Frank Spina

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Leadership Studies


Athletic competition has been an increasingly integral part of society for the better part of three millennia. Beginning with the dawn of the ancient Olympics, sports have remained a highly valued component of all cultures in forms as different as the Medieval Tournament and the World Series. The role such competition plays has also taken on varying forms including sanctioned violence, alternative entertainment, spectatorism, and exercise, and has ultimately evolved into the current status of sports as a multi-billion dollar industry. Surely this popularity of professional competition is indicative of the powerful impact of sports on modem life: "few phenomena in contemporary society touch as many people, both vicariously and directly, as does sport" (Smith and Smoll, 1978). In sport we are awed by the beauty and grace of the athlete, as well as his strength and determination, and we can identify with the struggle for victory inherent in all competition. In participating in athletic activities the individual fulfills the need for achievement and is pleased when goals are attained. In observing sport, the spectator also gains by emulating these athletes that "epitomize the human pursuit and achievement for excellence" (Hemphill, 1995).

Those who truly know sports have always said that anyone can diagram X's and O's, but that's not really what coaches are there to do. What is meant by this is that there are more important ways of leading a team to victory than by just diagramming the best plays. The key to leadership is maximizing the potential of others towards a goal. In sports this is no different. However, at first glance one might think that coaching and leading are two different things. This is not true. The same prevailing theories of leadership in organizations have been amended to fit the world of athletics and just as the leadership craze has taken over the popular press, so too have books about coaching. The two approaches to sport leadership are diametrically different in theory, one focusing on collected data and research and the other using solely experience, but the end result is the same: no coach can be successful by strictly adhering to one style regardless of the players involved and the situation they are in.

Research on sports leadership is not unlike the predominant findings in the rest of the field. Much of the data is inconclusive, and nearly all of it is being contested with new, related studies. The results are that despite having two paradigms upon which to base sport leadership theories about leader behavior and its correlation to performance, each study is contingent on so many different variables that it seems clear that there will be no uniform way in which to compare studies. individual case. Therefore, each study must be taken as an individual case. Therein lies the key; the student of the academic perspective must be able to locate all of the variables in a given situation and figure out the best approach, paying most attention to the way the players want to be coached.

Despite there being numerous coaching legends in each sport, there can be no authority on sport leadership. The reason being that no team is exactly the same. There is no formula that can be applied to every sport. There is no right answer as to how to motivate players during crunch time. The popular press proves this just as the academic approach has; everyone has their own concept of what will work with the most people, and with the hundreds of ways to define success on the field, who can determine which style is the most effective? The most effective style is that which works for the individual. All of the coaches studied in this paper were categorized according to style, but each shared the innate ability to know how to treat each player in various situations.

Successful sport leadership then, from either perspective, is not a function of your personal coaching style, so much as it is the ability to restructure your style to accommodate the player who will be the object of your behavior.