Leadership preferences of adolescent players in sport: influence of coach gender.

Author:Cruz, Angelita B.
Position:Research Article - Report


Participation in sports has become an important doorway to higher education for students throughout the world. The Philippines, a country in Southeast Asia, has established a national annual multi-sport competition (called Palarong Pambansa) for elementary through high school students from 18 regions of the country, organized and supervised by the Department of Education (2016). For young student athletes, participating in this highly prestigious sporting event as their region's sport delegate is a milestone in their athletic career that many aspire to. To qualify as a regional delegate, a player must compete at several levels, including school intramurals and congressional district, provincial, and regional athletic meets. These preliminary meets require considerable preparation, both physical and psychological, for which student athletes greatly rely on their coaches.

Coaches provide student athletes with quality training to develop their physical, technical, and tactical skills and capabilities and encourage them to achieve increasingly greater sports performance. During this process of preparation and competition, how coaches allocate roles and responsibilities to their athletes influences the overall culture of the sporting environment and helps them to achieve competitive advancement. Thus, coaches should practice an appropriate leadership style because it can have a significant impact on the performance and psychological well-being of players (Horn, 1992).

Furthermore, coaches should understand and be aware of the coaching preferences of athletes, especially if they are going to supervise those qualified regional players, whom they would only guide for a brief period of time as the team's official coach. In badminton for instance, once the regional final is completed, athletes who won their respective events shall immediately prepare and train as a team for some time under the supervision of the coaches designated by the regional association. According to the rule of the regional organization for badminton, coaches of the winning players in singles event shall be the official coaches of the entire team. These coaches are responsible for the athletes' training preparations and lead the team and each members to win the overall and individual championships respectively. In order to achieve these goals in such a short amount of time, it is vital for a coach to recognize first each team member's potential and circumstances since majority of these athletes are not under the official coach's personal coaching jurisdictions prior to his/her appointment. In essence, the way players interact and conduct themselves in practice and/or competition may vary depending on how leadership behaviors being displayed by the coach for a particular situation match the coaching styles the players want their coach to display to them. By doing so, coaches can adjust their leadership behaviors to comply with athletes' preferences and characteristics, thus possibly improving the coach-athlete relationship and athletes' long-term involvement in athletics and their sports performance.

Lastly, examining sport leadership particularly coaching behaviors and the various factors influencing them would impart fundamental knowledge and awareness to school administrators, trainers, coaches, and athletes in the Philippines and also provide valuable information to the current sports academic literature, particularly to the local scientific community wherein empirical evidence related to sport leadership is still nonexistent.

Multidimensional model of sport leadership

Effective leadership behavior in a sporting context can be explained according to an interaction between athletes' characteristics and situational constraints (Chelladurai, 2007; Weiberg and Gould, 2015), an approach called the multidimensional model of sport leadership. This model was developed by Chelladurai (2007), and claims that athletes' satisfaction and performance are predicated on three states of leader behaviors: required, actual, and preferred. All three states are directly influenced by various antecedent conditions such as the characteristics of the situation, leader, and member, as well as their interactions.

To supplement the multidimensional model of sport leadership, the Leadership Scale for Sports (LSS; Chelladurai and Saleh, 1978) was developed in determining sport specific coaching behaviors. The LSS is one of the most commonly used questionnaires for assessing sport leadership, which comprises five subscales representing different features of coaching behavior: (1) training and instruction behavior, which describes the sport skill and tactical instructional style of the coach, which are aimed at improving athletes' performance; (2) democratic and (3) autocratic behaviors, which refer to the decision-making style of the coach; and (4) social support and (5) positive feedback, which characterize the motivational style of the coach.

Antecedents of leadership

Drawing on the multidimensional model (Chelladurai, 1980), researchers have identified a variety of sociocultural factors that appear to influence the preferred leadership behaviors of athletes, including gender (Chelladurai and Saleh, 1978; Chia et al., 2015; Coykendall, 2014; Sherman et al., 2000; Terry, 1985; Witte, 2011), age or maturity (Chelladurai and Carron, 1983; Hastie, 1993; Martin et al., 1999; Weinberg and Gould, 2015), type of sport (Coykendall, 2014; Terry, 1985; Terry and Howe, 1984; Weinberg and Gould, 2015; Witte, 2011), and level of competition (Beam et al., 2004; Hastie, 1995; Terry, 1985). The findings regarding these factors are somewhat mixed, however. For instance, Hastie (1995) found that young female athletes preferred a coach that exhibited less autocratic and more positive feedback behavior compared to boys, whereas Sherman et al. (2000) showed no overall gender differences in coaching preferences. Martin et al. (1999) noted that players in their early (10-13 years old) and late adolescence (14-17 years old) favored coaches that engaged more in training and instruction, positive feedback, and democratic behavior, and less autocratic behavior, whereas Hastie (1993) found an increasing trend for preferring autocratic behavior among high school players (15-18 years old) as they aged.

Aside from athletes' personal characteristics, the type of sport they play has been found to influence their leadership preferences. Witte (2011), for instance, reported that democratic behavior, positive feedback, training and instruction, situational considerations, and social support were preferred significantly more by athletes of individual sports than by athletes of team sports, whereas the latter athletes favored autocratic behavior. Similarly, Terry and Howe (1984) showed that interdependent sports athletes preferred less democratic behavior and more autocratic behavior than did athletes in independent sports, but there were no significant differences in preferred leadership behaviors according to task variability (open vs. closed sports). Hastie (1995) also found that high division players preferred more social support and less positive feedback from their coaches compared to low division players, whereas Beam et al. (2004) found no significant differences in leadership behavior preferences between NCAA Division I and Division II student athletes. Finally, Riemer and Toon (2001) found that social support behavior was preferred by athletes with a male coach compared to those with a female coach, which suggests that coach's gender may have an important contribution to leadership preference. Unfortunately, there have been a lack of studies done subsequent to this one and therefore warrants further investigation.

Given these conflicting results, the interaction effects of situational and member characteristics on preferred coaching behavior remain unclear and seemingly complex. The lack of a clear pattern of results for these variables might be attributed to the differences in the sports studied, such as their varying task and situational attributes (e.g., task variability and task dependence) and organizational climate (Riemer and Chelladurai, 1995). Other possible factors for the mixed outcomes could be the use of participants with different demographics and situational attributes, such as task environment, sport playing experience, and coach gender (Riemer and Toon, 2001). For example, Riemer and Toon (2001) contended that the varied results in terms of why male and female athletes differ in their leadership preferences might have been partly influenced by the gender of the athlete's coach as a confounding variable. They argued that when one previous study found females preferred less social support behavior than men (Chelladurai and Saleh, 1978), the female participants could have envisioned a male coach when answering the items and thereby showed disinterest to receive support and concern outside...

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