When presented with the opportunity to go to Ireland and study sport and exercise psychology I felt initial hesitation. The question in my mind was why would it be important to learn this subject in a new environment, more than simply going to visit a country I would enjoy. My understanding of the class was to plan, learn and develop skills in qualitative research which is of great interest to me given it is a strong skill set for a PhD candidate to exhibit. Reading from the text: Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches by John Creswell, my interest was peaked and I still maintain a strong desire to perform this type of work in qualitative research during my future career.

I registered for this study abroad project and found the university at which we were to study, University College Dublin, had its own Capoeira club. As a Capoeira practitioner myself for two years I was highly motivated to focus my research on the subject. Initial contact was made and I found myself in contact with a local Dublin Capoeira mestre (master) whom provided me opportunity to train and learn, in many different domains, with Mundo Capoeira for five weeks.

Mundo Capoeira – Typical Practice Size


Within John Creswell’s book (2013) is described a qualitative research approach which stood out to me as a way to understand Capoeira from a very new perspective – phenomenology. “A phenomenological study describes the common meaning for several individuals of their lived experiences of a concept or a phenomenon,” (Creswell, 2013). Out of the two types of phenomenological approaches discussed by Creswell, I chose the transcendental or psychological type – focusing on Edmund Husserl’s concept of epoche or bracketing – put forth by Moustakas in 1994.

The main theme in this approach is for the researcher to push out all assumptions and predispositions (experiences) as much as possible from their mind and look at the shared event or experience, phenomenon, with a fresh mind. This practice helps the researcher achieve transcendence toward the subject – “in which everything is perceived freshly, as if for the first time,” (Moustakas, 1994).

Data Collection

Before embarking on this journey a choice had to be made as to my mode of operation for data collection and interaction with my participants.  My choices were, as are the choices of any qualitative researcher, to be an observer or participant observer.  My choice was participant observer meaning I would be a part of the culture during this process and observe it from within.  For an in depth description of my first meeting follow this link.

My Instrument: Berimbau

My Instrument: Berimbau

Research Tools

Research Tools

While participating in subsequent classes I used my camera to capture the geographic location and social interactions within the location. As well I brought my small notebook with which to write my observations of class conduction. Though I, and hopefully you, may value my interpretations of events, I feel it is within the work description of a phenomenologist to gather experiences from several individuals as Moustakas (1994) illustrates.

For this reason three data collection methods were chosen to capture the experiences of others: unstructured interview, photo elicitation and photovoice.  Photo elicitation was conducted with some participants in person, and some via email or facebook messaging. Each participant viewed the same picture and we asked the question: “What do you see happening?” Photovoice was implemented in a unique way. Participants took turns using my camera to take pictures of a single roda. All pictures were then compiled and the same persons who took pictures were asked to pick two from the compilation which exemplified what they look for within a roda, and to write why those pictures they chose.

Emerging Theme

After the first class concluded there was a group waiting outside which invited members as they left to join them in going out for a birthday celebration, midst informally I asked each member why they practiced Capoeira.  Two themes emerged – social support and physical activity adherence.  As the project progressed, and due to time and scope limitations, one main theme had to be chosen.  I interpreted group cohesion, as a wider view of social support in the literature, to be the best model for understanding what is experienced within this small group of Capoeirstas (Capoeira practitioners).

Literature Review

Cohesion is defined by Carron, Brawley, & Widmeyer (1998), as: “a dynamic process that is reflected in the tendency of a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of its instrumental objectives and/or for the satisfaction of member affective needs.” In order to help describe this phenomenon, Carron et al. (1998) created a conceptual model for team cohesion (Figure 1) in sport and described four fundamental characteristics of team cohesion.

The four characteristics of team cohesion include: multidimensionality – as shown in figure 7.1.  Dynamic in nature – changes over time in both intensity and form (e.g. task cohesiveness, social cohesiveness) throughout group formation, development, maintenance, and dissolution.  Instrumental – all groups: sport, work, families, etc. stick together for a purpose. And cohesion has an affective dimension – social bonding and task unity are pleasing to individuals, (Carron, Brawley, & Widmeyer, 1998).

Carron et al. in 2002 related team success and team cohesion during via meta-analysis of 46 studies. Overall, a moderate to large effect size (magnitude or size of the statistical finding) of 0.645 (0.8 = large, 0.5 = moderate) was found. Regardless of the type of cohesiveness – task versus social – team success was found to correlate with similar effect sizes; 0.702 = social cohesion, and 0.607 = task cohesion, (Carron, Colman, Wheeler, & Stevens, 2002).

Though this view is unsupported, I personally feel the objectives or tasks for a Capoeira group to succeed is to gain new membership, maintain current membership, and grow and support everyone involved. While some groups may have deeper objectives such as maintaining traditional practices or developing specific aspects of the culture e.g. music or Portuguese language, it would seem at the core of each group are the three before mentioned tasks as without these outcomes the group may terminate. For this essay I will define success as obtaining these three objectives.

Carron, Bray, & Eys, (2002) suggested measurement of individual perceptions can create a valid estimate of a group property such as cohesion.

Data Sorting Method

Four methods of data collection were analyzed for this study: Participant observation notes, interviews, photo elicitation, and photovoice. Within phenomenonolgical studies, the researcher analyzes data by reducing the information to significant statements or quotes; then combines the statements into themes, (Creswell, 2013). Because I used four methods of data collection instead of one as this process describes, each method was reduced separately into significant statements, and the combination into themes was conducted through comparison. The four methods of collection were compared each to each other in order to find commonalities of themes. Figure 2 shows the process of comparison.

Figure 2

Comparative Analysis: (Names changed for de-identification)

Themes were only considered emergent given at least one matching significant statement from both methods during comparison.  Sorting the data through this process produced 12 themes with each comparison introduced at least one more theme.

Participant Observation vs Interview

Theme 1: Friendly, Connected Environment – Like a Family.

From entering the group with no previous indication to the members of my arrival or purpose, immediately I was met with openness and curiosity. I was invited to celebrate a birthday immediately after the first class. During an interview with Lydia, she mentioned directly: “The environment is very friendly.” Even when she does not train, she still visits the school to visit the members. Her and Montana go to class early, from the start of their training, to interact with the Mestre in order to develop a relationship. She feels he enjoys “messing” with them.


Lydia: “Irish people have their families [in Ireland] and Capoeira is a family to international members.”

Montana: “I think in a Capoeira friendship I can find more reasons to feel close to people; the common love for Capoeira and the “natural availability” of the Capoeirstas make this connections stronger than a “normal” one!”

Theme 2: Support of Group Maintains Motivation.


Before, during, and after classes there was much socializing between members. Almost every class I attended within Mundo, which numbered nine, the Mestre had to continuously encourage members to leave quickly and quit socializing as the room needed to be closed by the owner. Also after almost every class, the small participant group – degree 1 – went out to socialize.

Lydia and Montana both started Capoeira with a group of people and continue to visit them and show devoted interest in their lives outside of Capoeira.  Multiple times this small group went to visit a worker at his place of work after Capoeira class concluded because he could not make it to training that day. “[The member and his work] creates a more connected feeling and a common meeting point. Like the bar from Friends.”

Lydia: “Thanks to our Capoeira group we keep going.” “In Capoeira you really feel like you are a part of something bigger.”

Theme 3: Easy to Join, Approachable.

In my own experience it was very easy to make relationships with this group. Reflecting on the experience it seems as though the group was more outgoing about forming a relationship with me, and, as it was part of my job description, I was very outgoing. During the interview with Lydia, she mentioned directly Capoeira is very approachable: “You feel united and people take care of you on your first day.” She is proud and happy when people come back. She likes to ask new members: “Did you like it, will you come back?”

Theme 4: Supportive not Competitive.

Observing class proceedings was one of my main focuses during this project. Not only did I see consistently the teachers give individual attention from the newest to the most experienced members, but I witnessed more experienced members give instruction and assistance to newer members as well.


Professor takes the hand of new student


High rank shows and observes form

During Lydia’s interview she made mention people, not just the teachers, teach you on your first day.  Also, the majority of people who stay feel supported, partly due to the Mestre being a supportive person.

Within the roda as well this theme emerged.  Lydia stated she and Montana do not compete against each other (which does not mean they won’t play each other).

Lydia: “Even in a roda the expectation would be that a competition is had, but this is not the case.”

It is also worth mentioning this group was incredibly supportive of me during my time here and constantly expressed desire to help my project.  Never once did I get the impression it was for personal promotion, but a wish to help a fellow Capoeirsta.


Mestre plays everyone

Theme 5: Genuine Interest in Lives Outside of Capoeira.

Throughout the entire gathering – beginning, middle, end – of Capoeira practice people share with one another. There is much catching up to do as many only have opportunities to practice once or twice a week, and some fewer. Hugs were the typical greeting gesture, even with me. Lydia discussed how Capoeirstas are curious why members join. There is a large interest in new members from current ones. This was quite clear to me when invited out to a celebration after my first meeting and asked questions to understand my life and motivations.

Lydia: “Everyone is interested in each other.”

Theme 6: Patient, Effective Mestre

Lydia: “Mestre is very patient – he trains the kids well.”

The Mestre of Mundo Capoeira does not only teach adults, but works for a local school as well.  In my own experience with his teaching I found him effective in the way he describes, demonstrates, breaks down, introduces stimuli, and supports me while I learn movements from him.

Lydia feels very lucky to work with this Mestre.  “[Mestre] encourages everyone to join [the roda] which makes a difference.”

Participant Observation vs Photo Elicitation

Theme 7: Playing With the Mestre is a Fun Challenge.

Though it was frightening at times playing against such an imposing Capoeirsta, I never felt as though I was in danger.  I am also very aware each time I played him I was smiling at some point.


25-DSC_3621 (1)

Photo Elicitation Image

Elicited Quotes: “I am always happy to play with the Mestre.”

“He tests our reaction with kicks and movements…funny and safe way to learn.”

“She is confident.  [Mestre] would never hurt her.”

All Methods

Theme 8: Quality of Music Changes the Game.


Participant Observation- During rodas Mestre consistently improvised during the songs by singing sentences about people getting into the game and giving more energy into the songs.

Interview- “A very good roda has energy and the game flows.  Everyone is singing and clapping.”

Photo Elicitation- “If everyone is giving something into the roda, then the candle will light and the wax will melt, and the players will melt together.”

Photovoice- “In this picture the importance of music and its influences during the game comes out strongly.  Singing out loud along with the group of people is for me a very powerful way to release energy.”

1-Capoeira 2

Music exemplification

Participant Observation vs Photovoice

Theme 9: Players Bring Different Energies.

Within this group of practitioners I observed a variety of different styles e.g. fast, showy, playful, unsure.

Photovoice- “They are looking at each other, they are communicating through their eyes and their bodies.  There is a promise on [Capoeirsta on right]’s smile and in his readiness.  ‘Watch out!’ – he seems to be saying to his opponent.  ‘I am going to do something bold’.”

Something bold

“The energy exchange and the dialogue between male and female is for me one of the most appealing elements during the Capoeira game.”


Interview vs Photo Elicitation

Theme 10: Go Play with the Mestre, He Will Not Hurt You

One of the interviewees was kicked by Mestre once during a roda.  “One day he kicked me and I could touch the ceiling.  I flew.”  Her main concern however was not pain, but to not stop training.  Mestre was very concerned for her she said.  “I feel we are more than a group, I feel we are like a family in which [Mestre] takes care of us!”

Photo Elicitation- “This girl is obviously ecstatic about being kicked in the face which is one good thing about Capoeira.”

“That time he ‘pushed’ me to play because I am still shy.”

Interview vs Photovoice

Theme 11: Mutual Respect.

Interview- “Capoeira is not a hierarchy, it doesn’t feel like it – [Mestre] does not make you feel that way.”

Photovoice- “I really admire [high rank Capoeirsta]’s style of playing Capoeira.  He holds in his game what I consider the core elements of being a good Capoeirsta: Strong energy, harmony, creativity, passion, boldness and respect.”  Refer back to “Something bold” picture

Photo Elicitation vs Photovoice

Theme 12: Playing is a Joyful Thing


Photo Elicitation- “The kick comes and she starts to bend…but she is laughing on it because that’s something that has to come and that will come.  And you just have to have a positive attitude to it.  So she represents how I feel about life.  And she is not scared like: ‘Oh my God, there is a kick coming’.”

Photovoice- “In the background the majority of people are smiling: Capoeira brings joy, also when you are just watching – as you are still participating actively in the ‘ritual’.” Refer back to “Music exemplification” picture

Discussion and Limitations

The purpose of a phenomenology piece of work is to help the readers understand what people experience.  “The basic purpose of phenomenology is to reduce individual experiences with a phenomenon to a description of the universal essence,” (Creswell, 2013).  Given these themes I feel confident Mundo Capoeira successfully cultivates individual attractiveness and group integration.  On average the weekday practices numbered above 25, while in the three other schools I have trained with (Chicago, USA, Birmingham, UK, and Cork, IE) average between 6 and 12 in a practice.  Figure 4 shows where I feel the themes belong within the team cohesion model based on the themes themselves as well as the context and content provided.

Where these themes fit in the model may change given individual perspectives.  One limitation of this project was not including another researcher to assist in developing significant statements, sorting into themes, or determining placement within the model.  Furthermore, I did not conduct the required bracketing process of phenomenology, however, I focused on preparing a mental state of unbiased observation as well as gathering participant’s views 3:1 to my own.  This does not make the phenomenology process valid regardless, so when beginning anew the bracketing process will be conducted, with this experience included.


The importance of family and important others (in this case exercise leaders and friends) was shown to be of great influence on affect, medium to large effect size,  associated with exercise involvement.  With support from these sources, high likeliness individuals will prejudge the experience favorably is high.  Following, from self-fulling prophecy, they will derive more enjoyment or satisfaction (Carron, Hausenblas, & Mack, 1996).  “Greater team cohesion contributes to greater collective efficacy, which, in turn, contributes to enhanced team performance,” (Carron, Bray, & Eys, 2002).  As a member of a Capoeira group and given this information, it is important to remember this responsibility.  Groups with intention toward supportance from these sources have high likelihood of beneficial affect.  It probably also does not hurt the members label each other as family.

As stated in the literature review, team success correlated with either social or task cohesiveness.  Future research toward how social and task cohesion relate.  For example does one create opportunities for the other within a Capoeira group – as success, in this Capoeirsta’s opinion, is developing a larger, stronger group.  Regardless, the experiences of Mundo capoeirstas, taken with their observable size and strength, provide lessons for any Capoeira group open to learn.


Carron, A. V., Brawley, L. R., & Widmeyer, W. N. (1998). Measurement of cohesion in sport and exercise. In J. L. Duda (Ed.). Advances in sport and exercise psychology measurement (pp. 213-226). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

Carron, A. V., Bray, S. R., & Eys, M. A. (2002). Team cohesion and team success in sport. Journal of Sport Sciences, (20), 119-126.

Carron, A. V., Colman, M. M., Wheeler, J., & Stevens, D. (2002). Cohesion and performance in sport: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 24(2), 168-188.

Carron, A. V., Hausenblas, H. A., & Mack, D. (1996). Social influence and exercise: A meta-analysis. Essential Readings in Sport and Exercise Psychology, 18, 1-16.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.