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!



In interesting element within these strategies is to answer if coaches are looking to develop functions of leadership to develop traits and behaviours of leadership or vice versa – utilising traits and behaviours to enable functions. Reflecting on the results regarding the coaches’ understandings or definitions of leadership, there has been a focus on traits and behaviours, particularly when it comes to role-modelling desired behaviours and standards within teams – but that does not define which way coaches are looking at it and so this could/should be followed up for further clarification, but time has not allowed this to happen yet.

Leadership Trait / Behaviour / Function (Featured in Table 3 and 4)
Caring (T)Confident (T)Cultural Architects (F)
Effective Communication (B)Empowering (B)Hard Working (T)
Identity Leadership (B)Leads Focus (B)Motivating (F)
Problem Solving (F)Promoted Teamwork (B)Resilient (T)
Role Model (B)Spokesperson (F)Takes Ownership (B)
Leadership Trait / Behaviour / Function (Featured in Table 4 but not Table 3)
Adaptable (T)Brave (T)Central Position in the Team (F)
Desire to Lead (B)Good Person (T)Honestly / Integrity (T)
Humble (T)Improves Others (F)Respectful (T)
Passionate for the Game (T)Reflective (T) 
Leadership Trait / Behaviour / Function (Featured in Table 3 but not Table 4)
Skilled (T)  
Table 6 – A Comparison of Traits, Behaviours and Functions in Tables 3 and 4

Table 6 shows a comparison of the information from Table 3 (Leadership Characteristics from the Literature Review) to Table 4 (Traits, Behaviours and Functions from Interviews), it is notable to mention that being ‘Skilled’ did not appear in the interview transcripts from the coaches, noting that there may be a realisation that being ‘the best player’ in effect does not demonstrate that they are in effect the best leader(s) in your group, though being the best player does not exclude athletes from this, it is not a sought-after trait in leaders.

It appears that what coaches most recognise as signs of leadership in their players are traits of leadership over behaviours and then functions within the team (Traits – 12, Behaviours – 8, Functions – 6). There is no clear reason but this is likely because functions are brought to life through a number of behaviours, which means there will be more behaviours than functions, and further interpretation from interviews could suggest that each of the coaches have experienced these traits regularly within leaders they have worked with or even played with and so it stands out more clearly than a behaviour (all people are different!) and a function, which may vary team by team depending on what is expected of a captain in certain environments and settings.

The theme of ‘ownership’ leads the responses as a regular feature across all the interviews with a high value placed on it by coaches. My interpretation would be that the examples given (e.g., taking ownership of; your learning, team decisions, kit, and equipment) can make a coach’s job easier as there isn’t as much for them to control or take responsibility for themselves, sharing the workload whilst evidencing that the players are ‘bought in’ to the work that they need to do too.

‘Cultural Architects’ are generally mentioned alongside the environment in which players are working and ‘setting the tone’ for how a team act and trains. This regularly included demonstrating values which the coaches and club found desirable and creating the culture through role modelling. Within this research, coaches are often seen as one of the role models, and possibly even more so in some settings (see section ‘Other Notable Information’). Working hard can fall into this category quite simply too.

Finally, there is still a solid presence for the more ‘traditional’ leadership styles like those mentioned in Hoption, Phelan and Barling (2007), such as being an ‘effective communicator’ and ‘motivating others’ which could be experiential on behalf of the coaches who each at different points reflected on leaders they had experienced during their own playing days who held these traits.


An immediate point of note within this section is that these examples can only be viewed as good practice instances rather than pedagogical frameworks and it needs to be noted that each coach must use these as a guide for their own interventions – one size does not fit all in these scenarios, they must be tailored to teams, individuals, and situations. Few of the stories outline a strong planned intervention and in many cases are hindsight reviews of how these coaches believe that they have had an impact, without us being able to study a measurable outcome.

Within the interviews there are several links to existing literature and research, which support the higher order themes of: ‘Creating Player Ownership’, ‘Player and Coach Discussions’, ‘Coach Behaviours’, ‘Creating a Club Programme’ and ‘Non-Football Activities’.

‘Creating Player Ownership’ is best described or explored in the fields of Shared Leadership where Lara-Bercial and McKenna (2018) used the terms of allowing athletes to be “agents in their own development” and this shines through within these interviews, much like ‘giving genuine opportunities to lead’ which featured very heavily in Table 2 and the literature review. Fransen et al (2014 and 2016) demonstrate the power of leadership groups and their roles and mirrors the sentiments of Zhu et al (2018) and Duguay et al (2020).

‘Player and Coach Discussions’ speaks to the literature on Shared Mental Models such as Giske et al (2015) or Gershgoren et al (2016) for a football-specific example, where coaches are engaging players by defining expectations and definitions of characteristics and terms with their athletes. The interviews also demonstrate an importance on the coach having the skills to do these things, which speaks to work from Gould and Voelker (2012).

‘Coach Behaviour’ featured greatly throughout the interviews and can touch again on Lara-Bercial and McKenna (2018) in the need for the coach to be deliberate in developing these skills whilst greatly emphasising the needs for coaches to have good relationships with players to be impactful like in Gould et al (2006 and 2007). The premise of coaches having genuine care for their athletes also links from the literature review (Table 2) and here.

‘Developing a Club Programme’ is referenced in these interviews, but more depth is needed on how this was achieved which matches the sentiments of Duguay et al (2020) in that these are often spoken about without specific detail. It could be argued here that sport is still being underutilised for life-skill development as Gould and Voelker (2012) insisted.

‘Non-Football Activities’ were mentioned on numerous occasions in the interviews but not so explicitly in the literature review. There is a link to possible skill-transfer literature which could be explored more, or Hellison and Walsh (2002) on how skills can transition from sport into life. A small reference to development away from the actual sport did come from McLaren et al (2021) who spoke around the value of social situations for developing life skills, much in the way that Gould and Voelker (2012) references the need, importance, and power of developing life skills through extra-curricular activities, though again this does include sport and so could cause confusion.


A smaller feature to discuss is the idea of these skills transitioning into life outside of football or ‘civilian life’ as SW6 phrased it. Coaches tended to believe that developing life skills through sport was important but when asked could not provide specific examples of deliberate work to facilitate skill transfer. However, amongst the group there was an acceptance that skills would or do transfer in some way. CB3 noted that the transfer happens naturally, and then other coaches gave examples of other skills transferring over but not particularly leadership.

An example of the above is AC7 noting that delivering presentations such as analysis work would support in working or school life for players as a practical skill. On a similar scale PB1 noted the development of confidence (a sought-after trait in this context) would help in the likes of job interviews and SV4 believed that one of his players ‘would have been a boss anywhere’ due to the traits he recognised within him, but no transfer was possible to measure as the player went on to play professionally.

This could be an area for future research but would be hard to quantify, measure and ultimately track as the timescales on such a project could be vast and career-long.

The next feature will be our final post of this work and wraps up the work so far, including some recommendations for future work and of course, some shoutouts for the incredible people who helped me along the way.

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