Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Kinesiology

Supervisor

Burke, Shauna M.

Abstract

Three separate studies examined the use of humor in intercollegiate varsity sport. The first explored, via focus groups, who, what, where, when, and why humor is used. The second examined, via multilevel modeling, how athletes’ perceptions of cohesion (measured via the Group Environment Questionnaire; Carron et al., 1985) related to the styles of humor (measured via a modified version of the Martin et al. (2003) Humor Styles Questionnaire), used by athletes, teams, and head coaches. The third investigated, via multilevel modeling, how the styles of humor used by athletes and head coaches related to athletes’ liking of the head coach, via select items from the Coach Evaluation Questionnaire (Rushall & Wiznak, 1985). Results showed that humor use was ubiquitous and associated with positive and negative outcomes. The results of Study 1 showed that humor was used to achieve the positive outcomes of enhanced sport relationships, coping, and performance. Within sport relationships, the results from Study 2 and 3 showed that athletes’ and coaches’ use of positive styles of humor (i.e., affiliative and self-enhancing) were generally related to athletes’ increased perceptions of team cohesion and liking of the head coach. With regard to negative outcomes, the results of Study 1 showed that if humor use was excessive, ill-timed, and/or negative (i.e. aggressive or self-defeating), it could result in damaged relationships, distressed individuals, and reduced performance. Studies 2 and 3 also showed that athletes’ use of self-defeating humor was associated with decreased athlete perceptions of task cohesion and liking of the head coach, whereas head coaches’ use of self-defeating humor was associated with decreased athlete perceptions of social cohesion. These results align with Martin’s (2007) conceptualization of humor as a social skill such that its use, when in the right amount, at an ideal time, and with the optimal style, can have numerous potential benefits. This dissertation was also the first to note potential detrimental outcomes associated with the use of humor in intercollegiate varsity sport; thus several recommendations for both coaches and athletes were advanced to maximize the benefits of its use.

Summary for Lay Audience

Humor occurs in all areas of life, including sport, and can be used in four different styles. The first, affiliative humor, is used to share funny stories and laugh with others to enhance relationships. The second, self-enhancing humor, is used to feel better during difficult moments and cope with challenges. The third, aggressive humor, is used sarcastically, and may be mean-spirited, to put others down and make oneself feel better. The fourth, self-defeating humor, is used to put oneself down to make others feel better. The present dissertation includes three studies that were conducted to fill gaps in the literature regarding the use of humor—and the four styles mentioned above—in intercollegiate varsity sport. Results from Study 1, which consisted of 10 focus groups conducted with 31 intercollegiate varsity athletes from eight sports, showed that all four styles of humor were used by a range of individuals, in multiple locations, and at various times. Athletes noted that the reasons for humor use included enhancing relationships, increasing performance, and coping with challenges. Athletes also indicated, however, if humor was used excessively, at the wrong time, and/or in the wrong style, it could damage relationships, decrease performance, and distress individuals. The results from Study 2, conducted with 278 athletes and 36 coaches from intercollegiate teams in four sports across Canada, showed that the use of affiliative and self-enhancing humor was related to increased team cohesion, whereas the use of self-defeating humor was related to decreased cohesion. Within the same population, the results of Study 3 showed that athletes’ use of affiliative and self-enhancing humor, as well as head coaches’ use of affiliative humor, were related to increased liking of the head coach by athletes. Conversely, athletes’ use of self-defeating humor was related to decreased liking of the head coach. Previous research has illustrated only positive outcomes associated with the use of humor in intercollegiate varsity sport; thus, the findings in this dissertation regarding the potential negative consequences are particularly valuable. If used appropriately, humor may help intercollegiate varsity sport teams enhance coping, improve relationships, and laugh their way to a championship.

Available for download on Tuesday, April 20, 2021

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