Theories of Sports Leadership

Sports bring individuals together in athleticism to achieve common goals. Despite mantras saying that "simply playing" is what counts, the undeniable goal of all sports competitors is to win. Despite skills and talents of individuals, an important part of the puzzle in achieving success in sports is the leadership of the coach or manager in bringing those individuals together into a team. Two models of sport leadership help lead a team to success.

Task-Oriented Leadership

An autocratic coach believes in a one-way line of communication, says Dr. Rick McGuire, a track coach and sports psychologist at the University of Missouri -- Columbia. This type of coach, who demands the ultimate authority over his team, many times employs a "my way or the highway" approach to communicating with the team, McGuire says. Coaches who follow this leadership style may give the team an opportunity to communicate their concerns or ideas, but the autocratic coach is focused on the task at hand. These coaches rarely put an individual's need over the goal.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The benefits to the autocratic leadership include focused energy on task completion and less "wasted" time during training or practicing. But as athletes become older and more experienced, the autocratic model can break down if they can question the coach's tactics. Additionally, in an autocratic system, critical trust and decision-making skills of the athletes may be compromised over time.

People-Oriented Leadership

A democratic coach encourages the free-flow of ideas between coach and athlete(s). The coach believes that the athletes have an equal say in team matters, McGuire says. Most decisions are made by a majority vote. This leadership style allows for athlete input to the team's goals, practice techniques and models, as well as game strategy and tactics. The coach believes everyone plays a role in the team's direction and success.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantage of the democratic style is that the coach can build trust and reduce anxiety during a competition. A democratic coach can also build self-confidence in his athletes by giving them decision-making abilities, says Scott Mergelsberg, a basketball coach and coaching education writer. The focus of the democratic coach, he indicates, is to develop character and understanding among his players. A disadvantage of the democratic method, however, is the coach can foster a lack of concern amongst the players because of a lack of culpability. Additionally, many younger athletes thrive in a situation where the lines of authority are clear, McGuire says.

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About the Author

Matt Hebberd began writing for newspapers in 1988. Hebberd has written for the "Columbia Missourian," the "Norwalk Hour," the "New Haven Register" and Reuters Newservice. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.