The importance of leadership in sport results

Sports leadership is a much debated and studied phenomenon, with various theories and visions by several authors around it. Currently, sports leadership models get applied a lot to company management and performance goals.

The preparation of athletes for high performance implies a varied set of skills on the part of the coach, namely at the level of general and specific knowledge of sports and of the sports discipline in question, including, for example, mastery of the training methodology, technical and tactical aspects of that discipline, physiology of the athletes, psychology of sports, educational and sociological issues of sports, and even a knowledge of the set of structural and cultural factors inherent in each sporting organisation and the environment that surrounds it. 

This variety of dimensions influencing sports performance requires the coach to perform various roles. Given the need for this comprehensive profile of the coach intervention, there is a great interest from sports' agents and of the scientific community as well in understanding the factors responsible for coaches' effectiveness. 


Different voices in leadership

The author of the classic multidimensional model of leadership, Chelladurai, noted that "in a truly remarkable way, in no other domain or context as in sports, do we find so many individuals who voluntarily subject and subjugate themselves to the authority of one person: their coach".

Nelson Mandela, one of the great contemporary leaders, uses the following analogy to describe the difference between management and leadership: "A leader is like the shepherd of sheep, following not in front but from behind - and, with the help of his dog, he leads the flock making them believe that it is he who decides the way forward."


Effective leadership

One of the fundamental concerns in this area of the study of Sport Psychology is getting coaches to become influential leaders and contribute to the development of the athlete and/or the team. However, a question arises: what is an effective leader?

According to several authors (Martens, 1987, Weinberg and Gould, 1995, Alves, 2000 and Dosil, 2004), any leadership, to be effective, must present a balance between four components: the qualities of the leader, the leadership style, the characteristics of the followers and the situational factors.  

Currently, models based on the innate qualities of the subject as a leader have been abandoned. Instead, the importance of the context and the effect of life-long learning are increasingly recognised. 

Some authors in this area summarise the qualities of the leader:

  • Intelligence
  • Firmness
  • Optimism
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Empathy
  • Communication skills
  • Self-control
  • Confidence in others
  • Persistence
  • Flexibility
  • Commitment, dedication, and responsibility
  • Esteem and help others
  • Identify and correct problems


What about leadership style?

Depending on the characteristics of the situation and those being led, the same individual may use different leadership styles (Mendo and Ortiz, 2003), the most adopted being autocratic and democratic:

  • Authoritarian: commanding style, centred on victory and task-oriented;
  • Democratic: cooperative style, centred on the athlete and subject-oriented.


Within this context, we recall 15 management skills acquired in sport:

  • Leadership
  • Commitment
  • Will
  • Loyalty
  • Trustworthiness
  • Generosity
  • Professionalism
  • Supportiveness
  • Positive attitude
  • Discipline
  • Humility
  • Selflessness
  • Capacity of sacrífice
  • Competitiveness
  • Work spirit

The excellent combination of all the variables in this complex process - more than brilliance in just one of them - will probably be, today, the key to the success or failure of a team or sportsman.

Leadership practice - and leadership in practice - identifies the way coaches act with their teams daily. The biggest challenge facing coaches is to find specific ways of acting that materialise their leadership philosophy, demonstrating to athletes what to do to achieve what is valued in the team.

Nowadays, it is accepted that knowing "what to do" conceptually and also "how to do it" in practice, linking the two harmoniously, is what seems to give coaches the possibility of obtaining greater effectiveness in guiding athletes and teams.