Here’s Part 1 of my dissertation breakdown, which covers a brief overview of leadership in general and the challenges that currently lie in developing, measuring, and assessing it.
Be sure to check back each week for more information!
INTRODUCTION AND CONTEXT
Leadership has been cited as a key component in successful teams both inside and outside of academia, particularly in a result-driven world of professional sport (Arthur et al., 2017; Fletcher & Arnold, 2011; Gould et al., 1999). In theories such as Transformational Leadership (Hoption, Phelan, & Barling, 2007) it is seen as a competitive advantage. This would therefore indicate that researching leadership, and specifically, the development of leadership, is a worthy area of study. Mallett & Lara-Bercial (2016) believe that this expands to the extent that the success or failure of a team being attributed directly to the effectiveness of its leaders across all levels. In Fransen et al (2020), a basketball head coach stated that “Talent is important. But the single most important ingredient after you get the talent is internal leadership”. Public examples where this has been discussed at length in the media include: the recent success of the England team from Euro 2020 and the role of team leaders Jordan Henderson, Harry Maguire, and Harry Kane; Richie McCaw in the New Zealand Rugby World Cup winning team; and Megan Rapinoe with the USWNT. All these athletes were all praised for ‘leading’ their teams to success, often in very vague terms. If leadership is such an important factor for success, then a better understanding of leadership and its characteristics is needed so that we can fully understand where it thrives, how we develop it and if its development is a worthwhile pursuit for coaches.
According to Gould and Voelker (2012) leadership does not result from simple participation in sport, it must be intentionally taught. Karagianni and Montgomery (2018) and Brungardt (1996) both reported that leadership can be taught, and adolescence, including in education, is a prime window for the development of leadership skills and organisational understanding. This would indicate that adolescence is an opportune time to implement strategies for the training of leadership skills, hence why this study is focusing on youth sport and particularly the 15-18 age groups of professional clubs. Within this age group and the modern world, we live in, Gould and Voelker (2012) also believe that leadership may be more important to develop in today’s youths it has been at any other time, due to the demands of society today in competitive job markets, an age of social media and an ever-more fractured society
There has been some research carried out into leadership development in the past, but it is limited and often there have been many challenges found within it. For example, Dohme et al (2017) noted that authors tend to work in isolation in which their own assumptions, beliefs and even language is used to define leadership, creating a lack of specificity and could then impede the practical implications of research moving forward and makes it tough to compare work. Fransen et al (2020) noted that most studies to date have assessed whether an individual is seen as a leader, rather than assessing the quality of their leadership and do not pay attention to the differing roles leaders can play. Fransen’s observations, Wankel and Mummery (1996) proposed that contextual factors such as gender, race, and economic status can create differences not only in the subject, but the opportunities in which they are able lead in their environment, leaving it unapplicable to wider contexts. Likewise, Voight (2012) suggested that more research is needed, and that creating a conceptual framework could underpin the learning from each project and the development of future leadership development projects.
Particularly in youth leadership development, McLaren et al (2021) indicates that research often only identifies the ‘best’ leaders, due to them often being selected by their peers and defined by a pre-agreed criterion. This point also means that only the ‘best’ leaders have access to any training or development opportunities, and so the successes of any model can be questioned if the athletes taking part are seen as objectively good leaders already – like those in Gould and Voelker (2010). Turnnidge and Cote (2018) shared concerns from fellow researchers that personal development processes in sport are not fully understood by coaches as particularly volunteer youth sport coaches have received little to no training on this kind of development, meaning that often the processes in place tend to be focussed on skill development, with psychological or social factors coming in often as a secondary thought, such as the Football Association’s Four-Corner Model where physical, psychological and social returns are tagged on to technical/tactical.
My current role (written 2019-2021) involves youth sport coaching and coach mentoring. Having recognised the value of ‘leadership’ for young people in an administrative sense, has led to an interest in the exploration of how leadership can develop within team sports with a particular focus on football (soccer) and aid the creation of good people and good players – a club mantra in one of the clubs I am associated with. I have experience working in this area with adults, and much research lends itself to creating adult leaders in sport and business, yet less has placed the focus on youth. I feel a stronger focus on leadership at youth level could provide better grounding for future leaders in those adult roles. For several years, I led the Football Association’s (FA) Leadership and Development Program and Youth Council, encouraging clubs and leagues nationally to engage young people in decision making processes to ensure that the game of the future is right for the participants. This involved developing youth-adult partnerships and supporting young people to develop transferrable skills to benefit them in the future and help to retain them in sport as participants or other roles such as coaching and administration.
Huysmans et al (2018) stated that ‘coaches of young people are in a unique position to impact the lives of young people as educators and mentors, helping them to overcome the demands of everyday life’ and that is something I really wish to explore. The purpose of this study is thus, to explore how coaches construe and seek to develop leadership within the athletes and teams they work with at an elite youth level in football (soccer). Subsequently, a set of recommendations for coaches as to how they could foster leadership in their youth athletes will be developed.
The next feature will review the current literature on leadership.