Communication in Sports Teams: A Review

By Ishak, Andrew W. | Communication Research Trends, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Communication in Sports Teams: A Review


Ishak, Andrew W., Communication Research Trends


1. Introduction

In 2007, I was a sports-loving grad student in the first semester of my doctoral program in communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin. No one in my department studied sports, but they were encouraging about pointing me in the right directions. I remember looking up "sports" and related terms in the National Communication Association (NCA) online program that November; trying to find any and all articles about sports teams in communication journals; and inquiring with faculty members and peers to see if they knew about people studying sports in our field. I found some meaningful articles, attended insightful presentations, and met some wonderful people. But I still felt that there should have been more.

Since then, the field has changed dramatically, and the visibility of (and outlets for) research on communication and sport has burgeoned. In the past decade, the International Communication Association formed the Sports Communication Interest Group, followed by the Communication and Sport Division established in NCA in 2015. The semi-annual Communication and Sport Summit (later renamed the International Association for Communication and Sport) started in 2002 and has become a more regular event now held every March, bringing together scholars from across the country and world. On top of all this, Sage published the first four issues of Communication and Sport in 2013, and expanded to six issues per year in 2017, under the editorship of Lawrence A. Wenner, in addition to two other publications, the International Journal of Sport Communication and the Journal of Sports Media. These new outlets for research on sports and communication are invaluable for sport communication scholars and reflect the impressive recent expansion of the field.

Much of the research in the aforementioned sport communication outlets has focused on two main areas. First, the study of sports and mass communication, which has been led by scholars like Andy Billings at the University of Alabama, examines how different forms of media, such as television, Twitter, and traditional journalism communicates sports. The communication at play in these studies forms the method in which consumers view and interact with spectator sports. Second, sports provides a site for studying rhetoric and spectacle. This area uses sports as a lens through which to view society, and has seen groundbreaking work led by scholars like Michael Butterworth at the University of Texas.

Wenner (2015) also sees a similar distinction between these areas, and his praise and criticism of these areas is worth reading. In short, Wenner believes that both of these areas fall under the heading of Media, Sports, and Society, and they would each do well to pay attention to the methods, goals, and findings of the other. Still, a healthy interest marks out both areas, and interested parties can get a general sense of them by exploring the most widely read textbook, Communication and Sport: Surveying the Field (Billings, Butterworth, & Turman, 2015) or the most comprehensive edited book, Defining Sport Communication (Billings, 2017).

The growth of research in media, sports, and society had led to what Wenner (2015) refers to as the "snowballing" of interest in making sports an official emphasis in communication and media studies programs, even though "such programs had been, up until recently, notably resistant to legitimizing sport in their stables" (p. 249). Wenner adds that, in the last decade, sport communication and media programs have popped up at schools like Penn State, Texas, Southern California, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Maryland, Bradley, and Marist.

Still, one particular subsection of communication and sport remains under-cultivated. A surprisingly small percentage of the sports communication literature has addressed team dynamics in sports, even within outlets that are specifically dedicated to communication and sport. …

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