Status in Sport

Status  represents  an  individual’s  social  standing in  relation  to  others.  Attributes  of  status  can  be based  upon  physical  characteristics  (e.g.,  age)  or intangible  attributes  (e.g.,  prestige,  prominence). Individuals  with  higher  status  are  often  afforded more social benefits including respect, more unsolicited  help  from  others,  greater  praise  for  performance,  disproportionate  credit  for  successful collaborative  efforts,  and  more  opportunities  to share their opinions. Higher status individuals perceive the world and themselves differently and more favorably  than  do  those  of  lower  status.  Status is  an  important  concept  within  group  settings  as perceptions of status influence thoughts, attitudes, and  behaviors  of  individuals  toward  other  group members. While status and its influence on group members has been a topic of considerable interest in the fields of social and organizational psychology, research on status is relatively recent in sport and exercise settings. In this entry, we investigate attributes of status and empirical evidence on the topic in sport and physical activity (PA) settings.

Attributes of Status in Sport

Shanthi  Jacob  and  Albert  Carron  conducted  a series  of  studies  examining  attributes  of  status  in sport. In an initial review of literature in psychology,  sociology,  and  sport  sciences,  they  identified 17 attributes of status. The attributes were further classified  into  two  categories:  (1)  achieved  status attributes—attributes  such  as  education  or  experience  that  are  products  of  personal  effort—and (2)  ascribed  status  attributes—attributes  such  as race or parental education that are independent of personal effort. The most salient status attributes included  competitive  experience,  performance, and team role (captain or cocaptain)—all of which are achieved status attributes.

In a follow-up study, Jacob and Carron examined the association between perceived status and cohesion  in  sport  teams.  The  sample  included intercollegiate Canadian and Indian athletes from a wide cross section of sports (e.g., volleyball, basketball, soccer, hockey), and they found that athletes who perceived greater task cohesion on their respective teams (i.e., higher personal involvement with group’s task, productivity, and goals) placed less importance on status within the team.

Recently,  Jacob  Johnson  (née  Jacob)  undertook a qualitative approach to further understand attributes  of  status  in  sport  teams.  Her  analysis revealed four main categories of status attributes: physical  (e.g.,  performance,  experience,  appearance,  role,  and  position),  psychological  (e.g., individual  psychological  attributes—positive  attitude, group psychological attributes—team spirit), demographic (e.g., age, income, family status), and relationships with external others (e.g., family support). Psychological rather than physical or demographic  attributes  were  deemed  most  important and  most  frequently  reported  by  Canadian  and Indian athletes.

Empirical Evidence on Status in Sport

Starting  status,  often  dichotomized  into  starters (i.e., athletes who begin competition on the playing  surface  and  typically  receive  regular  playing time) versus nonstarters (i.e., athletes that do not begin competition on the playing surface and typically  receive  irregular  playing  time),  has  been  a focus  of  sport  psychology  (SP)  research.  Starting (high-status)  athletes  hold  greater  perceptions  of dedication,  social  cohesion  (attractions  toward team  social  activities),  and  satisfaction  for  ability utilization.  In  contrast,  nonstarters  have  greater role ambiguity (i.e., lack of clarity in roles) and less role efficacy (i.e., belief in their capability to successfully perform role) than starters.

Status Inequality in Sport

Researchers  in  organizational  psychology  have highlighted  the  benefits  of  equal  status  within groups. Equal status teams make decisions on the basis  of  quality  of  information  regardless  of  the contributor’s status and provide lower status individuals with greater opportunities to enhance their self-efficacy  and  performance.  Amy  Christie  and Julian Barling examined how status inequality on sport  teams  is  related  to  individual  performance and physical health among 30 National Basketball Association (NBA) teams over six seasons. Status was operationalized through player salaries, number of games started, organizational tenure, player awards and recognitions, and star power. Physical health was evaluated based upon absenteeism. Key findings  revealed  that  status  inequality  impeded performance  across  time  for  lower  status  players  in  particular.  Mixed  evidence  was  found  for the  status  equality–physical  health  relationship.

The  inconsistent  findings  were  attributed  by  the researchers  to  the  lower  status  players  in  both equal  and  unequal  settings  feeling  pressured  to play  whether  ill  or  injured  due  to  job  insecurity. This explanation is consistent with previous studies on work place sickness and absenteeism.

Status and Physical Activity Participation

Status  research  in  physical  activity  (PA)  has predominantly  been  descriptive  and  focused  on sociodemographic  factors  such  as  age,  sex,  race, ethnicity,  and  socioeconomic  status  (SES).  Other status  classification  categories  include  education, marital  status,  parental  employment,  family  poverty,  and  self-reported  health.  Among  sociodemographic  factors,  SES  and  PA  have  received considerable  attention.  Higher  SES  youth  and adults  consistently  report  higher  PA  compared  to lower  SES  individuals.  While  much  of  the  status research  on  PA  and  exercise  has  been  descriptive and quantitative in nature, some limited work has qualitatively investigated the influence of status on PA behavior. Louise Humbert and colleagues asked high and low SES youth to share their perspectives on barriers to PA and how to get youth their age to  be  active.  Findings  indicated  that  environmental  factors  of  proximity,  cost,  access  to  facilities, and  safety  were  important  participation  factors for  youth  living  in  low  SES  areas.  Intrapersonal factors (e.g., perceived skill and competence to be physical  active)  and  social  factors  (e.g.,  friends, adult support) were identified as key intervention components to improve participation among both high and low SES youth.


  1. Christie, A. M., & Barling, J. (2010). Beyond status: Relating inequality to performance and health in teams. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(5),920–934.
  2. Humbert, M. L., Chad, K. E., Spink, K. S., Muhajarine, N., Anderson, K., Bruner, M. W., et al. (2006). Designing a youth physical activity program: Factors that influence participation among high and low SES youth. Qualitative Health Research, 16, 467–483.
  3. Jacob, C. S., & Carron, A. V. (1996). Sources of status in sport teams. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 27, 369–382.
  1. Jacob Johnson, C. S. J. (2004). Status in sport teams: Myth or reality? International Sports Journal, 55–64.
  2. Pettit, N. C., & Sivanathan, N. (2012). The eyes and ears of status: How status colors perceptual judgment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(5), 570–582.

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