Mixing cultures and nationalities in rugby teams changes the way they play

London, November 28, 2017 - The cultural identity of rugby players in a team changes the way the team plays, according to a new study published in Heliyon. The research shows that the Māori All Blacks, a team of players who share the same cultural heritage, are more playful and spontaneous and take more risks than the Japanese National Team, which has a mix of nationalities.

The authors of the study, from Massey University in New Zealand and the University of Tsukuba in Japan, suggest the difference is due to the players' cultural identity: while Māori players knew less about their culture and associated less with their own people, they had more positive feelings toward their culture and a stronger desire to maintain the culture than the Japanese National Team players.

As a result, the Māori All Blacks players showed more playful and spontaneous oriented personality, whereas the Japanese National Team players showed more serious and goal oriented personality. Surprisingly for the researchers, no matter how elite in sport an athlete is, they can remain playful.

"In this professional era of rugby, players play for a living, so it's very important to understand how their cultural identity and personality affect the way they play," said author Dr. Yusuke Kuroda of Massey University. "The rugby environment has changed due to the professionalism, and due to the increasing popularity of sport, we wanted to investigate whether players have changed since the 1980s, when players were amateur."

The researchers found that team make-up has changed dramatically, with some national teams relying on foreign-born players and fewer teams playing with one ethnic group. This gave them the motivation to look at what impact different team make-up has on the way the team plays.

They surveyed 57 professional rugby players - 26 from the Māori All Blacks and 31 from the Japanese National Team - asking them to look at 30 statements and say whether they were true or false. For example, statements like "If I have extra time, I prefer to spend it accomplishing something important" help measure playfulness. They also responded to questionnaires to assess their cultural identity, exploring things like their self-identification and spirituality.

The results showed that the players' "motivational personality" - as measured by the surveys and questionnaires - is well reflected in each team's playing style. The Māori rugby team values flair, spontaneity and high-risk rugby for the collective good. Although externally the Japan National Team seems more culturally diverse, the team values unity, structure and conformity, reflecting Japanese culture.

The researchers say their results should give team managers food for thought: when building a team, understanding the motivational characteristics and cultural profile of players can impact the dynamics and performance of the team. But the findings extend beyond the confines of professional sport, as Dr. Kuroda noted:

"In this increasingly global and culturally diverse world, understanding the motivational personality and cultural profile of a group may help determine the way to enhance working environment and for psychological well-being for the people in that group."

The authors also acknowledge that it is extremely difficult to get cooperation to conduct a study with a help from national teams, especially from one of the major sports; just being able to conduct a study like this makes it novel. The team appreciates the cooperation of the Japan Rugby Union and New Zealand Rugby Union.