May 2007




Master of Arts (MA)


William Mullen

Primary Subject Area

Speech Communication


interpersonal communication; volunteerism; athletes; sports philanthropy


Volunteerism is a critical component of today’s society, and Sport’s philanthropy is an emerging and influential sector within the nonprofit industry. The current study dives into interpersonal interactions in a volunteer context, as framed by Interaction Adaptation Theory. The components – individuals’ requirements, expectations, and desires – serve as underlying influences, or motivations, that direct all interaction. The objective of the study was to identify elite athletes’ most prevalent motivations to volunteer (MTVs) and interpersonal communication motives (ICMs) as well as to determine any significant correlations between these motivations. The research focused on generating greater insight and understanding into the reasons, desires, and expectations of elite athletes for initial and ongoing communication in the volunteer context.

The sample was drawn from two sources: 1. Athletes from a moderately sized, private, liberal arts university, and 2. Current and former professional athletes who are members of the Professional Hockey Players Association. The Interpersonal Communication Motives Scale (ICMS) and the Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI) were applied through survey format, and an open-ended question addressed the desires and expectations that athletes have of organizations when asked to volunteer. The results serve to advance research on volunteerism and increase the application and use of communication theory within the volunteer context. They demonstrate that ICMs and MTVs play a significant role in predicting athletes’ interaction position in a volunteer context. Of further importance is knowing and meeting their desires and expectations in order to facilitate smooth interaction, supporting prediction of greater overall satisfaction and likelihood of involvement. This exploratory study serves to advance knowledge and understanding of elite athletes and their interpersonal communication surrounding volunteer action.