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Athlete Leadership Styles: Which One Are You?

One of the most fundamental aspects of sport performance, particularly within team sports, is leadership. Athlete leadership is specifically defined as ‘an athlete, occupying a formal or informal role within a team, who influences a group of team members to achieve a common goal’ (Loughead, Hardy & Eys, 2006).

Athlete leadership has been shown to positively influence a number of factors that are vital for team success including team cohesion, athlete satisfaction, team identification, team confidence and the motivation of team members. In contract, by having a poor leader, can result in consequences of performance and confidence.

Athlete leadership has historically been split into two main categories (or roles) of leaders. Formal leaders are often elected or awarded (e.g. captains and vice captains) and have two main roles within the team: too ensure the aspirations of team members are fulfilled and to ensure that the demands of the organization or club are satisfied with the team. The second role of leaders are informal leaders who emerge within the team as a result of interactions between team mates and the demands of the task (Cotterill, 2012). Informal leaders act as ‘cultural architects’ and have the ability to change the mind-set of other team members (Cotterill & Fransen, 2016).

More recently, Fransen et al. (2014) built on the two categories and developed a four-fold approach to athlete leadership, including two on-field roles and two off field roles:

  1. Task leader

  2. Motivational leader

  3. Social leader

  4. External leader

The task leader provides tactical instructions to their teammates. The motivational leader is quite self-explanatory, they are the biggest motivating influence on field. The social leader cares for the team atmosphere off the field. The external leader handles the communication with club management (and in elite sport environments) media and sponsors.

Fransen et al. (2014) explain how leadership is the most effective with fulfilment of these four leadership roles, which in turn resulted in higher team confidence, stronger team identity and a better team performance.

In most teams, different athletes within the team occupy the four different leadership roles. This is also positively correlated with team confidence, team identity and team performance. Research has also found that if each of the four leadership roles are fulfilled by a number of different athlete, social and task cohesion are higher (Fransen, 2014).

Hopefully you can identify leaders who fulfil each role within your own sports team (or if not then maybe it’s something that you could discuss with team mates and coaches). If you’d like to know more about leadership, or how you could become a more effective leader, please don’t hesitate to contact us. As always, your initial consultation session is always free! We also run team building sessions were you may learn more about your leadership group or capabilities in a fun, exciting, communicative environment.