Centrifugal Social Forces in a Youth Sport League

Laurence Chalip, E. Philip Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The dynamics of conflict among sport clubs for children and adolescents are examined via a case study of a summer swimming league in the American southwest. Participant observation, interviews, and archival analysis of league and member team records are used to document and describe the escalation of political rivalries, the emergence of policy coalitions, the aggravation of conflict among clubs, and the consequent efforts to splinter or disband the league. It is shown that the conflict resulted, in part, from the league's inability to formulate or implement policies addressing the consequences of its own growth and success. It is argued that the league's inability to formulate and implement new policy initiatives can be attributed to four forces: (1) goal displacement, causing means to become conflated with ends during policy debates; (2) tribalism in the confederation of rivals, causing parochial issues to dominate league decision processes; (3) the uncertainty of principals, causing personalities rather than issues to be the focus of problem attributions; and (4) the tether of tradition, causing policy proposals to be disregarded. These forces caused league policymaking to be reactive rather than proactive. It is suggested that team competition, which is the raison d'etre of such leagues, will generate these forces unless specific procedures are implemented at league level to blunt their impact. These findings suggest new directions for research, league design, and the management of sport systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-67
Number of pages25
JournalSport Management Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Marketing

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