A recent study found that the coaches who model authentic leadership influence their athletes in positive ways. The study published in Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology found that a coach’s authentic leadership style increased athletes’ enjoyment and commitment. The study also found a link between authentic leadership and decreased aggressive behavior such as engaging in physical or verbally threatening conduct, causing another athlete’s injury, or committing intentional fouls.
The Universities of Birmingham and Suffolk conducted a study of 129 athletes to understand how training with coaches who display “authentic leader” traits affected their attitudes and behavior. The study defined four components of authentic leadership: self-awareness (mindful of one’s strengths, weaknesses, and impact on others; relational transparency (expressing one’s thoughts and feelings in an appropriate manner); balanced and objective processing of information; and moral perspective.
The participants were sport science students at a British University and amateur athletes. The researchers used an experimental vignette methodology to evaluate the effects of authentic leadership on athletes’ trust, enjoyment, commitment, and several morally relevant variables (aggression, cheating, and guilt for cheating and aggression).
The study demonstrated that if a coach displays the attributes of an authentic leader, this factor could positively shape their athletes’ training experience. A coach's leadership approach is critical, because it can either empower athletes and accelerate their brains or decrease performance and motivation. Negative words and behavior activate the amygdala which regulates fear. The result is anxiety, a reduction in logic and the release of stress hormones.
Authentic leadership potentially increases athletes’ trust, commitment, and enjoyment, and decreases aggression. According to study author and University of Birmingham Professor Dr. Maria Kavussanu, “Sport enjoyment is particularly important for continued participation in sport, which tends to decline with age. As such, coaches who display authentic behaviors can increase their athletes’ enjoyment, with significant positive implications for athletes’ physical and mental well-being.” The researchers believe their findings have significant implications for the design of effective coaching, teaching and training programs.