Serialised Dissertation Pt. 5 – Results and Analysis Pt.1 – Who Are the Leaders?

Here’s Part 5 of my dissertation breakdown, which starts a thematic analysis on the work done so far and how we might move forward in this field. Forgive the ambiguity of this one as of course, names have been removed to keep our coaches anonymous! There are some great coaches in here, covering clubs from the Champions League (both home and abroad) and clubs in the top 3 tiers in England, as well as coaching England internationals too.

Be sure to check back each week for more information!


This section will now undertake a thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006) to review analyse the interview date. This required the interviews to be transcribed and then several coding stages to identify themes or links to concepts in the literature review to allow for comparisons of research and practice. There was a consideration of keeping a broader range of codes but for simplicity they were narrowed down to Characteristics of Leaders (Traits, Functions and Behaviours – See Table 4) as described in the Literature review. The analysis will then move to Strategies for Development which then holds its own subsections (Table 5). Quotes are then provided for some overarching themes to address the research question exploring leadership in team sports: “How do coaches understand and develop leadership at elite youth level?” and provide some real-world examples of how coaches are putting research into practice.

The first section ‘who are the leaders?’ will outline the characteristics the interviewees identified as reflecting leadership in their athletes and then the second section ‘How do coaches develop leaders?’ will focus on the strategies deployed to develop leadership. A sample of a full interview is available in Appendix 6.


Within the semi-structured interviews, the interviewees were asked the following 2 main questions which were then followed up appropriately by the interviewer:

– What do you think leadership is in the context of elite football?

– Can you describe a player that you coach or have coached that you though were a great leader?

Within the answers to these questions, coaches responded in varied ways, some with anecdotal stories of athletes and some listing characteristics and behaviours that they believe identify leaders.

Across the eight interviews each of the below traits, functions or behaviours were mentioned. These were categorised with an interpretation the trait and behavioural theories of leadership, with functions implying a job or task that leaders are required or seen to do regularly. For clarity, trait theories of leadership subscribe to the notion that leaders are born with some characteristics or traits that differentiate them from others such as the ‘Big 5’ model (Digman, 1990). Behavioural theories of leadership look more at what leaders do than how they look to others, with works such as Halpin and Winer (1957) pr Hemphill and Coons (1957) giving early examples of this.

The categorised traits, behaviours and functions can be found in the table below.

Leadership Trait [definition if not defined earlier]Number of Coaches /8
Hard Working4
Good Person [Display values and traits that others appreciate i.e., morally good]3
Honesty / Integrity [Willing to give their all and hold themselves accountable]3
Reflective [Able to and regularly do review their own performance]2
Adaptable [within situations or in who they communicate to/with]2
Humble [Willing to learn and accept feedback]2
Respectful [Holds all other in an equal regard to themselves]2
Brave [Want to get on the ball, want to influence the game]1
Passionate for the Game [Loves the sport, enjoys training and playing]1
Leadership Behaviour [definition if not defined earlier]Number of Coaches /8
Takes Ownership8
Effective Communication5
Identity Leadership3
Desire to Lead [Want to be a leader]2
Leads Focus2
Role Model2
Promotes Teamwork1
Leadership Function [definition if not defined earlier]Number of Coaches /8
Cultural Architects5
Improves Others [Tries to help others get better]2
Central Position in the Team [tactically central, i.e., central midfield or defence]1
Problem Solving1
Table 4 – Traits, Behaviours and Functions from Interviews

The behaviour of ‘ownership’ leads the responses as a regular feature across all the interviews, followed by ‘cultural architect’, being an ‘effective communicator’, ‘motivating others’ ‘hard working’ and ‘confidence’. Below are some examples of why coaches found some of these traits behaviours and functions important.


Within the theme of being a hard worker, drive and being a good communicator, PB1 offers an example with an England international he worked with and his quality of hard work and communication supporting him to lead and ultimately become a professional player.

“They need to be hard working. And I mean, probably, probably [Player 1]’s the biggest example. […]. We used to say, he doesn’t want to be a footballer, he needs to be a footballer. Again, I mean, his communication was massive. It’s, it’s a huge thing. That’s not just that, that’s not just communicating in one or two, it’s, it’s, it’s the big it’s the team scenario. If you’re the captain, leadership, you’ve got to be a delegate as well. You’ve got to, it’s not just, you know, yeah, I’m just going to have one captain out there. Ideally, you would like 11, so when you delegate and so I think, again, I think that’s a characteristic, hard work.”


DW2 provided a clear example of the importance of a leader taking ownership or responsibility. In this example he is talking about a player taking responsibility for himself, his own learning and setting another example for teammates.

“Have you decided to watch someone in your position, and how they play out from the back? To give yourself the best chance of already knowing most of what I’m about to, the information I’m about to give you. […] taking responsibility is a form of leadership, you know, just taking, you know, the responsibility for yourself. […] When players just get left to it and don’t really, that’s not really on the agenda, then it’s easy for them not to take responsibility for themselves. And I think that’s so important that they do.”

AC7 offers some interesting thoughts on both Identity Leadership and the idea that the player who leads can set the tone (also seen in Cultural Architects) by being an effective communicator, being likeable or popular and setting standards in hard work and never asking others to do something they wouldn’t, creating a sense of being ‘in this together’.

“The best leaders I think like likable or the find a way to be likable. Find a way to get on with everybody, may have to change how they are dependent on who they’re talking to. Lead from the front. So, somebody who’s not who will do something, so again, I keep using them as examples what [Player 2] was like, you know, the hardest worker you literally lead by example. And he would never ask anybody else to do anything he wouldn’t.”

AC7 was also one of the coaches who outlined confidence and self-confidence as a key trait for leaders in youth football, considering the challenges he has within his group in finding leaders and the delay in players picking it up at this stage in their development.

“I think confident as well when you’ve got to be confident like and not necessarily the most confident but confident within yourself. There’s still a lot of 16s now who are like […], some of them are just not confident within themselves. So, you just know straight away in terms of like leadership, you can really struggle. So, when you look at some of the 18s as well, some of them are not even getting some of them qualities until the 23s really, so some of them take a lot longer.”


Within the field of motivation SW6 aligns motivating others and looking to make a difference as a part of leadership.

And I think its people find that at the end of the day, people will motivate or inspire other people.


 I think people want to make a difference whether it’s within the team, or within the squad, or it’s within the club. People want to make a difference. And I think I think if you do that, and you seem to be doing that, and that’s, again, that’s a form of leadership.”

Supplementary Questions – Value of Leadership in and Out of Sport

Within the supplementary questions there was also evidence of the value coaches place in leadership, attesting to the points made in the introduction of this paper. For example, in this quote CB3 was asked if leadership is a competitive advantage and gives some examples of leader-type personalities impacting upon a wider group and helping them to perform, using England at Euro 2020 as an example:

[CB3]: “Yeah, I think so. Yeah, we live in like the Twitter world and whatever else, there’s just countless examples of, I think Henderson’s probably the most widespread. And that is simply just communicating small little bits of information and praise. But those things seem to make a real impact. And we’ve spoke already about Euro 2020 you look at Southgate, Henderson’s barely played but he’s in the squad, Maguire didn’t play in group stage until the latter end, using the squad like, it would have been easy to sort of leave them players out. But he sorts of come out openly and said like the impact they have on the group and their ability to lead, and influence is one of the reasons as to why even if they didn’t play a great deal, and you still been in the squad you saw I think it might have been with McGuire or Henderson if they’re like, regardless of minutes. He never thought that he wouldn’t be in the squad, the player himself. So yeah, I guess that if Southgate’s in, so I guess he probably knows a little bit better than me. But yeah, I would definitely say so I think in the teams that I’ve played in personally as well, and those who sort of have a core of whether they be senior or be seen as senior in terms of age, I mean, or, or experience or whether they are just sort of positioned socially in those roles by the perceptions of others. I think when you’ve got a strong core of people that almost rein people into the way that your team wants to work, I think that’s always helpful. He just keeps you aligned, keeps you on track. So yeah, I would suggest it’d be a competitive advantage.”

In this quote SV4 identifies the impact that working on leadership had on one of his players in that he was more engaged, performed better and showed accountability for his actions.

“It had a massive impact on him, the accountability took on his game. And people commented to us in the first half of the season, the difference that it made to his game as well. He had quite a struggle up in his first year, this this one kid. And the second year, he was very, very good before Christmas, he had a little bit of a dip after. But that added responsibility definitely added to his game on a Saturday and the responsibility he took for the rest of the lads. So, he was suspended for one game, and he was like a cheerleader on the side-line for the rest of the team. You know, even though he wasn’t playing he was heavily involved in everything that was going on. So yeah, there’s loads of stuff to.”

And finally, JB8 explains that considering leadership development for one of his players helped him in organising his life outside of football, taking ownership of his time, developing a focus for both education and wellbeing.

“Yeah, I got a call from his parents. Just before I left. We sat down and had a meeting about what the Zoom call about. They said that they’d never seen him more focused on his life and his school and the way he was a human being it provided the structure because you knew before he went to school he had to balance that and football and go to football straight after all these things and it just created a focus of wellbeing in his life because he knew he had to eat right, sleep right and all his little life skills that he needed to keep up with. And he thoroughly committed to so yeah, that was definitely a change in him in the way he acted every single week.”

The next feature will continue the analysis, with a focus on how coaches are developing leaders.

Don’t Stop Here

More To Explore

Serialised Dissertation Pt. 8 – Discussion

Here’s Part 8 of my dissertation breakdown, which begins to review what we’ve looked at so far. Be sure to check back next week for the final instalment! DISCUSSION TRAITS AND CHARACTERISTICS In interesting element within these strategies is to