Team Building Norms

In  a  broad  sense,  norms  reflect  inferences  about accepted,  appropriate,  valued,  and/or  desirable behavior.  Norms  differ  from  rules  and  laws  in that  they  are  implicit  (as  opposed  to  explicit)  in nature, and normative influences have been studied since at least the late 19th century in the fields of social psychology and sociology. More recently, these processes have been integrated as fundamental  components  within  prominent  group  dynamics and health behavior models (see, e.g., the entry Theory of Planned Behavior, this volume), and in the contemporary literature, norms are often categorized on the basis of whether they are injunctive or descriptive in nature. Injunctive norms refer to  one’s  appraisals  about  what  significant  others think one should do (e.g., my parents think that I should exercise), whereas descriptive norms relate to  one’s  appraisals  about  what  significant  others actually do (e.g., my parents exercise a lot). As a method  for  guiding  our  intentions  and  behavior across a variety of settings, context-specific norms exist in relation to various independent (e.g., exercise,  diet)  and  interpersonal  (e.g.,  sports  teams, coach–athlete  relationships)  activities.  We  might, for  instance,  feel  that  our  parents  place  great importance on us making healthy dietary choices, that it is necessary to be punctual for meetings with our coach, or that members of our sports team are expected  to  exert  maximum  effort  during  training drills. At their most global level, injunctive and descriptive cultural norms (e.g., regarding eye contact, greeting rituals) also provide a framework for what is considered acceptable (or not) for diverse groups of people across the globe.

In sport and exercise, norms have been investigated  in  individual,  relationship,  and  team-based contexts. With respect to individual pursuits, perhaps  the  most  widely  studied  normative  concept is  that  of  subjective  norms.  Within  the  theory of  planned  behavior,  subjective  norms  reflect  an injunctive  perception  that  develops  as  a  function of  (a)  individuals’  inferences  about  the  extent  to which others think they should perform a behavior (e.g., my friends think it’s really important to exercise) and (b) the degree to which they are motivated to comply with those inferred views (e.g., I don’t care  much  about  what  my  friends  think  I  should do).  In  conjunction  with  attitudinal  and  control perceptions, subjective norms have been shown to be  important  in  predicting  individuals’  intentions to perform a given behavior. A substantial body of literature  has  demonstrated  that  individuals  may hold elevated exercise intentions when they believe that  their  friends  and  family  think  they  should exercise  regularly  and  when  they  are  motivated to  conform  to  those  opinions.  Alongside  subjective norms, there is also evidence that descriptive norms  support  behavioral  intentions  in  exercise and health settings. For example, it is not uncommon  for  adolescents  to  seek  to  engage  in  desirable (e.g., exercise) or undesirable (e.g., smoking) health behaviors due to the notion that “everyone else seems to be doing it.”

In relational and team contexts, norms are common in dictating interpersonal behavior and team harmony.  For  example,  in  order  to  limit  conflict and  promote  relationship  maintenance  in  one-to-one interactions, coaches and athletes may develop norms  regarding  what  they  consider  to  be  desirable  communication  strategies,  rewards  or  incentives,  and  practice  behavior,  among  other  things. Similarly, in larger interdependent networks, such as  sports  teams,  group  norms  emerge  that  help provide  consensus  about  the  behaviors  that  are (and  are  not)  considered  appropriate  and  desirable.  Group  norms  develop  through  the  interactions and reinforcement processes that exist within a  team,  and  they  serve  an  important  function  in terms  of  informing  group  members  about  behavioral  standards,  as  well  as  unifying  the  group around a common set of principles. Research has shown  that  group  norms  develop  regarding  both task (e.g., at competition and practice) and social (e.g.,  at  social  events)  aspects  of  behavior.  For instance,  group  members  have  often  been  shown to endorse productivity norms, which state that all players are expected to display a strong work ethic during practice and competition, and to maintain their fitness and physical condition during the offseason.  Importantly,  these  perceived  group  productivity norms can facilitate team member effort and  bolster  overall  team  effectiveness.  It  has  also been shown that teams develop implicit standards around  various  other  issues  that  include,  but  are not limited to, appearance (e.g., we all stick to the dress  code),  punctuality  (e.g.,  players  must  be  on time for all team meetings), attendance at practice and social events (e.g., it is expected that all team members attend all team activities), and attitudes toward social events (e.g., we don’t embarrass our team  during  outings).  Group  dynamics  research in sport has documented that adherence to group norms is at its greatest when individuals feel they are  part  of  a  highly  cohesive  (i.e.,  united)  team. However,  when  an  individual  transgresses  and violates  a  group  norm,  sanctions  are  likely  to  be placed  on  that  person  that  help  further  reinforce the  nature  and  importance  of  these  consensus standards. For example, if a player violates a norm for fair play by committing an aggressive foul and  harming  a  teammate  during  practice,  she  or  he may receive criticism from the rest of the team and in extreme cases may be dropped (temporarily or permanently) from the team’s roster.

Another type of normative belief that has been studied in relation to competitive behavior within team sports is the concept of moral norms. Moral norms reflect players’ perceptions of the behaviors that others, such as coaches and teammates, view as either moral or immoral and have been shown to  align  with  important  aggression-related  outcomes. For instance, when coaches place a strong emphasis on winning (rather than on personal or team mastery), players are more likely to endorse a  norm  that  supports  the  acceptability  of  aggression  and  seek  to  injure  an  opponent,  as  well  as show  reduced  respect  for  rules  and  officials.  In sum,  injunctive  and  descriptive  norms  not  only help  shape  our  intentions  and  behavior  in  sport and  exercise  but  they  also  provide  an  important implicit  scaffold  that  guides  our  interactions  in relationship and team settings.


  1. Carron, A. V., & Eys, M. A. (2012). Group dynamics in sport (4th ed.). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
  2. Munroe, K., Estabrooks, P., Dennis, P., & Carron, A. V. (1999). A phenomenological analysis of group norms in sports teams. The Sport Psychologist, 13, 171–182.
  3. Rivis, A., & Sheeran, P. (2003). Descriptive norms as an additional predictor in the theory of planned behavior: A meta-analysis. Current Psychology, 22, 218–233.

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