Online leisure communities: The case of tennis enthusiasts

Authors: Ayer, N.

Editors: McCarville, R.

Conference: University of Waterloo, Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies


Online communities represent important virtual spaces “where people come together with others to converse, exchange information or other resources, learn, play, or just be with each other” (Resnick & Kraut, 2011, p. 1). They are communication vehicles independent of time and location (Rheingold, 1994) offering users a convenient, timely, and a reliable way to socialize with others (Chayko, 2008). As such they may replace, or at least extend more traditional communities. In a tennis context, traditional clubs bring together members so that they can share their common interest in tennis. In general, the clubs facilitate their connection to the sport of tennis. This same club, in a virtual format, can play this same role but the members need not come together in a physical sense. Club members may be located from around the globe as they share and interact with their fellow club members. Online thousands of these members can engage in simultaneous discussions of any aspect of the sport.

The overall goal of the study is to better understand online dynamics between posters as they interact online. The message board Talk Tennis was selected as a test site. It is the oldest and largest message board of its type and is devoted entirely to the sport of tennis. The board was monitored using three guiding questions. First, how does online community develop and evolve within Talk Tennis? Second, how do tennis enthusiasts use Talk Tennis? Third, how do tennis enthusiasts influence each other within Talk Tennis? In particular, the evolving nature of word-of-mouth communication was considered as posters share, debate, aid, and support fellow posters. Group dynamics were monitored within 19,782 messages posted to 54 Talk Tennis discussion threads.

Results suggest that posters tend to use the message board to fulfill three basic functions: to express themselves, to seek utility, and to offer help to others. The online dynamics were often complex as posters sought to fulfill their various goals. For example, posters adopted a variety of roles to ensure the smooth functioning of this online community. Throughout, posters exchanged information, experiences, outside resources, collectively helping with the decision-making. They actively engaged their network while focusing on community success. These insights suggest how traditional face-to-face dynamics are reproduced and enhanced online.

Keywords: netnography, interpersonal dynamics, message board, tennis

Source: Manual