Collective Collapse and Performance Contagion in Basketball

Abstract: In this thesis, collective collapse in basketball is investigated. Although experienced by most team sport players, the phenomenon still puzzles the world of sports. Collective collapse is described as a sudden decrease in performance quality by a sport team, often with a devastating effect on the game outcome. The condition implies a social process, i.e. there is an impact on a majority of the team’s players that in turn influences the performance of the individual player. The phenomenon has received little scientific attention, thus there are no “ready to use” theories at hand to explain it. In Study I, a qualitative method is used to describe athletes’ and coaches’ experiences of collective collapse in basketball. A simulated recall interview technique is used where data is analysed according to the interpretative phenomenological method, resulting in a hierarchical structure of clusters. The clusters illustrate a collective collapse as a certain pattern of behaviour on the level of team and individual (passivity, individualism), emotional experience during the collective collapse episode (frustration, irritation) and group dynamic factors (lack of leadership and communication). In Study II, an experimental situation is set up where the intention is to artificially evoke participants’ poor performance when competing in a basketball shooting task. This is done by confronting them with a (pre-instructed) underperforming teammate (“the confederate”) used for manipulation. However, when compared with the control condition, the participants are not found to have been influenced, but they believe they have been. In Study III, archival data from basketball performance statistics is used for an intraclass correlational design. The results indicate that performance contagion exists. The conclusions drawn from the three studies are that collective collapse can be explained as a process beginning with a performance anomaly, where some players perform below expected standards at the same time as a function of chance, but where the anomaly is perceived as having a psychological mechanism. Such poor performance might develop into a contagious condition, where individuals influence each other to perform worse and worse, resulting in a downward spiral. A collective collapse can be viewed as a group dynamic phenomenon where roles and functions within the social structure of the team are ruptured, which in turn weakens the performance of the individual, accentuating dysfunctional behaviour for both individual and team. One explanation does not exclude the other, since a combination of factors appear to operate simultaneously.

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