Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Perceptions of Athletic Identity: A Case Study of a Niche Club Sport

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Perceptions of Athletic Identity: A Case Study of a Niche Club Sport

Article excerpt

"HARRY, THIS IS NO TIME TO BE A GENTLEMAN!" Wood roared as Harry swerved to avoid collision. "KNOCK HER OFF HER BROOM IF YOU HAVE TO!"                --J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 

In 2005, undergraduate students from Middlebury College formed the first quidditch team based off J.K. Rowling's fictional sport highlighted in the Harry Potter book series (Cohen & Peachey, 2015). Quidditch has now become a worldwide sport featuring hundreds of teams and a governing body, the International Quidditch Association (IQA). Teams from around the world are comprised of young adults, collegiate clubs, and individuals from local communities. Given the evident passion for the Harry Potter books and the up-and-coming nature of quidditch as an organized sport, it seems warranted to investigate the nature of athletes' investment in the sport.

Athletic identity (AI) is a construct that is formed and reformed throughout an individuals' life (Lamont-Mills & Christensen, 2006). This concept has been well established in the setting of traditional sports but has made little to no forays into alternative forms of sport. An understanding of AI within the context of quidditch, a highly unique collegiate sport, would allow sport marketers and universities alike to better understand this sports potential in areas such as college recruitment and retention. Therefore, the research questions for this study consisted of the following:

RQ1: How do quidditch participants perceive themselves in relation to their athletic identity?

RQ2: How do quidditch participants perceive the game of quidditch in the context of conventional sports?

RQ3: How do spectators, and fans of quidditch, perceive the athletic identity of the participants and the game of quidditch in comparison to conventional sports?

Literature Review

Quidditch is a modern version of an alternative sport. Alternative forms of sport are generally thought of as those enjoyed by a smaller group of individuals with unique personality traits and characteristics (Rhea & Martin, 2010; Rinehart & Sydnor, 2003). Common alternative sports include, but are not limited to, Ultimate Frisbee, slow pitch softball, surfing, skateboarding, and BMX biking (popularized by the X-Games). As such, alternative sports should be considered "activities that either ideologically or practically provide alternatives to mainstream sports and mainstream sport values" (Rinehart, 2000, p. 506). The game of quidditch combines athleticism, imagination, creativity, and silliness, which makes the participants a different demographic when compared to traditional sports (Cohen et al., 2012). Quidditch is a co-ed full contact sport which makes it unique in the sense that no other sports, to our knowledge, exist with the same premise (the mandatory gender ratio for each quidditch team is five to two - five males and two females, or vice versa).

When asked to give descriptive adjectives of themselves, quidditch participants provided both common traits of athletes (athletic, dedicated, & competitive) as well as other non-traditional traits (nerdy, quirky, & creative; Cohen et al., 2012). The five most identified factors of quidditch participation were found to be identification with Harry Potter, camaraderie and friendship, desire to have fun, desire to try something new, and desire to get in shape. Most of these factors can also be the same for traditional sports, as are the found benefits of the game of quidditch: leadership skills, social gains, self-confidence/pride, and a positive sport experience (Cohen & Peachey, 2015).

The focal point for this research was to identify how the quidditch participants perceived their own athletic identity (AI). Additional consideration was also given to the perceptions that spectators had regarding the game and its participants. Studies involving AI generally do not include spectators or audience members, but we felt an examination of many aspects of the case of a fledgling sport that is rapidly burgeoning would provide a more thorough understanding of this alternative version of sport and its possible impact on collegiate recruitment and retention. …

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