Cross-Cultural Research of Leadership in Sport

Leadership in sports has been a central topic in sport psychology for many years. It involves the ways in which individuals inspire team members to achieve shared goals. Recent decades have enriched our understanding of effective sports leadership considerably.

On other sections of our website, you will find detailed accounts of how our research team at Leading Insights has significantly advanced this field. In this section, we provide a brief overview of the main issues we focus on in leadership research. We'll also discuss the existing gaps in the current understanding and introduce the specific questions our new project aims to answer.

1. Who provides leadership in sports teams?

Leadership in sports teams often comes most visibly from coaches and team captains. However, you might be surprised to learn that these are not the only sources of leadership within a team. Leadership can also emerge informally from team members who are not officially designated as leaders.

Interestingly, team members, regardless of their formal roles, can assume various leadership roles, including:

  • Task Leader: Providing tactical guidance to peers.
  • Motivational Leader: Inspiring and motivating teammates.
  • Social Leader: Serving as a confidant and fostering a positive team environment.
  • External Leader: Managing communication with outside entities, such as the media.

The concept of 'shared leadership' emerges when these leadership responsibilities are distributed among coaches and team members. Shared leadership has been evidenced to be a key characteristic of highly effective teams and is integral to their success.

2. What makes leaders effective?

Recent research has significantly advanced our understanding of effective leadership in sports. It shows that effective leadership is less about the individual leader ('I' or 'me') and more about the collective ('us' and 'we'—the team). Effective leadership involves leveraging influence through people, not exerting power over them. It's a collaborative effort between leaders and their followers.

The most successful leaders are those who foster a strong sense of unity and belonging among their teams. This concept is known as social identity or team identity, which refers to one’s sense of self, derived from their group membership (e.g., as player of a club team or a national team).

Leaders who excel in promoting this sense of 'we-ness' are known as identity leaders. Evidence suggests that coaches, team captains, and informal athlete leaders who practice identity leadership can significantly enhance their team’s cohesion, performance, and the mental health of individual members. Thus, identity leadership plays a crucial role in tapping into a team's full potential.

What is still missing?

While we have made significant strides in understanding sports leadership, several questions remain unanswered. Notably, much of our existing research has been conducted in WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) countries, such as Belgium. This raises the question: Are concepts like shared leadership and identity leadership equally effective in sports teams from non-WEIRD countries, such as India or Japan, where cultural dynamics differ significantly?

To address this gap, we initiated the CROLIS community with leadership researchers around the globe. Its primary goal is to diversify the geographical scope of sports leadership research, aiming to make it less WEIRD-centric. 

The papers based on these findings are currently under peer review. We will update this section with the published versions once they are accepted for publication.