2011. Vol.2, No.3, 202-209
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.23031
Identity in Sport Teams
Cristina Zucchermaglio, Francesca Alby*
Sapienza University, Rome, Italy.
Received February 2nd, 2011; revised May 4th, 2011; accepted June 2nd, 2011.
In this paper we analyze identity in a soccer team using a discursive perspective, in which individual psycho-
logical functioning is considered to be built in and through social interactions within groups. Analysis is based
on naturally-occurring interactions that were audio recorded during technical meetings before and after the
match. The data were collected within an ethnographic investigation of an Italian soccer team carried out over a
two-month period. The results show that the team’s members made rhetorical use of a complex repertoire of
their own and others’ social identities, and that two main variables influenced the use of social identity markers:
a) the role of the speakers (in particular the “power” role of the coach); b) the result of the match around which
the interactive discourse revolved. Against this background, we discuss how narratives and identity positionings
were used to achieve specific goals and to perform specific actions, such as the planning of future matches and
the interpretation of victories and defeats.
Keywords: Identity, Group, Discursive Psychology, Sport
To date the “psychology of sport” has had a mostly psycho-
physiological or cognitive interest in studying the athlete from
an individual point of view (see also Hogg & Hardie, 1991;
Hogg, 1996). Although groups are the basis of team sports, they
have certainly received less attention as specific social phe-
nomena. The majority of studies on sport teams always use
‘individual’ instruments such as questionnaires or measurement
scales of attitudes and behaviours of athletes or coaches.
Identity in sport teams has been studied from two main per-
spectives: a) an individual one, most widespread among sport
and exercise psychologists, which focuses on identity as a cog-
nitive and stable dimension of the individual (see for example
Killeya-Jones, 2005; Cox & Whaley, 2004; Anderson, 2004;
Schmid & Seiler, 2003) using standardized scales, tests and
interviews to ‘measure’ such an identity (Curry & Weaner,
1987); b) a social perspective, most widespread among sport
sociologists and anthropologists, which focuses on wider social
variables and contextual features (such as cultural, national,
political issues) (Mac Clancy, 1996; Robert, 1999) using narra-
tive and ethnographic methodology (see Thiele, 2003; Sparkes,
1996, 1997, 2002).
In this paper we adopt a third perspective (cultural and dis-
cursive psychology), in which individual psychological func-
tioning is considered to be built in and through social interac-
tions within groups.
Very few studies have adopted a conversational-discursive
approach to analysis of how identity and the related processes
of identification, differentiation and categorisation in sport
groups are carried out discursively (for example Finlay &
Faulkner, 2003; Locke, 2004 use a conversational methodology
to analyse individual interviews with athletes), and little em-
pirical research on these phenomena has used as its empirical
data transcripts of interaction/conversation among members of
sport teams.
In what follows we present this type of analysis, which was
conducted on identity negotiation processes in the discursive
interactions of an Italian soccer team.
Identity, Participation and Discourse
Cultural psychology, particularly in its discursive thread
(Cole, 1995; Billig, 1987; Edwards, 1998), has laid the founda-
tions for the contextual and rhetorical study of psychological
constructs. It emphasises the importance of the social and dis-
cursive context of interaction as the locus for the construction
and negotiation of individual and social identity (Muhlhausler
& Harré, 1990; Bruner, 1990; Goodwin & Goodwin, 2003). As
its units of psychological analysis, this perspective uses com-
munities of practice (Wenger, 1998) and all the ‘natural’ inter-
active situations in which the construction and negotiation of
shared meanings (also about identity) can be identified by link-
ing interaction and grammar. Here “grammar is part of a
broader range of resourcesorganizations of practices, if you
will—which underlie the organization of social life” (Schlegoff,
Ochs, & Thompson, 1996: p. 2), and social interaction in par-
Conversational research shows that self and social categori-
sations are situated outcomes of negotiation practices occurring
during social-discursive interactions with others, rather than
being static, cognitive traits of individual identity (Antaky &
Widdicombe, 1998). As Edwards (1998: p. 17) writes: “…self
categorizations, like categorizations of other people and of
everything else, are discursive actions done in talk, and per-
formative of talks current business”. On this view, identity is
something that people do which is embedded in some other
social activity, not something they are’” (Widdicombe, 1998: p.
Hence the discursive manipulation of one’s own identity or
those of others appears to be functional to achievement of
specific rhetorical objectives. These rhetorical strategies high-
light that identities can become important negotiation content
among members of a group, rather than being a stable charac-
teristic of their identity—an “a priori” of discourse in interac-
tion (in this regard see also the concept of “positioning”: Harré,
1989; Harré, & Van Langenhove, 1991). Consequently, as
Perkins (1994: p. 3) puts it, identity should not be considered
as “a pure and stable unit but as a sum and multiplicity of acts
of participation“.
In their seminal work, Antaki and Widdicombe (1998: p. 3)
described five aspects characterising the discursive study of
to have an identity is to be cast into a category with associ-
ated features;
such casting is indexical and occasioned;
it makes the identity relevant to the interactional business
going on;
the force of ‘having an identity’ is in its consequentiality in
the interaction;
all this is visible in people’s exploitation of the structures of
Sacks’s works (1992) on identity negotiation, too, have
shown how speakers choose what relevance to give to identity
according to the activities around which the interaction is built
(rhetorical objectives) by choosing particular categories with
which to link identity. Sacks stresses that these choices are
indexical (that is, defined by the terms used to mark the be-
longing categories to give salience), and occasioned, meaning
that there is a particular context where the categories chosen
assume relevance.
The concern has therefore been to analyse how the partici-
pants in socio-discursive interactions create, propose and use
specific identity categories in order to perform specific rhetori-
cal actions. Discourse is pervasively rhetorical (Billig, 1987), in
fact, and within ongoing discourse it is always possible to
choose among different ways to describe one’s own identity
and those of others: “situational variability is an intrinsic char-
acteristic of discourse and social actions in the sense that dis-
course always performs actions, it is constructed for specific
occasions, thereby reflexively constituting the meanings of
those occasions, and it is oriented rheto rically” (Edwards, 1998:
p. 18).
As interactive resources, each participant has different iden-
tities to show, and which to make salient in order rhetorically to
exhibit and position the self and the other. The choice among
these options is guided by social factors, such as the relation-
ship between the participants, their roles, and the object of the
interaction (Ochs, Gonzales, & Jacoby, 1996; Fasulo &
Zucchermaglio, 2002).
Methodologically, therefore, identity positioning is framed as
a discursive practice in which all members of the interacting
group participate. This requires consideration of the central role
performed by the discursive co-construction of joint narratives
in which all members position both themselves and simultane-
ously the others.
The cultural approach therefore enables study to be made of
rhetorical and strategic positionings not only as the individual
moves defined by Harrè and van Lagenhove (1991), but also as
the dynamic and social outcomes of forms of participation in
the activities of specific groups and communities.
These forms of participation in “social structures” should
also be interpreted in light of the interplay among the posi-
tionings and identity constructions of the participants in the
interaction. Different levels of participation in the community
are activated by dynamic and strategic positionings which
should be interpreted as collective dynamics that refer to the
community’s ongoing activities. As Goffman (1959) notes,
also the participants’ representations of the setting are the
product of integrated collective activities, rather than being
isolated individual interpretations by each member: “the defi-
nition of the situation by a particular participant is an integral
part of a projection which is activated and maintained by the
close cooperation of several participants” (Goffman, 1959: p.
In this framework, identity is a resource that participants are
able to use during the interaction in a strategic way (Zimmer-
man, 1998), but opportunities to use different (even possible)
identities are context-related. In other words, the indexical
choice about one’s own positioning is not an individual process
which takes account of the social context. Rather, the context
itself plays an active role not only in allowing some possible
choices to be used by participants but also in determining the
access of individuals to the positioning process.
Antaki and Widdicombe (1998) suggest that the concept of
“procedural consequentiality” can be used to make joint con-
sideration of both the relevance acquired by the identity in the
context of interaction and the ways in which this relevance
contributes to defining/constructing the interactive context
Identities are accordingly studied as forms of social practices
of participation in groups. This crucial epistemological choice
has major consequences in terms of research methodology. The
data considered to be relevant are the interactive prac-
tices—discursive, visual and material—performed by social
actors in real settings. Social interactions are considered essen-
tial for analysis of how identity is socially constructed and
rhetorically used in groups—in sport teams as well.
Identity in a Soccer Team: Ethnography and
Discursive Data
The “soccer team” group examined by this paper is highly
distinctive (in the sense that its structure is the basis of all
group sport activity) because it is conditioned by rather unpre-
dictable work results (its activity is basically “sport-game-work”)
and because this activity has a rather important social meaning.
Thorough ethnographic analysis carried out over a two-month
period (Zucchermaglio, 2005) revealed a series of aspects and
characteristics regarding the functioning of the “soccer team”
group and identified the specific times in the team’s weekly
routine of greatest interest from the interactive and communica-
tive point of view.
The team was organised into small groups according to
technical area (defence, midfield, attack and goalkeeping).
There were other basic but external “groups”, such as
members of the coaching staff, the managers, the fans, and
the club.
The most communicative of the various interactions char-
acterising the life of the “team” group, with respect to its
more technical1 phases, was when the work done and the
work to be done was planned and explained. This took
place during the coaching sessions immediately following
the weekly game (usually on a Tuesday).
In fact, the “team” group usually met at the first coaching
session after the championship2 game in order to discuss the
work done and to plan the next week of work. The meeting was
held in the changing rooms or in an area of the coaching field.
There was then another interactive encounter when a sort of
general review of the work was conducted. This preceded the
official game by about two hours and took place in a room at
the club’s headquarters.
Owing to these characteristics, which were particularly func-
tional for our research objectives, we decided to observe two
interactions following two games with opposite results (a vic-
tory and a defeat) and a pre-game situation. All the players, the
manager, the athletic trainer, the goalkeeping coach and the
assistant coach always participated in the interactions ob-
The three interactions observed were audio recorded for a
total of around two hours of conversation; and they were com-
pletely transcribed using Jefferson’s method (Jefferson, 1989).
The entire corpus consisted of 788 turns of conversation dis-
tributed non-homogeneously among the three observations.4
Identity in Action: Groups, Power and Narrative
This corpus of data has already subjected to a preliminary
analysis which revealed a more complex and dynamic situation
than the simple In-group/Out-group pattern, with the emergence
of a plurality of “groups” in the interactive discourse of the
soccer team’s members (cfr. Zucchermaglio, 2005). In particu-
lar, it has been shown that the team’s members made rhetorical
use of a complex repertoire of their own and others’ social
identities, and that two main variables influenced the use of
social identity markers: a) the role of the speakers (in particular
the “power” role of the coach); b) the result of the match
around which the interactive discourse revolved.
This latter result is particularly interesting because it shows
that groups are made to “exist” in discourse in order to achieve
specific rhetorical objectives. The manipulation of social iden-
tities in post-victory and post-defeat interactive situations
showed not only that social identities are many (in the sense
that each of us has several of them) but above all that the choice
of which identity to make salient in discourse is rhetorically
In the interactive situation following a defeat, the markers of
own and others’ social identities were used much more fre-
quently than they were in a post-victory situation. This is in-
dicative that the players and the coach felt a strong need to
differentiate the social identities of groups or subgroups to
which specific blame could be attributed in the event of defeat.
Sport team members segment their own and others’ social
worlds to achieve their rhetorical goals. By placing themselves
and others in “groups” they present and share a certain repre-
sentation/interpretation of reality. Research shows that mem-
bers seek to identify the specific contributions made by techni-
cal areas to defeats (for example: “it’s the fault of the defend-
ers…”), while in the case of victory there is no specific analysis
of behaviour on the pitch, with the merit being attributed indis-
criminately to the team as a whole (for example: “It’s the merit
of the team”). It is also important to stress that these “propos-
als” of positioning should be shared by the other members if
they are to have a rhetorically structuring effect on the interac-
tive discourse (for more detailed analysis of these results, see
Zucchermaglio, 2005).
Against this background, which is already interesting for the
light that it sheds on the rhetorical manipulation of the social
identities arising in the discourses of this professional soccer
team, in what follows we shall conduct more detailed analysis
of the relation between the construction and use of specific
identity positionings and the rhetorical actions performed
through these positionings by the members of the sport group,
doing so in relation to the interactive features of the three
meetings analyzed.
Team Meetings as Narrative Templates
As said, the interactive data on which we base our analysis
concern three team meetings. Specifically, meeting T1 took
place after a victory in the championship, meeting T2 just be-
fore a match, and meeting T3 two days after a defeat. All the
players, together with the manager and the coach, were present
at the meetings. The temporal location of the meetings with
respect to the matches (and their outcomes) makes them highly
diversified in regard to the actions (also those of categorization
and identity positioning) performed during them.
Meeting T1 was held after a victory and it mainly took the
form of a collective brainstorming session. This team identity
(constantly evoked during meeting T1) was most functional to
producing collective metacognitive organized reflection guided
“pedagogically” by the manager and the coach.
Meeting T2 was held just before a match, and its action cen-
tred on forecasting the likely course of the game. The narratives
produced and the patterns of participation by the team members
were functional to constructing imaginary scenarios intended to
facilitate and coordinate the team’s future collective action on
the pitch (on this see Fasulo, Zuccchermaglio, 2008).
Meeting 3 took place after a defeat. Compared with meeting
T1 (held after a victory), when the group conducted more gen-
eral analysis of the team’s behaviour, on this occasion the talk
was about the game lost, and both the opposing players and the
team were marked in identity terms. For example (see excerpt
10), the manager made much more specific reference (also with
names and surnames) to individual players, and also to “criti-
cal” game behaviours which had led to defeat (“we had an extra
man in midfield rather than an extra man in defence”).
1The “match” situation was not significantly communicative except for the
interval between the two halves. However, the researcher did not have ac-
cess to the changing rooms at official times because they were off limits and
Federation security measures forbade it.
2Between the Sunday game and the first practice session there was a day o
rest (Monday).
3There were 26 participants; 20 were speakers.
4The first encounter comprised 616 turns, the second 76 turns, and the third
96 turns.
Who are “We”?
A strong identity emergent from the community’s/team’s
discourses is “we” as a social entity. We found several in-
stances where this social identity was characterized, not by the
use of specific social categories (‘team”, “player”, etc.) or par-
ticular pronominal markers (“we”), but by a set of characteriza-
tions realized discursively through the description of the team’s
specific actions or properties (see on this Edwards, 1998). For
example (see excerpt 11), the manager stresses that an impor-
tant attribute of the team’s identity, and which distinguishes its
game behaviour (as well as the meanings of its defeats and
victories), is that the players are “C1 people5”.
Excerpt 11 (Meeting T3)
13 ALL1: [((laughs)) if we were Juventus playing in C1, it’s
obvious we’d always win, but we’re C1 people playing in C1!
(0.8) so?
13 ALL1: [((ride)) se noi fossimo la Juventus che gioca in
C1, è chiaro che dovremmo vincere sempre ma noi siamo gente
di C1 che gioca in C1! (0.8) allora?
In another case (see excerpt 12), the manager uses the same
mechanism of identity categorization for the team as a whole,
his purpose being to cite and emphasise behaviour (“when
some of our players were fouled, they looked at the referee
“)that he deems unacceptable (“we haven’t got the whistle, we
go on to the pitch and we play”; “until you hear the whistle, get
on with it”).
The manager further underlined this injunction by pointing
out the different behaviour of the opposing team (the one which
had won the game; “I didn’t see any Juve Stabia player com-
plaining because we’d committed a foul and the referee hadn’t
blown his whistle”).
Excerpt 12 (Meeting T3)
68 ALL1: when some of our players were fouled, they
looked at the referee. (1.2) only those you saw (1.5) then I  
didn’t see (1.0) Maurizio (0.8) tell me (1.8) What was IT
SUPPOSED TO MEAN? (0.5) I told you during the week,
especially Orazio, sometimes (0.2) or Misiti. (0.5) we haven’t
got the whistle, we go on to the pitch and we play. (0.2) a foul
is at the discretion (0.2) of who’s unfortunately (.) got the whis-
tle in his mouth. (.) UNTIL you hear the whistle(0.5) get on
with it (0.2) bear with it, (1.8) but it isn’t like that (2.2) but it
isn’t like that (0.5) I didn’t see one of the Juve Stabia players(.)
h complaining because we’d committed a foul and the referee
hadn’t blown his whistle > if we’d got him to do it < (1.5)
>we were there< (0.5) we saw it together (0.2) there were at
least two of us not just one (.) so (0.2) can you explain this fact
to me (3.5)
68 ALL1: qualche nostro giocatore quando subiva fallo
guardava l’arbitro. (1.2) solo quanti ne hai visti (1.5)  allora
non ho visto (1.0) Maurizio (0.8) dimmi (1.8) PER
SIGNIFICARE che cosa? (0.5) io ve lo dico anche durante la
settimana specialmente a Orazio qualche volta (0.2) o a Misiti.
(0.5) il fischietto non ce l’abbiamo noi noi andiamo in campo e
giochiamo. (0.2) il fallo è a discrezione (0.2) di chi purtroppo (.)
ha in bocca il fischietto. (.) FINO A CHE non si sente il fischio
(0.5) bisogna andarci dentro (0.2) di sana pianta, (1.8) però non
è così (2.2) però non è così (0.5) io non ho visto uno della Juve
Stabia (.) h reclamare perché noi abbiamo fatto un fallo e non
glielo ha fischiato > sempre se glielo abbiamo fatto < (1.5)
>eravamo lì< (0.5) l’abbiamo visto insieme (0.2) siamo almeno
in due non da solo (.) allora (0.2) mi sapete spiegare questo
fatto (3.5)
Frequently evident in the discourses analyzed, especially
during Meeting 2, are references to specific subgroups and
sections of the broader team group (for detailed quantitative
analysis of these phenomena see Zucchermaglio, 2005). As we
have seen, the salience and relevance of these subgroups were
functional to future game scenarios, especially but not solely
for the manager. Here, for example (see excerpt 13), player
CEN1 imagines the form that the relation between himself
(midfielder) and the two central defenders should take. De-
scribed in this fictional narrative are not only the technical-
athletic behaviour ‘expected’ of the defenders but also their
communicative behaviour (“Livio move up!”; “Livio take
Excerpt 13 (Meeting T2)
47 CEN1: according to me there should be: (0.5) a good dia-
logue between: between the two centres ((i.e. the central de-
fenders)) and me (.) I mean: [a-
48 ALL1: [continuous=fixed, (.) [fixed
49 CEN1: [exactly when they (saw it) and one of them
moves up, (.) >and they tell me < Livio move up! if (.) or:
Livio get him (0.5)
50 ALL1: if they’re in a bad way (0.2)
47 CEN1: secondo me ci dev’essere:: (0.5) un buon dialogo
tra: tra i due centrali ((si riferisce ai difensori)) e me (.) cioè
proprio: [un-
48 ALL1: [continuo=fisso, (.) [fisso
49 CEN1: [esatto quando loro (se la sono vista) e magari sale
uno di loro, (.) >e mi dicono< Livio sali! se (.) oppure: Livio
prendilo (0.5)
50 ALL1: se loro sono messi male (0.2)
References to specific subgroups (midfielders and defenders,
but also to subgroups in the opposing team) serve to populate
these future game scenarios with personages, and also to sup-
port their detailed, situated and dynamic (rather than generic,
abstract and static) creation/animation so that future game be-
haviour is more closely shared.
For example, again during Meeting T2 (see excerpt 14), the
manager propounds a fictional narrative of the ‘if….then’ type
with respect to the upcoming game. If the team can keep the
ball on the ground and move when the opposing midfielders or
defenders have ball possession, the more the team’s game be-
haviour will be positive and efficacious, also bearing in mind
the specific identity characteristics of the opposing central de-
fenders (“ball on the ground, it seems I can say that they’re
slow, right?”).
Excerpt 14 (Meeting T2)
72 ALL1: so the more we keep the ball on the ground, (0.2)
<and move when the midfielders > or the defenders have the
ball and there’s movement (.) the more the cut-offs will be. (.)
and the more they get into difficulties (.) the more likely they’ll
be (0.2) to commit fouls! (1.2) and so: create difficulties for the
central defenders who are (0.5) ball on the ground, it seems I
5‘Serie C1’ denotes a professional football league which does not cover the
entire country (like the top two divisions of Serie A and Serie B) but is
divided into three sections corresponding to the three geographical macro
North, Centre, and South
into which Ital
is conventionall
can say that they’re slow, right? (0.2) eh? (0.5)
72 ALL1: quindi più teniamo a terra sta palla, (0.2) <e ci
muoviamo quando i centrocampisti> o i difensori sono in
possesso palla più c’è movimento (.) più ci sono i tagli. (.) e più
questi possono andare in difficoltà (.) più questi gli possono
(0.2) fare un fallo! (1.2) e quindi:: creare difficoltà per i centrali
che sono (0.5) palla a terra mi sembra che posso dire che sono
lenti o no? (0.2) he? (0.5)
Playing an evidently important role in these “future” narrative
constructs are the identity characteristics of not only the team, its
sections and the players but also (all the more so because of the
game’s imminence) of their opponents, as we shall now see.
…Depends on Them
A general feature of all three meetings is that references to
the team’s identity and characteristics depend in situated and
specific manner on the identity characteristics attributed by the
speakers to the opposing team. For example (see excerpt 15),
the manager describes a general feature of his own team’s be-
haviour by citing the characteristics of the teams that it has
played against. The team plays well against “those that have got
something to say on the pitch” while it suffers (i.e. plays badly)
against those which “don’t play”, “don’t let you play” and
teams “tailor-made for C1”.
Excerpt 15 (Meeting T3)
saying did you see that at Battipaglia, (.) Crotone stands out (.)
and: (0.2) no Crotone is after- stands out: erm: Acireale, stands
out (.) Gualdo (0.2) those teams that perhaps, (0.2) that (.)
((coughs)) don’t play (.)
2 CEN1: CEN1: they don’t let [us:
3 ALL1: [=let’s say let’s say they don’t let us play. (0.8)
we’ve analyzed =we’ve said (0.2) probably against those that
have something to say on the pitch (0.2) we perhaps (.) we play
better (0.5), against those that instead (0.5) let’s call them, (.)
TAILOR-MADE for C1, (0.2) we find it difficult because: they
put: their fingers=they put: and: their feet=they put (0.2) they
don’t let you play (1.2) and because most of the teams are like
that, (1.5) what should we do (.) should we back down? (…)
cominciato a dire a hai visto mai che a Battipaglia, (.) viene
fuori Crotone viene fuori (.) e: (0.2) no Crotone è dopo-
\viene fuori: em: Acireale, viene fuori (.) Gualdo (0.2) quelle
squadre che magari, (0.2) che fanno (.) ((tossisce)) non giocano
2 CEN1: CEN1: non ci consen[tono di:
3 ALL1: : [=diciamo ecco diciamo non ci consentono di
giocare. (0.8) abbiamo analizzato=abbiamo detto (0.2)
probabilmente con quelle che hanno qualcosa da dire sul campo
(0.2) noi forse (.) siamo più bravi (0.5) con quelle che invece
(0.5) chiamiamole pure, (.) TAGLIATE ad hoc per la C1, (0.2)
si fa fatica perché: ti mettono: le dita=ti mettono: e: i piedi=ti
mettono (0.2) non ti fanno giocare (1.2) e siccome la
maggioranza di squadre sono quelle proprio, (1.5) che
dobbiamo fare (.) dobbiamo soccombere? (…)
The team’s identity characteristics are therefore highly inter-
dependent (and mobile), while the identities of its opponents
differ according to the courses of action highlighted as signifi-
cant. For example (see excerpt 16), a specific identity charac-
teristic of the opposing team is marked by the manager (and
given agency “for having made us suffer” and therefore play
badly) in order to construct an attitude among the players: they
must not brood on defeats; instead, they must confront each
game without dwelling on the ‘history’ of previous matches and
“starting over again”.
Excerpt 16 (Meeting T1)
487 ALL1: (…) he was exemplary ((referring to a defender
not among the speakers)) at the end of the game. (1.2) when he
entered the changing room. (0.5) you didn’t hear him but I did
CEN2: fuck off Crotone
ALL1: GOOD! (0.5) so he exorcized the last away game (0.2)
> He came in and he was mad as hell < < FUCK OFF CRO-
TIME (0.2) or I don’t know (.) I think it was an (.) outburst at-
CEN1: but not just to feel [better
ALL1: [for making him (.) suffer a game [that:
CEN1: [suffer in an increasing—on a path we were follow-
ALL1: [(it seems that you have to) start over again
CEN1: [but not just because of me, because of the team
ALL1: great [certainly
487 ALL1: (…) lui è stato emblematico ((si riferisce a un
difensore che non figura tra i parlanti)) a fine gara. (1.2)
quando È entrato negli spogliatoi. (0.5) voi non l’avete sentito
io sÏ
CEN2: vaffan’culo Crotone
ALL1: BRAVO! (0.5) ha esorcizzato la trasferta passata (0.2)
> È entrato dentro incazzato nero < < VAFFAN’CULO
(0.2) o di fatto non so (.) penso che quello era un (.)
esternazione per- (0.2)
CEN1: ma non cioè non solo un fatto di vivere [meglio
ALL1: [per averti fatto (.) soffrire più di tanto una parti[ta
CEN1: [soffrire in una crescita che- e in un percorso che
stavamo facendo
ALL1: [(sembra che uno deve) tornare daccapo
CEN1: [ma non solo legato a me legato alla squadra
ALL1: benissimo [certo
In order to reinforce this construct, the manager positively
emphasizes (“Good”) the exemplary behaviour of player CEN1,
who on entering the changing room had explicitly “exorcized
the last away game” (which had been a defeat).
Who Belongs to the Team?
It might seem relatively easy to distinguish between the
players and the training staff on the basis of ‘objective’ features
and roles. In fact, however, this identity distinction was often
anything but clear-cut during the socio-discursive interactions
observed. In the next example (see excerpt 17) player DIF1
speaks like a “coach” (“I saw a good team on form”).
Excerpt 17 (Meeting T3)
36 DIF1: [=very intensely (0.2) I saw the game: Thursday
despite >all the incidents that happened, < (0.2) >in short < I
saw a good team on form: perky, not to say that: (0.5) which
did: (0.5) I mean > even with certain tricks < stuff, I mean al-
ways serious and all that (0.2) [not that
36 DIF1: [=parecchio intensamente (0.2) io ho visto anche la
partita: giovedì nonostante > tutte le vicissitudini che sono
successe, < (0.2) > insomma < ho visto una squadra tonica bella:
pimpante non è da dì che: (0.5) che fa de: (0.5) cioè > anche
certi scherzi < robba, cioè uno sempre serio tutto quanto (0.2)
[non è che
It is interesting how player DIF1 is legitimated in his discur-
sive role by the manager as an expert player (“another of the
veterans”) made able by precisely this identity characteristic to
produce a more specific representation (“the view from above”)
of the team’s performance (see excerpt 18).
Excerpt 18 (Meeting T3)
39 ALL1: : [ALDO! ((CEN 2)) (1.5) °another of the veter-
ans° ((laughs)) (0.8) also because Maurizio, (0.2) perhaps has a
better understanding of > what we can do < because he’s (0.2)
been up several times (0.2) a view from above therefore (0.5)
he was (0.2) involved but not (0.8)
39 ALL1: : [ALDO! ((CEN 2)) (1.5) un altro dei più vecchi°
((ride)) (0.8) anche perché Maurizio, (0.2) ha una cognizione
forse migliore di > quella che possiamo avere noi< perché lui
(0.2) è stato alto diverse volte (0.2) la visione da sopra quindi
(0.5) era (0.2) coinvolto ma non (0.8)
This identity recognition thus enables the manager to legiti-
mate the oldest player as able to contribute importantly to the
analysis of what had happened during the defeat. It is also in-
teresting that this legitimation is granted with respect to a new
social identity marked by the pronoun “we” (“Maurizio perhaps
has a better understanding of what we can do”) and which puts
the manager and the players less expert than DIF1 into a single
This mobility in social and personal identity positionings is
also apparent in the following example (see Excerpt 19) where
the coach assumes several such positionings within the same
discursive exchange. He begins by speaking as an active mem-
ber of the team group (“we were unlucky”; the opposition was
really tough”; “intensity was lacking entirely”), almost as if he
is a player and not a member of the technical staff whose task
during meeting T1 was to write the findings of the brainstorm-
ing session on the blackboard. He resumes this role from turn
340 onwards (“now I want someone to take one of these
terms ….”).
Excerpt 19 (Meeting T1)
328.PREP: we were unlucky. (2.0) very unlucky (0.2) 
329 ALL1: then (1.5)
330 CEN2: it depends (0.5)
331 DIF4: depends (1.2) depends (.)
332 PREP: the opposition was really: tough
333 DIF4: [(........)
334 CEN2: [(........)
335 DIF4: we made ten minutes
336 PREP: intensity was lacking [entirely
337 ALL2: [sh:]
338 CEN1: [but when? (6.5)
339 CEN2: > then we hit the post < (1.5) as if you can score
a [goal on the post
340.PREP: [h: (0.2 > now < (.)I want someone to take: one  
of these terms (.)in case eh, (0.8) >I mean, someone has to play
the advocate for < (.) these eliminated terms here. (0.5) please.
328.PREP: siam stati sfortunati. (2.0) molto sfortunati (0.2)
329 ALL1: poi (1.5)
330 CEN2: dipende Ò (0.5)
331 DIF4: dipende (1.2) dipende (.)
332 PREP: l’avversario È stato proprio: tosto
333 DIF4: [(........)
334 CEN2: [(........)
335 DIF4: = dieci minuti amm fatt nuie
336 PREP: l’intensi[t ≠ È mancata del [tutto
337 ALL2: [sh:]
338 CEN1: [ma quando? (6.5)
339 CEN2: > poi abbiam preso il palo < (1.5) prendi se fai
[gol sul palo
340.PREP: [h: (0.2 > adesso < (.) voglio qualcuno che recupera:
 qualche termine di questi (.) .se=è il caso eh, (0.8) > cioè
qualcuno che fa l’avvocato per < (.) questi termini qui eliminati.
(0.5) a favore.
Even more illuminating light is shed on this phenomenon of
team group inclusion/exclusion by examples of ‘linguistic shift’
in the manager’s speech (see excerpt 20) taken from Meetings
T2 and T3. These illustrate how the manager’s choice of spe-
cific verbal forms enable him to remain simultaneously ‘within’
and ‘without’ the group of players (“we should be- you should
be”; “they played we played you played”; “we aren’t able to
play – you aren’t able to play”; “there were ten of us there were
ten of you”; “it’s not that we- it’s not that you had to work hard
back there.”.
Excerpt 20 (Meeting T2 e Meeting T3)
Meeting 2:
52 ALL1: [but (.) we should be- you should be good enough
not to gift them with a man. (1.0) because then what happens
(0.5) < there’s four of them (0.2) plus one five, (0.2) for three>
52 ALL1: [però (.) dovremmo essere- dovreste essere tanto
bravi da non regalare un uomo. (1.0) perché poi che cosa
succede (0.5) <ce n’è quattro (0.2) più uno cinque, (0.2) per
tre> (1.8)
Meeting 3:
1 ALL1: we were doing better, but I don’t know (.) let’s take
it as we saw it. (0.8) they played we played (0.5) you played
(0.5) >and you were better< apart from (.) the victories, but also
in your game play, understand? (0.5)
1 ALL1: stavamo meglio, non lo so però (.) prendiamoli per
quello che abbiamo visto. (0.8) loro giocavano noi giocavamo
(0.5) voi giocavate (0.5) h > e siete stati superiori < al di (.)
delle vittorie, ma anche come gioco espresso capito? (0.5)
7 ALL1: ah! (0.2) > so you said < Mister if (0.2) we play like
we know how there’s nothing there for anyone. The facts that
sometimes (.) we aren’t able to play- you aren’t able to play as
you know how (.)
7 ALL1: ah! (0.2) > allora tu mi hai detto < Mister se (0.2)
giochiamo come sappiamo non ce n’è per nessuno. il fatto è che
alle volte (.) noi non riusciamo a giocare- voi non riuscite a
giocare come sapete (.)
23 ALL1: [but I go back to when there were ten of us when
there were ten of you against Palermo (0.8) there were ten of
you and they didn’t get a single chance even playing (0.2) half
an hour: (.) From the attack=in practice (.............) (0.5) it’s not
that we had- it’s not that you had to work hard back there.
23 ALL1: [e ma io rivado a quando eravamo in dieci eravate
in dieci col Palermo (0.8) là eravate in dieci quelli non hanno
avuto un occasione pur giocando (0.2) mezzora: (.) all’attacco=in
pratica (.............) (0.5) non è che abbiamo- non è che avete
faticato là dietro.
These (very frequent) examples signal that the manager’s
identity constantly oscillates between being ‘a team member’
(and thereby closely identifying with the group as a whole, the
players and the coaching staff) and being a member with a par-
ticular status able to detach himself from the team in order to
furnish efficacious guidance and supervision – a distinction
reiterated shortly afterwards during Meeting T3 (see excerpt
Excerpt 21
21 ALL1: : [e (…) me as the manager (.) and I hope (0.2)
you as the players, (.) have different points of view. (…)
21 ALL1: : [e (…) io che faccio l’allenatore (.) e mi auguro
(0.2) che anche voi che fate i giocatori, (.) facciate un discorso
diverso. (…)
Adoption of a cultural perspective and a conversational
methodology has enabled us to describe how the rhetorical
manipulation of identity is a situated and social practice closely
interconnected with other processes and activities and per-
formed mainly through interactive discourse (i.e. by using lan-
guage, this being the most powerful instrument of cultural me-
Our findings show that identity was a negotiated, rhetorically
oriented and emergent outcome of the sport group’s socio-
discursive interactions, and that it was used to achieve specific
goals and to perform specific actions.
In pursuit of their rhetorical goals, the members of the team
segmented their social world by allocating themselves and oth-
ers to identity groups or categories functional to the presenta-
tion and sharing of a particular representation/interpretation of
past, present and future events. Examples are provided by the
manager, who “taught” a certain attitude by discursively creat-
ing a group of older players (as opposed to the younger ones);
by the player who gave salience to a group corresponding to a
section of the team in order to emphasise its responsibility for
errors; by the manager, who marked the characteristics of spe-
cific players in order to imagine their role in forthcoming
matches; and by the team, which analyzed itself in order to
determine its strengths and weaknesses.
It has thus been shown that the identity game served to create
a shared landscape in which the team members could meaning-
fully perform actions, take decisions, ask questions or make
One of the primary exigencies of social—and individ-
ual—life is to ensure the continuity of identities and interpreta-
tions of reality while also being able to introduce novelties and
to cope with desired or imposed changes. For groups, and sport
teams as well, this entails the constant sharing of information
about the past and the planning of new courses of action, while
respecting the complex array of roles, responsibilities and spe-
cialist practices unevenly distributed among the various team
members and in the socio-physical setting in which they act.
The ‘embeddedness’ of identity negotiation practices in the
characteristic and meaningful activities of a sport group (rather
than its existence as a cognitive and individual phenomenon) is
visible only if we adopt a sequential analysis of interactive data
such as those presented here. Were we instead to adopt iden-
tity-focused interviews or standardized scales, we would more
easily find clearly-defined borders of an abstract and general-
ized identity (identity construct), but we would necessarily be
unable to determine how identity construction and manipulation
emerge from, and are continuously shaped by, the ongoing
construction of a group’s situated social-discursive practices.
Our results consequently confirm the usefulness of primary
conversational data (transcripts of the discourse of social actors)
for analysis of the evolution and moment-by-moment construc-
tion of identity rhetoric. We believe that such an epistemologi-
cal and methodological choice may be applied to investigate,
besides the theme of identity negotiation, how other psycho-
logical phenomena in sport groups emerge interactively.
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