Research Output
An examination of initiation rituals in a UK sporting institution and the impact on group development
  Research question: This study investigates the impact of initiation rituals on group development. Through the application of chaos theory, we examine how the trajectory of team development is inherently unpredictable due to the complex nature and uncertainty of initiation rituals.

Research methods: The paper draws upon 42 interviews with student athletes from a UK university. The UK context provides a new perspective on initiation activities that are currently dominated by studies in a US setting.

Results and findings: From our coding of interview data four themes emerge: Forced assimilation, Dejection, Commitment, and Performance. The results find initiation rituals force sport teams into a period of chaos where outcomes can vary from improved performance to dejection. Thus, sports teams can experience any, or all of the themes present in our findings, and previous group cohesion is an unreliable predictor for successful group development post-initiation.

Implications: Theoretically, we further understanding of group development as an unpredictable system due to the nuances and complexities associated with initiations that stimulate periods of chaos. Practically we find administration of bureaucratic control is an ineffective mechanism for constraining initiation activities, and instead it is team leaders and captains who should guide behaviour towards constructive and enjoyable initiations associated with improved commitment and performance of sporting teams.

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  • Date:

    20 February 2018

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  • Publisher

    Informa UK Limited

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  • Funders:

    Heriot Watt University


Thompson, J., Johnstone, J., & Banks, C. (2018). An examination of initiation rituals in a UK sporting institution and the impact on group development. European Sport Management Quarterly, 18(5), 544-562.



Initiations, hazing, chaos theory, group development, team formation

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