Virtual Gymnastics Communities, Part I

Posted on December 28, 2010

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Thank you to all the gymnastics bloggers and fans that have supported the debut of Double Front.  Special thanks to Katie from Full Twist and Rick from Gymnastics Coaching for featuring Double Front on their own gymnastics blogs.

The successful launch of Double Front has provided me with more insight into virtual gymnastics communities. I believe the international, open-armed welcome I received is indicative of the passion, consideration and dedication of gymnastics fans around the world. From my experience, gymnastics fans are genuinely enthusiastic about not only the sport but also with sharing information about the sport with other fans. Instead of coveting information and knowledge, they provide access to it and encourage others to do the same. Gymnastics fans are also interested in international news about the sport, not only news from their own countries.

This of course does not mean there aren’t those fans and bloggers who are disrespectful or rude. I’m sure many of you have seen YouTube and blog comments where gymnastics fans are malicious and offensive. The negative comments I’ve seen are mostly about arguments over a gymnast’s execution, artistry or worthiness of being the winner. In a subjective sport like gymnastics, there will always be debates and disagreements over these topics. Gymnastics fans are passionate; their strong feelings about the sport are evident in both positive and negative communications in virtual communities.

Because little academic consideration has been given to gymnastics fans, gymnastics blogging or gymnastics media, I have started this Virtual Gymnastics Communities series to approach theses topic.

Defining Virtual Gymnastics Communities

Virtual communities are similar to physical communities with characteristics like shared interests, values, behaviors, beliefs, and material culture. Online communities, of course, are not limited by physical location and “operate to fulfill goals in multiple online spaces” (Plant, 52).  Both physical and virtual communities exist within the context of communication and social interaction.

My conceptualization of virtual gymnastics communities (VGC) includes the online spaces found on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums and YouTube. These communities are comprised of gymnastics fans, bloggers, coaches, media and resources. Like any virtual community, VGC are dynamic and members of the community move in and out of the communities, changing the discourse and culture of the VGC. Many of these online spaces are dedicated to gymnastics only and often times have an “angle” like Russian gymnastics or college gymnastics. Some gymnastics online spaces also include other Olympic sports like figure skating.

Characterizing Virtual Gymnastics Communities

There are several models of online communities. Hagel and Armstrong categorize online communities into four broad areas: communities of interest, relationship, fantasy and (business) transaction. VGC are easily defined as communities of interest, but also have characteristics of communities of relationship and transaction.

Lazar and Preece categorize online communities by their attributes, support software, relationship to physical communities, boundlessness. In my experience, VGC exhibit the attributes I mentioned earlier: knowledge sharing, internationalism, consideration, passion. VGC use all types of social media and websites to interact with other members of the communities, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs and forums. Those participating in virtual communities also participate in physical communities when attending gymnastics meets and events. Gymnastics communities are not either physical or virtual. They are hybrid communities, where members interact in person and online.

A discussion on social media and gymnastics was started on Gymnastics Coaching last week.

What has been your overall experience in virtual gymnastics communities? What social media platforms do you use to interact with other fans?

Virtual Gymnastics Communities, Part II will address membership in VGC and their roles in society, focusing primarily on sports journalism and sports blogging.

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