A human being is a social animal. Moreover, society tends to value people based on their relationships, so even those who do not crave a sense of belonging must form them in order to gain a positive image. Membership, such as belonging to a sports team, teaches an individual to put the needs of others before their own, made easier where the interests converge. In sports, both professional and amateur, acceptance or the lack of it depends both on real-life presentation of the person’s skills, and on their group interactions off-field. The goal of this paper is to elaborate on the subject of specific group dynamics aspects, such as the need to belong, exclusion and ostracism, as observed in the case of baseball players.
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While an amateur sports team is a structured group, a professional one is most often an intimate variation of the above-mentioned, meaning it reduces not only social but the emotional loneliness as well. In this way, a baseball team may be perceived as a family by its members. In my opinion, ambivalence is hardly a likely attitude among the members of a sports team, as a rejected, ostracized person is actively compelled to leave. The ostracism towards members of a rival team can have lasting consequences if such a member joins the team in question, it is the fans who hold resentment the longest. Moreover, in the history of baseball, players have been long ostracized and excluded due to their ethnicity or gender, as evidenced by segregated leagues, players being harassed or assaulted, and bans for women teams.
In amateur teams, the ball-toss paradigm can often be observed literally. In baseball, this is especially true in the case of pitchers and catchers, as they need to establish rapport. Otherwise, the pitcher might then disregard or miss the catcher’s signals, so the ball is not thrown as expected and, thus, not caught. It could be said that a struck out batter is the one person that does not get the ball, as he is excluded from the ballgame and placed back in the batter’s box (“Group Dynamics”).
In the case of team try-outs, we see the workings of the Exclusion paradigm. The players not possessing sufficient skills are excluded, as baseball is a highly individual sport. Moreover, if an active team member is ostracized, his worsened psychological state might contribute to diminished performance due to his poor mental game, such as a batter swinging, but missing the ball, which results in being struck out when repeated. Then, he will be further excluded as a result of underperforming.
Prolonged ostracism results in alienation, unworthiness, and helplessness, as the person’s need to belong is further fortified. The fight reaction might provoke aggressive behavior, such as throwing team equipment in the direction of other team members. In baseball teams, baseball bats present a great danger, as they can be used as assault weapons causing severe injuries or even death. Additionally, there have been cases of players hiding sharp objects on their persona while in the game, with the intent of injuring other players or used their cleats towards such a purpose. As the team numbers only nine, those ostracized, beset by the sense of failure, chose to secure their place by taking out another player in an unsportsmanlike fashion.
On the other hand, a Tend and Befriend approach results in more significant attention to and personal investment in the group and its members (“Group Dynamics”). In the case of a baseball team, a member might be ostracized due to persistent errors made in the game, and upon paying greater attention to and rectifying them, be fully accepted. In baseball, a pitcher must be highly attuned to the catcher’s signals, and the batter must always strive to improve his swing, and thus batting average, paying particular attention to handling the curveballs. The catcher, of course, must not rely solely on his lucky glove, but practice as well.
The fundamental need to belong, in the case of a sports team member, may push them towards abandoning other interests or obligations, such as education or family, or turning to dope to improve performance. Additionally, concealment of injuries in amateur sportsmen often has lasting ill effects on their health. This feature could be seen as originating in prehistoric times when belonging to a group could ensure higher chances of survival. “Being part of an intact, cohesive group helped people to survive, live longer and procreate,” therefore it can be said that the need to belong is genetically determined, having been passed on through generations (“Group Dynamics”). Thus, the need to belong may cause negative consequences, as a concealed and not treated knee injury may prohibit a baseball player, unable to make home runs, from continuing his career.
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Leary’s sociometer theory of self-esteem being predetermined by the success of being included in a social group may account for the cases of former baseball stars experiencing mental problems after their retirement (“Group Dynamics”). A person may seek another group to join, or, befallen by depression, turn to drugs or alcohol. A support network, then, lessening both emotional and social loneliness, is crucial in order to preserve the well-being. A baseball star, used to being valued only for his sports performance, may miss being out on the field to the degree that would significantly worsen his mental state. Moreover, coaches often assert that a uniform is symbolically never taken off, this baseball mythology prevents the players from pursuing other interests.
Per the theory, a member of an amateur sports team excluded by the group for any reason would experience a catastrophic drop in self-worth (“Group Dynamics”). As such, people typically have no access to a team psychologist, the consequences would largely depend on the fact whether the person remains on friendly terms with the team members, meaning excluded from the group, but not by the group, for example, due to serious injury. Such a player might attend the games to support his team, thus feeling he remains a part of it. Additionally, as baseball does not demand such specific game conditions as, for example, hockey, there exist a significant number of amateur baseball and softball teams that a member excluded from one might join.
An individual seeks inclusion in a baseball team based on the need to belong as well as on an interest in a given sport. Members may ostracize other members due to poor performance, such as a hitter causing too many strikeouts in a given season or series. The player’s self-worth is dependent on being included, while exclusion inevitably leads to alienation and mental suffering, whereupon the excluded may become aggressive towards former team members. An excluded member may improve his performance, a batter his swing and thus batting average, for example, and thus rejoin the team activities again.