Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Leadership as Communicative Practice: The Discursive Construction of Leadership and Team Identity in a New Zealand Rugby Team

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posted on 2021-11-12, 00:20 authored by Wilson, Nicholas Andrew

In sports teams, the way in which leaders such as coaches and captains communicate with players is vital to the success of the team. However, despite extensive psychological and sociological research on sport, it has rarely been a site of linguistic research. Like many sports, rugby has many traditions and ideologies that influence the way in which teams form identities. This thesis explores the way in which leadership is enacted and group identity forged through communicative practice in a New Zealand rugby team. Using authentic interactions collected using an ethnographic methodology, an analysis is presented of how discourse strategies are negotiated within the team, establishing practices that signify membership of communities of practice (CofPs) and creating identities for individuals as leaders. Leadership discourse is itself viewed as a sociolinguistic practice and defines one of the CofPs within the team. Using the concepts of front and back-stage (Goffman 1959; Richards 2006) to describe different conceptual spaces in which interactions occur, I suggest that discourse in the rugby team is a spatialised practice; the performance of a particular style of leadership constructs the space in which it takes place as public or private, with each contributing to an effective leadership performance. The construction of leadership identity is analysed in terms of stance and indexicality, linking locally constructed identities and discourse strategies to macro identity categories and socio-cultural ideologies. One of the ways in which this is examined is through the role of ritual and formulaic language in the team, showing that while communicative practice is negotiated in the back stage, in the front stage its performance serves to construct team identity while aiming to motivate the players. Furthermore, the structural nature of the game of rugby (i.e. players’ positional requirements) is examined in relation to the different communicative strategies adopted by positionally segregated groups. It is suggested that these groups, although institutionally defined, create meaning for themselves as CofPs by negotiating a shared way of communicating in enacting their role in the team. In sum, this research uses CofP theory to examine how leaders emerge through their linguistic practices. Furthermore, it locates leadership as a spatialised practice and examines how leaders influence the discursive construction of group identity. Finally, the analysis also makes a valuable contribution to the field of sociolinguistic research on sport, a small yet growing area.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Holmes, Janet; Marra, Meredith