Culture is the ways of thinking, acting and the material objects that form a people’s way of life. Within each culture there are many subcultures, which are cultural groups within a larger culture with similar beliefs. Many times, the subculture a person belongs to provide him/her with a sense of identity and belonging. Subcultures are characterized by their origin and the characteristics that define it. While growing up I belonged to many different subcultures, but my main one was my gymnastics competitive team. This was definitely the most influential and time-consuming subculture I was a part of and is considered a special interest subculture. Along with its origin, subcultures also have a set of characteristics that are used systematically and provide one with information. Characteristics include boundary rigidity, language/jargon, values, identifying signs, the degree of attachment and initiation rituals.
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Boundary rigidity refers to the subcultures’ exclusivity and how one can become a part of it. My gymnastics team was considerably exclusive. The team I was on consisted of about seven or eight people, who all started at the young age of about three or four. As little kids we practiced in hopes of becoming good enough to be part of the competitive team, knowing that it required a certain level of skills and commitment. This fact alone shows the high degree of exclusivity because not just anyone could become a part of this subculture, one had to work hard for it. As a part of the team, I had to be fully committed to giving up the majority of my free time. Most days, if I wasn’t at school I was at the gym practicing. Due to the high degree of exclusivity, I would consider this subculture to be very structured. There was always a schedule to follow: when to be at the gym, what events to practice and for how long, etc. Being a part of the team is significantly exclusive, but leaving is not necessarily as difficult, it was just very rare. After all of the hard work and time that a gymnast invests in the team, they usually don’t give it up easily. Therefore, this subculture has strong boundary rigidity.
Another characteristic of a subculture is the language/jargon used by its members. Language can refer to the way its members walk, talk, carry themselves, the slang words used, etc. Within my gymnastics team there was a lot of language we used that set us apart from other subcultures. The technical terms used in the sport of gymnastics is one of the obvious language barriers because only those who are familiar with the sport understand the terms and their meanings. The way gymnasts carry themselves also sets them apart from others. An example of this is when I was on the track team, a coach pointed out that I ran like a gymnast. Although I was not with my teammates or talking about gymnastics, the way I ran was an indicator of the subculture I was associated with.
Values are another characteristic of a subculture. These are the group’s ideas about what is right or wrong, what’s important, how they view other people and so forth. As a part of a competitive gymnastics team, I grew up learning the values my coaches instilled in me time and time again. Things like hard work, dedication and commitment. As a part of the team, we all valued our coaches opinions and demands for what we were expected to do. At a young age we learned to that if you want something, you have to work to get it. We also learned that practicing and being in the gym was what was important, while free time and friends were not.
Additionally, identifying signs is another characteristic of a subculture. This can be interpreted as labels, what the members are wearing/listening to/using and inside jokes or nicknames. There are three types of signs: private, public and covert. Private signs are displayed only to the subculture, public signs are shown to everyone and everyone knows what they mean and covert signs are displayed publicly, but are only known by the subculture. Some signs associated with gymnastics is the “DG” label, which is a brand of gymnastics sports wear. Most people wearing this participate in gymnastics and only those familiar with the sport would know the labels association with gymnastics. Another sign is the “USA Gymnastics” bumper sticker. This is a public sign that clearly shows association with the subculture. Furthermore, as a team we tend to become very close, so there tends to be a lot of inside jokes and nicknames used. These are covert signs because we would shout the nicknames or talk about the inside jokes publicly, but only we would know their meaning.
The degree of attachment is another characteristic of a subculture. This refers to the groups’ importance to its members. As a gymnast, my degree of attachment to my team was very high. Having been involved in the sport for the majority of my childhood, I considered the sport my life. I would eat, sleep and breathe gymnastics; when I wasn’t doing it, I was thinking about it. Being on a competitive team, I would spend a lot of time at the gym, so my team and coaches became like a second family. At this point, it wasn’t just the sport I was attached to, it was the friends I made and the experiences I continued to have. As I grew older, my degree of attachment to the sport heightened. The sport became more demanding and as a result, the degree of attachment continued to rise. Even to this day, although I am not an active member of this subculture, I still consider myself a part of it and I am still very much attached. Once a gymnast, always a gymnast.
Initiation rituals are the characteristics of a subculture that lets one know when they are a part of the group. For gymnastics, there was no set initiation ritual. You knew you were a part of the team when you finally achieved the skills required and the head coach asked you to start practicing with the team.
Throughout ones’ life, he/she is a part of many different subcultures. For me, the most influential subculture I was a part of was my competitive gymnastics team. This is a special interest subculture with many characteristics that set it apart from other subcultures. It gave me my sense of identity, as well as a sense of belonging. It is where I devoted most of my time and energy and will forever be a part of who I am.