National and Organizational Culture in Norwegian Elite Sport: The Account of National Handball Head Coaches

Eivind Å. Skille1, Per Øystein Hansen1,2, Frank Abrahamsen2
& Stiliani “Ani” Chroni
Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences; 2 Norwegian School of Sport Sciences

The present study looks at the organizational culture of Norwegian elite sport which we capture as the meeting point of the national and elite sport cultures. Two successful national teams, the women’s and men’s handball are the point of departure. The selected elite sport contexts are apparently similar but at the same time distinctive. Informed by theories of culture and high reliability organizations, we analyzed in depth semi-structured interviews with the national team coaches and found that their organizational cultures were characterized by three common elements: a process-oriented approach, an athlete-centered approach, and a value-based approach towards development. Variations between teams were noticed, such as how the athletes partake in the team’s value-anchoring processes. Overall, we learned that at the international level results can be achieved even when embracing, and performing, under humanistic and social-democratic values, which deviates significantly from the commonly embraced win-at-all-costs approach. Norwegian elite sport culture appears to exemplify this cultural approach by actively employing a value-system in the development of its athletes, teams and sport. In that respect, the study contributes to the international elite sport organization literature as it relates daily practices with the overall culture theory and the specific theory of high reliability organizations. The study provides a detailed account of how national Norwegian values (and further overarching Scandinavian values) pair up with elite sport demands, in team and backstage practices within two elite sport contexts.

Click here to read this peer reviewed article in Scandinavian Sport Studies Forum, Vol. 11, 2020

EIVIND Å. SKILLE is Dr. Scient. and professor of sport sociology with the Section for sports and physical education, Department of public health and sport sciences, Faculty of social and health sciences, Inland Norway university of applied sciences. Skille teaches and researches in sport policy and politics, sport organization and organizing, and sports participation. Recently, he has focused his research into Sámi (an Indigenous people of the North Calotte) sport. Skille serves at the advisory board of the International Sociology of Sports Association (ISSA).

PER ØYSTEIN HANSEN is Dr.Scient and associate professor of sport mangement and head of the Section for sports and physical education, Department of public health and sport sciences, Faculty of social and health sciences, Inland Norway university of applied sciences. Hansen is also associate professor II at the Department of sport and social sciences at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. He teaches and researches subjects related to organization and leadership in and of elite sports from organizational sociology perspectives.

FRANK EIRIK ABRAHAMSEN, PhD, works at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, teaching and researching sport psychology and coaching. His special interest is in elite sport and talent development. This is no surprise, as he worked 10 years for the Olympic training center in Norway, to date – delivering sport psychology services to more than 50 national teams. In 2020 he travelled with the national chefs’ teams in the Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, where for instance the senior team won the championship. Much of his latest publications have focused on talent development environments and leadership in elite performance.

STILIANI “ANI” CHRONI, Ph.D., is professor of sport psychology, pedagogy and sport coaching with the Elverum section of sports and physical education at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences (iNN). Ani teaches applied sport psychology topics while her research focuses on athletes’ and coaches’ performance psychology matters. She is leading the Sport & Social Sciences Research Group for iNN and serves in the Research and Development Committee of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) as well as past-president of the global NGO WomenSport International (WSI).


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