Serialised Dissertation – Pt. 2 – Literature Review (1)

Here’s Part 2 of my dissertation breakdown, which covers a literature review of leadership, leadership in sport and some ideas on why this became my chosen field of study.

Be sure to check back each week for more information!


Turnnidge and Cote (2018) and Gould and Voelker (2012) have noted that sport provides a fertile context for facilitating development and support to young athletes in the acquisition of a wide range of positive developmental outcomes, not only in terms of performance in sport or participation in sport but also further personal development such as psychological benefits and our key topic, leadership development. Gould and Voelker (2012) also added that coaches and physical educators are in an optimal position to develop leadership intentionally (see also Lara-Bercial and McKenna 2018) in athletes as a means of improving team performance as well as enabling youths to be more productive members of society. Furthermore, Gould and Voelker (2012) identified that sport and PE are great areas to support the development of young people in areas such as leadership, due to the social, interactive, and enjoyable environments they find themselves in. But if sport fully utilised in the way it could be?


Sport is an important part of life for many children and young people in most societies. To quote Nelson Mandela as featured in Hansard (2002) and Bailey (2007); “We can reach far more people through sport than we can through political or educational programmes. In that way, sport is more powerful than politics”. For young people sport can support physical, physiological, and social development (Merkel, 2013) and that grounding can be an indicator for a healthier, more active lifestyle as an adult (Loprinzi et al, 2012). So, what are coaches currently doing to develop young people?


Huysmans et al (2018) stated that most coaches understand that life skills development exists in sport for cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioural skills. In general, youth sport appears to be seen as a place for positive development (Holt et al 2017; Pierce et al., 2018; McLaren 2021) for developing players/athletes but also for developing people and skills, but to achieve this there is a need for the understanding of all involved to be aware of those development opportunities. So how does sport currently consider development?


Hellison and Walsh (2002) stated that teaching life skills must be integrated into physical activity fully to be taught properly and that there must be a consideration for how skills are transferred from sport to life too.

There are arguably two sides to sport developing people through exposure to its natural qualities (sport and development) and sport being used specifically to support development (sport for development) and research such of that of Lara-Bercial and McKenna (2018) noted that for sport to have a maximum impact on an athlete’s development a coach must be present and must be deliberate in the development work they are doing. Furthermore, Gould and Voelker (2012) applied more importance to the role of the coach and their own awareness of what they are looking to achieve as they noted that adults (in this case coaches) can be dominant in these ‘youth development’ environments and this can be a deterrent to the development of young people through sport and with our target area of leadership. Youth need to be permitted to lead and so the adults must be able to give up some of their own control to become effective developers and allow young people to become ‘agents in their own development.’

The intention of this paper is to investigate ways and means that research and coaches suggest we can develop the particular trait of leadership in young people, and as there is an elite focus there will be a study or sport and development around life skills as opposed to sport for development which holds a focus in (for example) developing communities through sport and the like.


Gould and Carson (2008) note that within life skills development literature, the terms used are often not clearly defined which causes an issue in quantifying the data currently available. Gould et al (2006, 2007) found that life skills development did not occur just by participating in sport and in particular required a coach who could; form strong relationships with their athletes, had clear coaching philosophies with a prime importance on developing life skills in their players, held a variety of well-thought-out strategies for developing life skills in their players and were able to recognise environmental factors that could also influence these skills being developed. Programs attempting to achieve this such as SUPER from Danish (2002), Teaching Responsibility Through Physical Activity Hellison (1995) and The Hokowhitu Program from Heke (2001) have all attempted to develop life skills in young people through sport but have had varying levels of success and struggled to create a model that translates across cultures and situations.

Gould and Carson (2008) concluded in their review that life skills development is not a simple process and must be taught as it isn’t caught, echoing the sentiments of Lara-Bercial and McKenna (2018). Gould and Carson (2008) also noted that life skills development is a complex process and more research, in particular qualitative studies are needed to help in understanding this area – something that this research hopes to do with leadership.


Much of the reasoning for my choice to focus on the idea of leadership for this research is noted in the introduction to this paper, be it a personal interest, relevance to work or the constant referencing of leaders in successful teams, but there is also a lot of reason and reference to the need for leaders and the positive impacts that developing leadership for a competitive edge and also life skills, can have on young people and their peers.

An earlier reference to Gould and Voelker (2012) demonstrated a belief 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 and is a ‘key personal life skill that needs development,’ echoed by Turnnidge and Cote (2018) in a literary review.

Having leaders in teams can be a competitive advantage, with Hoption, Phelan and Barling (2007) evidencing that training in transformational leadership all involved in a team can be a competitive advantage. Furthermore, for those individual athletes involved, Cotterill and Fransen (2016) identified that athlete leaders have been shown to positively influence team cohesion, athlete satisfaction, team identification, team confidence, and the motivational climate within the team – all which coaches would look to build in their team. In fact, Gould and Voelker (2012) reported that ‘poor leadership’ in players was an often-cited problem by coaches and so understanding how they are developed would be important here too. There must be a way in which we can develop it effectively.

The next feature will review the current literature on leadership, specifically in sport.

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