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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Leadership Skills and Power Used By Athletic Directors and Head Coaches in Interscholastic and Intercollegiate Team Sports


The use of effective leadership skills and its relationship to success in interscholastic and intercollegiate team sports have lead researchers to conduct studies to determine if leadership skills used by athletic directors and head coaches contribute to success and employee satisfaction. If we examine the alliance of coaching, we will detect the authoritarian behavior style of leadership is used by athletic directors and head coaches in their interaction with players, assistant coaches, and staff. Furthermore, athletic directors and head coaches are confusing power and intimidation with effective leadership. Power is not a form of leadership it is form of control by intimidating employees.

Review of Literature

Researchers in the field of leadership have defined leadership as the ability to influence people to accomplish a goal. In their study Laios, Theodorakis, & Gargalinaos (2003), state power and leadership are two effective tools for coaching, but individuals need to understand the difference between the two. They also give three characteristics of power. The first one being group centered power, which simply means the coach may be an expert in his or her field, but assistant coaches must believe the head coach is an expert, if not the head coach will lose his or her power. The second is power in groups, where the power is just not given to one person, it is given to several people in the group; therefore, a person with power has the ability to make changes. The third type of power is how coaches use their power in their daily interaction with athletes and assistant coaches.

Laios, Theodorakis & Gargalianos (2003) give three other forms of power such as legitimate, reward, and coercive, which come with a position of authority. However, the researcher’s state power is not a form of leadership; it is a form of control. The researcher’s state one of the universal forms of power a head coach has is personal power, which is obtained by having a winning record, or winning a championship. In research studies conducted by Williams and Mary (1983) and Armstrong (1993), the researchers state that several of today’s athletic directors do not recognize how to be an effective leader because they were not given the position of athletic director because of their leadership skills. Instead they were given this title because of their personal power. Studies conducted by Williams and Mary (1983) and Armstrong (1993), coincide with the study by Laios, Theodorakis & Gargalianos (2003), who affirm that winning gives coaches’ power. Fitzgerald, Sagaria, and Nelson (1994) coincide with Armstrong (1993) by stating that 94.5% of athletic directors or administrators have obtained their position by their ability to win in their coaching careers and not by their ability to be an effective leader. Assistant coaches are not promoted to head coaches because they are great leaders; they are promoted because they come from winning programs.

Sports today as we know it has emerged into an immense business and our society places emphasis in winning. In most cities across North America football at the interscholastic and intercollegiate level produce enormous amounts of revenue for the institution and community if they win. This is why our school boards, administration, and alumni have placed pressure on athletic directors to appoint a head coach who can win, for some at any cost, if they do not meet this expectation, they will be replaced, and the search continues.

Mannie (2005) defines leadership as the ability to influence human behavior, bring
everyone together for a common cause, delegate’s responsibility, takes ownership of the program, and work with a purpose. In the past, some theories have proclaimed that leaders are born and not made. However, several researches have affirmed otherwise and one of these is author and Professor Warren Bennis chairman of the University of Southern California’s leadership program. Dr. Bennis states “leadership doesn't come from genes. It doesn't come from reading or listening to lectures. It comes from the hard earned experience in the arena.” Everyone has the ability to lead, but they have to be placed in a position to lead.

Business organizations are in quest of the advice and leaderships skills from successful coaches who have had a winning record or who have won championships in the hopes this advice would improve their organizational goals and help them reach the pinnacle of success. Earlier research studies conducted by Sage and Swartz (1973) state that it has not been proven if the use of effective leadership skills has any effect on a coach’s overall record or how many championships they have won. Studies conducted by Swartz (1973), tried to determine if there was a difference in the leadership styles used by coaches who coach team or individual sports. Swartz conducted another study to determine if there was a difference in the type of management skills used by winning and losing coaches. Astonishingly, the results of the study conducted by Swartz revealed coaches who are successful or unsuccessful use the same type of applicability; hence, the style of leadership used cannot be discounted in a coach’s success, and one style of leadership cannot be superior to another style of leadership. Future studies have been conducted on the topic of leadership and coaching by Alferman (2005); Fathi (2005); Dexter (2002); Wester & Weiss (1991); Moradi (2004); and Range (2002). These researchers state that there is a relationship between the style of leadership used by a head coach and team success. In a study conducted by Hershey and Blanchard (1972), the researchers stated in order for a head coach to be successful he or she has to be willing to change his or her style of leadership to fit the athletes, environment, and culture they are dealing with. House (1971), Chelladurai and Saleh (1978) detected that athletes who participate in team sports favored more training and instruction by their coaches. In a study by Reimer (1991) which included 85 division one football players stated that defensive players favored more training and instruction by their coaches.

Discussion and Conclusions

Coaching is a great and rewarding profession, if you are under the tutelage of a great athletic director, and head coach who has developed effective leadership skills and who places values, morals and character ahead of winning. However, due the pressure placed on athletic directors and head coaches to win, most will continue to utilize the authoritarian style of leadership and power in interacting with their staff and athletes by creating a culture of intimidation and fear known as the “ my way or the high way” attitude. Athletic directors and head coaches who create this culture are in fear of losing their jobs if they are not successful; they also feel that all the decisions of the organization need to be made by them. They have adapted this style of leadership from being under the tutelage of head coaches and athletic directors that they worked under.
Creating this culture of fear and intimidation in any organization will only lead to gossip, rumors, conflict, and betrayal between members of the staff because they are trying to maintain their employment. In addition when a head coach is fired and a new head coach comes in, they bring in their entire staff because this gives them the power to treat players the way they want to, and if they break any interscholastic or intercollegiate rules such as over working athletes and “telling them that there is summer weight workouts, but they are not mandatory, but if you want to play, you need to be there is the same as saying they are mandatory.”
Moreover, coaches on the staff will not say anything because the coaching profession is a closed knit fraternity were everyone has either worked with one another or knows someone who has. Therefore, if a coach is mistreated, stands up for what is right, or disagrees with something in some cases he or she is classified as not being loyal, and not being a team player. This could prevent him or her from obtaining other coaching opportunities because he will be given the common title used by coaches as being “black balled”. In conclusion, further research studies need to be conducted on the culture of the coaching profession to determine if leadership, power, or intimidation is used by respective head coaches at the interscholastic and intercollegiate level.

Furthermore, if leadership skills are a contributing factor to winning then why are coaches who have great leadership skills fired, if they do not win? And, why are those coaches who utilize the autocratic behavior style of leadership or the “my way or the highway” attitude given the prestigious title of being an effective leader? Finally, it is evident that talent and having great athletes on ones team is also a contributing factor to winning. This is evident in sports today when a head coach is fired for not winning and next year the new head coach takes the same team and wins a championship.


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