, support level was very similar among men and women participating on SS teams. However, on MS teams, women perceived more social support from other women than men perceived from other men on the team. In addition, men received more support from other men on SS teams than men on MS teams did. In contrast, women received more support from other women on MS teams than on SS teams, although these differences are less pronounced than for men. These results were in the opposite direction of hypotheses, which were based on research conducted in PE classes (e.g., Hannon & Ratliffe, 2005; Lirgg, 1994; Olafsen, 2002). While these prior studies consistently demonstrated that all-girls PE provided more social support from peers for girls, and coed PE classes provided more support for boys, differences between PE and competitive sport settings may explain these contradictory findings. Within the sport world, perhaps more "male bonding" occurs on male SS teams than on MS teams, while more protective posturing of other women may occur on MS teams than on female SS teams (e.g., see Messner, 2007). Clearly, differences between competitive sport and PE environments may lead to differences in the nature of social relationships within each context.

Social support from coaches also differed for men and women on SS and MS teams. In support of hypotheses, men on MS teams perceived more social support from coaches than men on SS teams. However, contrary to findings that girls in SS PE classes receive more support and interactions from their teachers than girls in MS classes (e.g., Hannon & Ratliffe, 2005; Lirgg, 1994), women on SS teams perceived similar support from coaches as women on MS teams did. One surprising finding in this study was that perceptions of social support from coaches did not differ between male and female MS team athletes, suggesting that within a specific MS team coaches may treat athletes similarly. Research observing behavioral interaction patterns between coaches and athletes (and between teammates) on both MS and SS teams would help us better understand social relationships in these different sport environments.

In general, the effect sizes regarding social support differences on MS and SS team were larger for men than they were for women, suggesting that the MS and SS social environments are experienced more differently by men. As sport is conceptualized as a male domain, perhaps men on SS teams are more likely to be treated in a masculine "rough and tough" manner than men on MS teams, where the environment must accommodate not only men but women as well. On SS male teams, desires to display masculine personas may dictate different types of interactions that encourage more team bonding between peers and less social support from coaches (e.g., see Messner, 2007).

Level of Perceived Competence

The second research question examined the effect of team type and gender on level of perceived competence. Contrary to hypotheses and Lirgg (1993), there were no significant differences in level of perceived competence with regard to gender or team type. Level of perceived competence was similar across both genders and both team types within this collegiate sample. As participating on most college-level sports teams requires high levels of competence (NCAA, 2007), perhaps just belonging to a collegiate athletic team signals to athletes a high level of competence in that sport. As suggested by Horn and Harris (2002), gender differences in self-perceptions appear less prevalent with higher competitive levels.

Sources of Competence Information

The third research question examined how gender and team type related to sources of competence information used by athletes. Despite a lack of significant findings regarding level of perceived competence in the current study, SS and MS team athletes and male and female athletes differed in the sources of competence information used.

Athletes on SS teams were more likely than athletes on MS teams to use same-sex peer evaluation, speed of learning, and spectator evaluation as sources of competence information. Goal achievement was considered more important among athletes on MS teams than on SS teams. Perhaps the particular MS and SS teams chosen were as important for determining the results as the SS and MS social environments were themselves. SS teams in this study (basketball and lacrosse) are interdependent team sports in which a team works as a unit against opposing teams. The MS teams chosen (alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, track and field) were oriented more towards individual performances. The greater use of goal achievement among MS teams may relate to the nature of the sports, with individual scores easier to track and compare in the MS sports than in the SS sports studied. On team sports in which individual performance is harder to track, sources such as speed of learning and spectator evaluation may be more important. Future research should further tease out whether these differences are more due to sport type or social environment by including MS interdependent team sports (e.g., club-level MS water polo, MS ultimate frisbee) or SS individual sports (e.g., separate SS male and SS female swimming or track teams) as comparisons within the study sample. In addition, as intramural programs often allow individuals to choose MS or SS teams, intramural athletic teams may also provide opportunities to clarify these influences on sources of competence information.

Male and female collegiate athletes also differed in the sources on competence information used. Similar to Horn et al.'s (1993) and Ebbeck's (1990) findings, females judged feedback and evaluations from coaches and goal achievement as more important sources of competence information than males did. Contrary to Horn et al., males believed spectator evaluation was more important than females did. Perhaps this is due to greater spectator attendance at most males' competitions than at most females' competitions at the collegiate level. Interestingly, the use of peer evaluation did not differ between the genders (unlike previous findings by Horn et al. and Ebbeck). Perhaps these differences in preferred sources of competence information were due to variations in the competitive level and/or age of the athletes in each study. In addition, most of the participants in Horn et al.'s study participated in team sports (basketball, volleyball, soccer, ice hockey), with only one individual sport represented (tennis). Ebbeck's study examined differences among weight training program participants. The current study more evenly represented both team and individual competitive sport participants. These differences in samples may have contributed greatly to the different results in each of these studies.

Study Limitations and Future Work

Although this study represented a first look at the relationships among athlete gender, team type, level of perceived competence, sources of competence information, and social support, there are several limitations to the present study that should be addressed by future research. First and foremost is the small sample size and limited number of teams/sports sampled. Future research should utilize larger samples and represent a broader variety of sports. Potential confounding variables, which may include gender of coach, size of the teams, level of competition, experience level of the athlete, level of team cohesion, coach feedback style, and specific sports, should be systematically addressed by future work. Completely controlling for coach gender in statistical analyses may be difficult to accomplish (1), however, given the reality that about eighty percent of all high school and college coaches are men (Carpenter & Acosta, 2008). Only two to three percent of men's coaches and about 43% of women's coaches at the college level are women (Carpenter & Acosta, 2008). Future research will need to replicate these findings and perhaps expand the scope of study by incorporating both different types and sources of social support in MS and SS environments.


Collectively, these results highlight the differences between competitive sport settings and other settings within the physical domain (i.e., physical education, exercise classes). The social dynamics of MS and SS competitive sport environments differ from those of noncompetitive physical activities. As such, coaches of sports teams should keep in mind that research conducted within physical education or exercise classes may not generalize to competitive sport.

These preliminary results suggest that different sources of competence information and social support occur for men and women on MS and SS teams. The levels of social support from coaches and teammates varied when considering both athletes' gender and the MS or SS nature of the environment together. While there were no differences on level of perceived competence, sources of competence information varied by gender and by SS or MS environment. These results support the notion that the gender make up (SS/MS) of the sport context contributes to how athletes act, think, and feel about themselves in that sport. In each context, some social relationships were more important than others, and these differences by social context were more apparent for men than for women. Future research should delve deeper into the differences between MS and SS competitive sport team environments and related effects on athletes' social interactions and psychological well-being. Only then will athletic directors and league coordinators be able to make informed decisions regarding the relative fiscal and psychological costs and benefits of providing MS and SS sport opportunities to athletes.


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(1.) Attempts to control for coach gender as a covariate in the current study were not successful. ANCOVA or MANCOVA analyses including coach gender were not possible because of empty cells (no female coaches of MS teams). We also attempted to run multiple regression analyses with coach gender, gender, team type, and team type X gender interaction as independent variables, but analyses would not run due to multicollinearity. According to Tabachnick and Fidell (2001, p. 118), "Most multiple-regression programs have default values for tolerance (1-SMC) that protect the user against inclusion of multicollinear IVs. If the default values for the programs are in place, IVs that are very highly correlated with IVs already in the equation are not entered." Even using standardized variables (to minimize correlations with the interaction term) did not eliminate this problem. Thus, as coach gender was so highly related to athlete gender and team type, it was not possible to examine it as a covariate in this study.

Cheryl P. Stuntz, Julia K. Sayles, and Erin L. McDermott St. Lawrence University

Address Correspondence to: Cheryl P. Stuntz, St. Lawrence University, Department of Psychology, 23 Romoda Drive, Canton, NY 13617. Phone: (315) 229-5145. Fax: (315) 229-7427. Email:
Table 1. Demographic Information by Team

                                 Head             Year in school
Athletes' gender   Team        coach's
and sport          type    n    gender    fy   soph    jr    sr

M basketball        SS    13      M       33%    42%   17%    8%
F basketball        SS     9      F       11%    22%   33%   33%
M Lacrosse          SS    24      M       35%    17%   22%   26%
F lacrosse          SS    17      F       63%    13%   13%   13%
M track             MS     9      M       67%    11%   11%   11%
F track             MS     9      M       33%    56%    0%   11%
M Nordic skiing     MS     6      M       50%     0%   33%   17%
F Nordic skiing     MS     4      M        0%    75%   25%    0%
M alpine skiing     MS     9      M       78%    11%    0%   11%
F alpine skiing     MS     7      M       43%    29%   14%   14%

Athletes' gender
and sport           White   Other

M basketball          75%     25%
F basketball          89%     11%
M Lacrosse           100%      0%
F lacrosse            88%     12%
M track               89%     11%
F track              100%      0%
M Nordic skiing      100%      0%
F Nordic skiing      100%      0%
M alpine skiing      100%      0%
F alpine skiing      100%      0%

Note. M=male, F=female, SS=same-sex, MS=mixed-sex, fy= first year,
soph= sophomore, jr-junior, sr--senior

Table 2. Sample Items from the Sources of Competence Information Scale

Type of source                   Sample item

Subscales completed by all
  Coach evaluation               My coach's comments to me about my
  Parent evaluation              My parents' comments to me about my
  Speed of learning              How quickly or slowly I learn new
                                   skills or plays in my sport
  Performance statistics         How well or how poorly I perform in
                                   games or competitions
  Skill improvement              How much or how little I improve in
                                   my sport over time
  Liking for sport               How much I enjoy participating in my
  Win/loss record                What my (or my team's) win/loss or
                                   performance outcomes are
  Spectator evaluation           What die spectators at
                                   games/competitions think about me
  Achievement of goals           Whether or not I meet the performance
                                   goals I set for myself
  Internal information           How confident or unsure I am of
                                   myself before and during

  Effort                         How much effort I have to exert in
                                   practices to keep up with my skills

Subscales completed by only SS
  Peer evaluation                What my teammates think of me as a
                                   player or performer
  Peer comparison                How well I do in practices compared
                                   to my teammates

Subscales completed by only MS
  Same-sex peer evaluation       What my same-sex teammates think of
                                   me as a player or performer
  Same-sex peer comparison       How well I do in practices compared
                                   to my same-sex teammates
  Opposite-sex peer evaluation   What my opposite-sex teammates think
                                   of me as a player or performer
  Opposite-sex peer comparison   How well I do in practices compared
                                   to my opposite-sex teammates

Note. All items were identical between participants on SS and MS
teams with the exception of the peer evaluation and peer comparison

Table 3. Correlations, Means, Standard Deviations, and Alpha Values for
Study Variables

                                                        sci:    sci:
                Cs      fs     SameST   oppst   pc      ce      pare

es               1.00
fs               0.22   1.00
sameST           0.31   0.55    1.00
oppst *          0.32   0.18    0.61     1.00
PC               0.18   0.19    0.37     0.02    1.00
sci: ce          0.38   0.11   -0.0l     0.11   -0.09    1.00
sci: pare        0.03   0.12    0.01    -0.20    0.28    0.21    1.00
sci: sspere      0.03   0.23    0.07    -0.09   -0.10    0.35    0.27
scei: sol       -0.05   0.00    0.08     0.22    0.07    0.29    0.30
sci: like        0.14   0.14    0.19     0.19    0.03    0.15    0.07
sci: wl         -0.05   0.22    0.18     0.24    0.10   -0.06    0.15
sci: se         -0.15   0.12    0.00     0.02    0.09    0.11    0.37
sci: goal        0.11   0.30    0.19     0.01    0.04    0.22    0.24
sci: ef          0.19   0.13    0.02     0.06   -0.15    0.31    0.04
sci: ospere *    0.10   0.32    0.11    -0.01   -0.09    0.27    0.57
sci: osperc *    0.02   0.04   -0.12    -0.18   -0.01   -0.14   -0.12

M                3.21   3.37    3.38     3.06    3.89    4.23    3.54
SD               0.59   0.69    0.60     0.69    0.69    0.72    0.91
Response scale    1-4    1-4     1-4      1-4     1-5     1-5     1-5
Alpha             .70    .74     .74      .81     .90     .83     .89

                sci:     sci:    sci:    sci:    sci:    sci:   sci:
                sspere   sol     like    wl      se      goal   ef

oppst *
sci: ce
sci: pare
sci: sspere      1.00
sci: sol         0.14     1.00
sci: like       -0.05     0.27    1.00
sci: wl          0.13     0.38    0.06    1.00
sci: se          0.42     0.15   -0.11    0.37    1.00
sci: goal        0.29     0.27    0.29    0.21    0.35    1.00
sci: ef          0.06     0.39    0.41    0.04   -0.09    0.38    1.00
sci: ospere *    0.50     0.16    0.10    0.19    0.25    0.36   -0.01
sci: osperc *    0.01    -0.02   -0.15   -0.08    0.13    0.16   -0.16

M                3.99     3.85    4.33    3.93    3.00    4.48    4.29
SD               0.75     0.69    0.81    0.79    0.84    0.54    0.61
Response scale    1-5      1-5     1-5     1-5     1-5     1-5     1-5
Alpha             .78      .86     .72     .85     .80     .72     .72

                sci:     sci:
                ospere   osperc

oppst *
sci: ce
sci: pare
sci: sspere
sci: sol
sci: like
sci: wl
sci: se
sci: goal
sci: ef
sci: ospere *      1.00
sci: osperc *      0.27     1.00

M                  3.19     2.20
SD                 0.89     0.94
Response scale       1-5      1-5
Alpha               .78      .81

Note: The first four rows refer to the sources of social support.
cs = coach support, is = friend support, SameST = same-sex
teammate support, oppst = opposite-sex teammate support. The rows
that follow refer to die level and sources of competence
information pc = level of perceived competence, ce =coach
evaluation, pare= parent evaluation, sspere =same-sex peer
evaluation sspere=same-sex peer comparison sol = speed of
learning, like = liking for spat, wl = win/loss record. se=
spectator evil option goal =goal achievement, ef=effort, ospere=
opposite-sex peer evaluation osperc = opposite-sex peer comparison

* The same-sex subscales were completed by all participants (for
athletes on SS teams, the sex of the teammates was not specifically
indicated in the items). The opposite sex subscales were only
completed by the participants on MS teams (n =43)

Table 4. Sources of Social Support by Team Type and Participants'

                                       Male        Female
                                 participants  participants

                                    M     SD      M     SD

Mixed-sex teams                      (n = 23)     (n = 20)

  Coach support                   3.28   0.50   3.31   0.57
  Friendship support              3.07   0.79   3.66   0.49
  Same-sex teammate support       3.08   0.55   3.58   0.58
  Opposite-sex teammate support   3.10   0.65   3.03   0.75

Same-sex teams                       (n = 38)      (n = 26)

  Coach support                   2.99   0.66   3.40   0.51
  Friendship support              3.37   0.64   3.43   0.71
  Same-sex teammate support       3.48   0.54   3.40   0.65

Table 5. Source of Competence Information by Participants' Gender
and Team Type

                               Participants' gender main effect

                              Men         Women     Stand
Sources of competence      (n = 60)     (n = 46)   Discrim
information                                         Func.    Cohen's
                        M      SD     M      SD     Coeff.      d

Coach evaluation        4.03    .68   4.54   .53     -.66#     -.84
Peer evaluation         3.66    .80   3.41   .98      .29       .28
Same-sex peer           3.93    .80   4.11   .64     -.28      -.25
Speed of learning       3.86    .73   3.81   .66      .24       .07
Liking                  4.23    .88   4.44   .70      .01      -.26
Win-loss                4.08    .83   3.73   .72      .18       .45
Spectator evaluation    3.19    .82   2.79   .81      .62#      .49
Goal                    4.40    .58   4.58   .48     -.43#     -.34
Effort                  4.15    .61   4.44   .57     -.14      -.49

                            (n=23)       (n=20)

Opposite-sex peer       3.06   1.05   3.38   .59               -.38
Opposite-sex peer        210    .94   2.32   .91               -.24

                                    Teamtype main effect

                          Same-sex     Mixed-sex   Stand
Sources of competence      (n=63)        (n=43)   Discrim
information                                        Func.     Cohen's
                                                   Coeff.       d

Coach evaluation        4.27   .73   4.23   .57     -.13       .06
Peer evaluation         3.67   .96   3.38   .76      .24       .33
Same-sex peer           4.22   .63   3.69   .78      .90#      .75
Speed of learning       4.00   .67   3.61   .68      .58       .58
Liking                  4.23   .90   4.44   .65     -.27      -.27
Win-loss                4.03   .78   3.78   .81      .20       .31
Spectator evaluation    3.04   .87   2.97   .79     -.38#      .08
Goal                    4.43   .53   4.54   .55     -.53#     -.20
Effort                  4.27   .58   4.29   .66      .02      -.03

Opposite-sex peer        --     --   3.21   .87
Opposite-sex peer        --     --    220   .92

Note. Bold standardized discriminant function coefficients are >
[absolute value of .3] criterion. Only athletes on 1-15 team
completed the opposite-sex peer evaluation and comparison

Note. Bold standardized discriminant function coefficients are >
[absolute value of .3] criterion indicated with #.
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