Relations between Role Ambiguity and Athletes’ Satisfaction among Team Handball Players

Abstract

This study examined the relationship between role ambiguity and athlete satisfaction among team handball players. The sample consisted of 169 Greek team handball players, 53 (33%) men and 116 (67%) women, with a mean age of 16.5 years (SD=1.3). The Role Ambiguity Scale and the Scale of Athlete Satisfaction were used. The results indicated a negative relationship between Role Ambiguity and Athlete Satisfaction. Additionally, role ambiguity, as represented by the subscale of Scope of Responsibilities, accounted for most of the variance in both regression analyses. Finally, the multidimensional role of Role Ambiguity was shown. The results are discussed and future research is suggested.

Review of Literature

The literature has defined role ambiguity as the lack of clear, consistent information that is associated with a person’s position (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964). It has also provided a theoretical model in which role ambiguity had two dimensions: (a) task ambiguity, related to performance aspects of one’s responsibilities, and (b) socio-emotional ambiguity, regarding the psychological consequences and discomfort an individual might experience while failing to fulfil role responsibilities.

Behrman and Perreault (1984) supported the idea that role conflict and role ambiguity were related negatively to job satisfaction. Schuller, Aldag, and Brief, (1977), evaluating the affect of role conflict and role ambiguity, concluded that they were associated with low satisfaction, absenteeism, low involvement, and tension at the work place. Beehr, Walsh, and Taber, (1976) found that role stress was related to dissatisfaction with work. Finally, Boles and Babin (1996) suggested that increased role conflict and role ambiguity diminished job satisfaction among customer service employees.

Role ambiguity is important in productivity and performance in business and industry. A meta-analysis by Jackson and Schuler (1985) found that greater role ambiguity was associated with greater job dissatisfaction, as well as increased anxiety, lower commitment, and a diathesis to leave the organization. Recent research shows that ambiguity follows many negative and corruptive consequences: decreased satisfaction with one’s job, higher level of tension and anxiety, and the greater possibility of leaving the organization (Beard, 1999). Additionally, research showed that ambiguity is related with increased somatic and cognitive anxiety (Beauchamp, Bray, Eys, & Carron, 2003) and decreased role-related efficacy (Beauchamp & Bray, 2001; Eys & Carron, 2001; Beauchamp, Bray, Eys, & Carron, 2002; Bray & Brawley, 2002).

Beachamp and his colleagues (2002) presented a conceptual model of role ambiguity specific to sport. This model originated with Kahn and his colleagues (1964) as well as early work by Eys and Carron (2001) and by Beachamp and Bray (2001). More specifically, it was proposed by the researchers that role ambiguity contains four dimensions (multidimensional construct): scope of responsibilities, which refers to a lack of clear information about one’s responsibilities; role behaviours, which refer to a lack of clear information about behaviors associated with one’s role; role evaluation, which refers to a lack of clear information about how one’s responsibilities are evaluated; and role consequences, which refer to a lack of clear information about the consequences of failure to fulfill one’s role responsibilities. Based on research among school rugby players, Beauchamp et al. (2002) provided evidence of the factorial validity of the model with the use of confirmatory factor analysis. Also, Eys, Carron, Beauchamp, and Bray (2003) provided evidence about the construct validity of the operational definition of role ambiguity by examining the changes of role ambiguity over time and the influence of player status on perceptions for role ambiguity.

Studies show that a negative relationship between role ambiguity and performance exists among athletes whose roles were identified by a high degree of interdependence, compared to those whose roles were identified as independent of others’ (Tubre & Collins, 2000). Additional research indicates a positive correlation between ambiguity and burnout (Capel, 1986), and that among players of variety interdependent sports, starters reported lower levels of role ambiguity than non-starters (Beauchamp & Bray, 2001).

Chelladurai and Riemer (1997) have defined athlete satisfaction as “… a positive affective state resulting from a complex evaluation of the structures, processes, and outcomes associated with the athletic experience” (p. 135). As Chelladurai and Riemer (1997) have pointed out, athletes are the “prime beneficiaries” of athletic programs. In other words, sport organizations exist primarily for the benefit of athletes (Reimer & Chelladurai, 2001). The concept of athlete satisfaction has received little attention from researchers. In contrast, a great deal of research in sport-related literature has focused on the satisfaction of coaches, administrators, spectators, and participants across a range of sports settings (Danylchuk, 1993; Li, 1993; Pastore, 1993; Madrigal, 1995; Alexandris & Palialia, 1999; Koustelios, Kellis, & Bagiatis, 1999).

In most of the above research, athletes’ satisfaction has been considered a dependent or independent variable in various theoretical frameworks (Reimer & Chelladurai, 2001), usually as the outcome of various leader or coach behaviors (Chelladurai, 1984; Horne & Carron, 1985; Weiss & Friedrichs, 1986; Schliesman, 1987; Chelladurai, Inamura, Yamaguchi, Oinuma, & Miyauchi, 1988; Riemer & Chelladurai, 2001; Bebetsos & Theodorakis, 2003; Theodorakis & Bebetsos, 2003). For example, in a study of 251 college basketball players in the U.S., Weiss and Friedrichs (1986) found that coaches who engaged in frequently rewarding behavior, social support behavior, and a democratic style of leadership increased athletes’ satisfaction. In some studies, although fewer in number, researchers used athlete satisfaction as an independent variable in their models (Carron, 1982; Reimer, & Chelladurai, 2001). For example, Riemer and Chelladurai (2001), in a study of 649 student athletes from 14 Canadian universities, reported that only a limited number of facets of athlete satisfaction significantly predicted the commitment of athletes to the team, or conversely, a desire to leave the team.

Although there is very limited research on the possible relationship between role ambiguity and satisfaction in sports, research has been done in industrial and organizational psychology. Several studies have identified the negative relationship between role ambiguity and satisfaction (Abramis, 1994; Fisher & Gitelson, 1983; Horne & Carron, 1985). A meta-analysis by Jackson and Schuler (1985) indicated that role ambiguity was negatively associated with multiple aspects of employee job satisfaction. The limited investigation in sport settings on these two domains indicated that lower levels of role ambiguity were related to higher athlete satisfaction (Eys, Carron, Beauchamp, & Bray, 2003). Additionally, Bray, Beauchamp, Eys, and Carron (2005) found that the need for role clarity moderated the relationship between role ambiguity and athlete satisfaction.

Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to examine the relationship between athletes’ perceptions of role ambiguity and their satisfaction as regards Greek team handball players. The hypothesis was twofold: first, that role ambiguity dimensions (subscales) are negatively related to athlete satisfaction dimensions and second, that Scope of Responsibilities would be the most prominent manifestation of role ambiguity related to the dimensions (subscales) of athlete satisfaction.

Method

Participants and Procedures

Data were collected from 169 Greek team handball players: 53 (31.4%) men and 116 (68.6%) women. Their mean age was 16.4 years (SD=1.3), and ages ranged from 13 to 19 years. On average, their association with their respective teams was 4.9 years (SD=2.3), and their playing experience in organized team handball was 5.4 years (SD=1.9). Participants practiced an average of 4.4 times per week (SD=1.7).

Measures

The Role Ambiguity Scale (RAS; Beauchamp et al., 2002). This scale contains four subscales: (a) Scope of Responsibilities (e.g., “I understand the extent of my responsibilities.”), (b) Role Behaviors (e.g., “I understand what adjustments to my behavior need to be made to carry out my role.”), (c) Role Evaluation (e.g.,“I understand the criteria by which my role responsibilities are evaluated.”), and (d) Role Consequences (e.g., “It is clear to me what happens if I fail to carry out my role responsibilities.”). Each subscale has five items (questions). The scale has two batteries of statements, since it is designed to assess role ambiguity in an offensive and defensive context. In the present study, only the 20-items (5 items per subscale) that corresponded to offensive responsibilities were used, following suggestions made by Eys and Carron (2001) and Beauchamp et al. (2003) that role ambiguity might be more relevant in an offensive context. Respondents rated agreement with each item on a 9-point scale anchored by 1: strongly disagree and 9: strongly agree. Higher scores reflected greater role clarity and hence less role ambiguity. The scale was translated into Greek using a back translation procedure. For the purpose of the study, the Greek version was administered to 10 team handball athletes to examine whether the items of this version were comprehensive and well understood. No further modifications were made after the above process.

The Scale of Athlete Satisfaction (Chelladurai, et al., 1988). This scale measured satisfaction in leadership (seven items, e.g., “The leadership provided by my coach”), and Personal Outcome (three items, e.g., “The way I am performing”). Respondents rated satisfaction by item on a 7-point scale anchored by 1: strongly dissatisfied and 7: strongly satisfied. The scale was translated into Greek and used in earlier studies (Bebetsos & Theodorakis, 2003; Theodorakis & Bebetsos, 2003).

Procedure

The method chosen to conduct the research was that of self-completed questionnaires. Researchers informed all subjects that participation was completely voluntary and that individual responses would be held in strict confidence.

Results

Descriptive statistics including means, standard deviations, Cronbach coefficients α for all subscales, and Pearson intercorrelations between role ambiguity and athlete satisfaction dimensions are presented in Table 1. Relatively high mean scores were observed for the four role ambiguity dimensions ranging from 7 (Role Evaluation) to 7.3 (Role Consequences and Scope of Responsibilities) of a possible 9. It should be noted that higher Role Ambiguity scores mean less uncertainty. Participants reported moderate satisfaction from their personal performance (M=5.1, SD=1.2) and with their leaders’ behaviors (M=5.8, SD=1.1).

Table 1

Descriptive statistics for athlete satisfaction and role ambiguity dimensions

M SD Cronbach’s
a
r
1 Leadership 5.8 1.1 .87
2 Personal outcome 5.1 1.2 .71 .42**
3 Scope of Responsibilties 7.3 1.3 .83 .39** .32**
4 Role Behaviors 7.1 1.2 .80 .18* .37** .76**
5 Role Evaluation 7.0 1.4 .80 .35** .30** .68** .64**
6 Role Consequences 7.3 1.5 .82 .35** .15* .72** .49** .65**

*p<.05, **p<.001

Using the Cronbach coefficient α for internal consistency, acceptable estimates were observed for the Athlete Satisfaction subscales (Table 1). In contrast, rather low internal consistensy coefficients were observed for the four Role Ambiguity subscales. More specifically, alpha coefficients were .71 for Scope of Responsibilities, .61 for Role Behavior, .66 for Role Evaluation, and .69 for Role Concequences. Item analysis indicated that the internal consistency of each dimension could substantially be improved if certain items were removed from each subscale. It should be noted that these items (total of 4, 1 for each subscale) were reversed (negative wording). After removing these items, alpha coefficients raised to .83 for Scope of Responsibilities, .80 for Role Behavior, .80 for Role Evaluation, and .82 for Role Concequences.

As hypothesized, Role Clarity (lower Role Ambiguity) was positively related to Athlete Satisfaction (Table 1). The bivariate correlation sample size (N=169) was adequate to assure power of .80 and effect size of at p = .05 (46). A power analysis was performed using the Gpower statistical program (Erdfelder, Faul, & Buchner, 1996). To further explore relationships between Role Ambiguity and Athlete Satisfaction subscales, two hierarchical regression analyses were performed. For each analysis, an Athlete Satisfaction subscale was the dependent variable, and the four subscales of Role Ambiguity were the independent variables. Following suggestions by Eys, Carron, Bray, and Beauchamp (2003) the Scope of Responsibilities subscale was entered as the predictor variable on the first step for each analysis. The remaining three subscales of Role Ambiguity (Role Behavior, Role Evaluation, and Role Consequences) were entered as a block in the second step. In the first model, Scope of Responsibilities predicted a significant proportion of the variance, 8% in Leadership (F1,134=11.7, p< .001). When the other three Role Ambiguity subscales entered in the model, variance prediction increased to 12% (F4,131=4.7, p< .001). The subscales of Role Behavior and Role Evaluation offered significant contributions (t=-2.0, p< .05, and t=-2.1, p< .05). In the second model, Scope of Responsibilities predicted 11% of Personal Outcome (F1,134=16.7, p< .001). In the next step, the other three subscales increased the prediction of Personal Outcome to 21% (F4,134=8.9, p< .001). The subscales of Role Behavior and Role Consequences offered significant contribution to the prediction (t=-2.0, p< .05, and t=-2.8, p< .05, respectively).

 

Table 2

Hierarchical regression analysis for role ambiguity dimensions predicting athletes’ satisfaction

Δ R2 ΔF p Β β t P
Leadership Scope of Responsibilites .08 11.78 < .001 .32 .36 2.33 < .05
Role Behaviors .12 4.72 < .001 -.23 -.27 -2.03 < .05
Role Evaluation 1.95 .25 2.14 < .05
Role Consequences -.34 -.39 -.39 ns
Personal Outcome Scope of Responsibilites .11 16.76 < .001 .25 .25 1.74 .05
Role Behaviors .21 8.96 < .001 .25 .27 2.08 .05
Role Evaluation .12 .14 1.28 ns
Role Consequences -.26 -.32 -2.82 .05

Discussion

The aim of the study was to examine the relationship between athletes’ satisfaction and role ambiguity among team handball players. It was predicted that role ambiguity would have a negative relationship to the satisfaction dimensions and that Scope of Responsibilities was the most prominent manifestation of role ambiguity related to the dimensions (subscales) of athlete satisfaction.

First, the reliability estimates showed that after the exemption of four items, which were removed from the analysis on the ambiguity instrument, all factors from both questionnaires had good internal consistency. The exclusion of the items significantly improved the internal reliability of the factors. It should be noted that only these items had negative wording, whereas the other items of the questionnaire had positive wording. There is evidence suggesting that item wording may influence the results of a study (Spector, Van Katwyk, & Brannick, 1997; Brown, 2003; Tsiggilis, Masmnidis, & Koustelios, 2004; Proios, Tsiggilis, & Doganis, 2005). Schriesheim, Eisenbach, and Hill (1991) demonstrated that regular items (e.g., “I am happy”) are the most reliable and produced the most accurate responses in comparison to negated regular (e.g., “I am not happy”), polar opposite (e.g., “I am sad”), and negated polar opposite (e.g., “I am not sad”) items.

Second, the means of role ambiguity are above average (Table 1), which translates to high role clarity and lower role ambiguity. This might have occurred because, as it was mentioned previously, the players were members in their teams for a quite long time (4.9 years), their sport experience (5.4 years) was extensive and the research was conducted near the end of the season. In a previous study, Eys and his colleagues (2003) indicated that athletes with greater sport experience, being members of the same team for a quite long time, had lower indicators of role ambiguity in comparison to younger and less experienced athletes. Additionally, indicators of athlete satisfaction were also above average. Similar results of previous research (Bebetsos & Theodorakis, 2003; Theodorakis & Bebetsos, 2003) indicate that in the end of the season athletes were satisfied with their leaders’ behaviors as well as with their personal performance.

Third, role ambiguity was found to have a negative relationship to athletes’ satisfaction. These results are consistent with previous research findings that indicate role ambiguity was inversely correlated with job satisfaction (Abramis, 1994; Jackson & Schuler, 1985). More specifically, Jackson and Schuler (1985) mentioned in their meta-analysis of the industrial literature that the overall correlation between satisfaction and ambiguity was in a moderate to high range, showing the important contribution to satisfaction. In addition, Eys et al. (2003) concluded that lower perceptions of role ambiguity were related to higher athlete satisfaction. Riemer and Chelladurai (1998) indicated that satisfaction has been proposed and shown to be a consequence of several group dynamics constructs, including leadership and team cohesion.

Forth, the results of this study supported the importance of Scope of Responsibilities over the other four dimensions of role ambiguity. It accounted for most of the variance in both regression analyses. Previous research found that Scope of Responsibilities had the strongest relationship with cohesion (Eys, & Carron, 2001) and cognitive state anxiety (Beauchamp, Bray, Eys, & Carron, 2003) and was the strongest predictor of role efficacy and role performance (Beauchamp, Bray, Eys, & Carron, 2002). In the present study, Scope of Responsibilities accounted for the most variance in both hierarchical regression analyses, consistent with previous research results (Eys, Carron, Bray, & Beauchamp, 2003).

The findings of this study showed the significant contribution of other dimensions in the regression analyses. More specifically, for the first model, Role Behavior and Role Evaluation offered significant contributions, and for the second, Role Behavior and Role Consequences offered significant contribution to the prediction. These results reinforce the possible modification of the instrument from its hierarchical to its multidimensional role. More specifically, the results supported the multidimensional nature of ambiguity. A reason might be the possibility that Scope of Responsibilities may not reflect an overall representation of role ambiguity and does not develop in a hierarchical fashion. In contrast with what Eys and his colleagues (2003) stated, the other dimensions proposed by Beauchamp and his colleagues (2002) may not form sub-categories beneath Scope of Responsibilities in a hierarchical model.

The results showed that the players tend to understand the direct relationship that exists between Leadership (i.e. coach) and the criteria by which their team responsibilities are evaluated, what the leadership wants and expects from them. Likewise, for Personal Outcome, the results indicated the players understand their roles in the team, what responsibilities these roles have, and that these roles have a direct relationship with athletic growth and development. Finally, they understand that consequences might follow if they do not carry these roles out.

In conclusion, the present results have indicated that role ambiguity (Beauchamp, et al., 2003) is associated with athletes’ satisfaction among Greek team handball players. Additionally, the results indicated the importance of Scope of Responsibilities and that four specific dimensions of role ambiguity dimensions could predict two facets of athletes’ satisfaction. Future research should continue to investigate relationships with variables such as intention, motivation, aggressiveness, as well as explore the importance and mechanisms of role ambiguity within team sports. A possible limitation of the study might be the lack of information regarding on-field defensive roles. Athletes’ responses regarding their defensive roles were not included in this study. Also, the sample consisted of experienced athletes and the study was conducted only on the sport of team handball.

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