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Study: Authentic leaders could inspire athletes to curb aggression

Study: Authentic leaders could inspire athletes to curb aggression


Sports coaches who display ‘authentic leadership’ qualities could find their athletes are less likely to act aggressively towards competitors, a new study reveals.

Researchers found such leadership could also enhance sport enjoyment and commitment – both vital qualities in sport as they can influence athletes’ continued participation.

Experts from the Universities of Birmingham and Suffolk reveal that athletes training with coaches who display the attributes of an ‘authentic leader’ are less likely to act aggressively toward other players by committing intentional fouls and risking injuring their opponents.

The Effects of Authentic Leadership on Athlete Outcomes: An Experimental Study by Ella Malloy, Maria Kavussanu, and Thomas Mackman is published in Sport Exercise and Performance Psychology.

Their findings highlight that authentic leadership comprises four components:

Self-awareness – showing an understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses and being aware of one’s impact on others 

Relational transparency – expressing one’s true thoughts and feelings, while minimizing the expression of inappropriate emotions 

Balanced processing of information – considering objectively all relevant information, including their followers’ perspectives, before making a decision

Internalized moral perspective – exhibiting behaviors that are in line with one’s high moral standards, rather than being influenced by external pressures, thereby behaving ethically in one’s interactions with others.

“When a coach demonstrates the attributes of an authentic leader, athletes are more likely to trust the coach and want to continue competing for them,” says University of Suffolk co-author Ella Malloy. “In contrast, a coach displaying the behaviors of a non-authentic leader could diminish trust, enjoyment, and commitment among the athletes who train under them.”

In the first study of its kind, a total of 129 participants (76 of which were women) took part. All were sport science students at a British University and amateur athletes competing at a regional level. Using an experimental vignette methodology, researchers examined the effects of authentic leadership on athletes’ trust, enjoyment, commitment, and a range of morally relevant variables - aggression, cheating, and guilt for cheating and aggression.

“Coaches are vital in influencing athletes’ development and must be encouraged to show high authentic leadership - being open with their athletes and including them in decision making, whilst behaving ethically, admitting to their mistakes, and speaking honestly,” says study co-author and University of Birmingham Professor Maria Kavussanu. “Our study demonstrates that if a coach displays the attributes of an authentic leader this could have a positive impact on their athletes - increasing athletes’ trust, commitment, and enjoyment, and decreasing aggression.”

Leadership Coaching Study Authentic Role Model

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