Athletic Insight - The Online Journal of Sport Psychology

A Review of Leadership in Sport:
Implications for Football Management

Lee Crust and Ian Lawrence
York St. John University College

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The Roles of the Football Manager

Defining Leadership

Early Leadership Research

Interactional Approaches to Leadership

Contemporary Research: A Multidimensional Model of Leadership

Hardiness and Mental Toughness

The Coach-Athlete Relationship

Future Research Directions



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This paper reviews research on leadership in sport and considers the implications of this work in relation to the complex task of effective football management. Trait, behavioral and interactional models of leadership are discussed and applied to football management. The importance of sport specific models and research is also highlighted. The need for improved training and support services for football managers is discussed, and a theoretical, composite view of an effective football manager is proposed. Since the psychological aspects of football management have received scant attention from researchers, future research that focuses on the psychological requirements and demands of football management is encouraged. Directions for future research are given.


       In association football as in other high status sports, the position of manager represents a stressful and turbulent occupation where individuals are publicly held responsible for a team’s performance. In 2004-2005, more than half of the 92 managers that started the English professional league season had been fired by the end of the season, thus reflecting the precarious nature of the position. The average length of tenure per managerial position during this period averaged at just 2 years (The Guardian, 2002), a feature seldom conducive to the successful management of a complex business. However, the goal of an effective and successful manager is arguably the ability to select, retain and develop the best people; this may ultimately be the key to longevity in the role.

       The role of the professional football manager in the UK has traditionally encompassed a variety of responsibilities which extend beyond the role of coach. Whether management in current day football is indeed a profession is a contentious issue. The implication is that managers should demonstrate a high level of education and training enforced by a governing body (Larson, 1977). By definition, therefore, the professional status of managers in the UK is a relatively new phenomenon, heralded by the creation of the FIFA ‘Pro licence’ in 1997, with the first graduates following in 1998.

The Roles of the Football Manager

       The title of ‘manager’ in British association football is distinct from that of coach and is closer to that of the responsibilities held by a Head Coach or Athletic Director in the United States. The process of managing people whether in sport or business is a complex task and requires a sympathetic appreciation of the multi-dimensional roles required. Traditionally, a coach has a prescribed number of roles, which typically includes a planned, coordinated and integrated program of athlete preparation (Baker, Horton, Robertson-Wilson & Wall, 2003; Lyle, 2002; Pyke, 1992; Sabock, 1985; Woodman, 1993). In contrast, the modern football manager must acknowledge the importance of his role from a business or financial perspective (Perry, 2000).

       While some theorists have attempted to distinguish the difference between a manager and a leader by emphasizing the organizational role of the manager and the vision and direction provided by leaders (Weinberg & Gould, 2003), the role of the football manager (see table 1) clearly encompasses elements of both. According to Beech (2002), the consensus is that management implies leadership, but that leaders need not necessarily be managers. Blair (1996) suggests that the role of a manager is to maximize the output of the organization by organizing, planning, staffing, directing and controlling; and that leadership is just one aspect of the directing function. Since football management is essentially a role that is likely to include leadership and coaching responsibilities, research evidence from both leadership and coaching domains will be reviewed in this paper. The extended role of a football manager is summarized below.

Football Manager Table 1

       There are at least three reasons why this paper is necessary: First, because appointing the right manager is vital for the future success of professional sports teams. The research evidence strongly supports the notion that there is a direct link between coach / leader behavior and athletes’ performances and behaviors (see Horn, 2002). From an applied perspective, those individuals who are responsible for appointing managers would be well advised to consider the extant literature, theories and research concerning leadership which is the focus of this review. The degree to which a manager offers ‘human capital’ to a club (the level of previous success and experience) may be crucial in determining which managers are appointed by clubs to new positions (Audas, Dobson, & Goddard, 1997), but this might not always be the best selection procedure if managers have a dominant style that is incongruent with players’ preferences and situational factors. It appears that effective management behavior necessarily varies across specific contexts as the characteristics of the players and the environment change (Chelladurai, 1978).

       Second, those individuals who are already, or who are aspiring to be in managerial positions within football may be encouraged, via psychological support, to reflect on their own characteristics, behaviors and interactions with other club staff, and where necessary seek to change in order to enable greater productivity. Many professional football managers have emanated to their positions following playing careers. While this undoubtedly provides an applied understanding of how professional football clubs operate, some potential limitations exist such as relying on past traditions and ways of doing things, rather than amalgamating these experiences with updated research knowledge and scientific principles.

       Third, from a research perspective, this review aims to encourage the testing and development of theory in the specific domain of the football manager, which has hitherto received scant attention. Given that leading researchers such as Chelladurai (1990) have stressed the importance of specific, rather than general theories of leadership, and that association football maintains a high profile in many cultures, it would seem that investigations involving professional football managers are somewhat overdue.

Defining Leadership

       Barrow (1977) defined leadership as “the behavioral process of influencing individuals and groups towards set goals” (p.232). This definition is important because it places emphasis on the vision of a leader (i.e. goals, objectives) while also highlighting the necessary interaction between the leader and group members. Effective leadership will encompass an understanding of motivation and is likely to minimize any loss of productivity through the development of both task and group cohesion, allowing a group to operate at, or close to its potential. Indeed, Carron and Chelladurai (1981) found that cohesion was dependent upon player and coach relationships. Loehr (2005) stressed that the common theme of effective leadership is the “positive impact that individuals can have on group dynamics relative to a team objective” (p.155).

       The act of leadership attempts to influence and convert others into ‘followers’ (Tannenbaum, Weschler, & Massarik, 1961) and may be achieved through a variety of mechanisms such as coercion, persuasion and manipulation. Leadership requires an understanding or respect for the power dynamic between the influencer and the follower. The relationship recognizes that every act between the two parties is a ‘political act’ with potential for coercion (Miller, 1985).

       Researchers have suggested that the interpersonal dynamics at play between player and coach are complex (Bloom, Schinke, & Salmela, 1998; Martens, 1990) and this complexity is also likely to extend to player and manager relations. Managers unable to communicate effectively with their players may inadvertently exacerbate problems due to a lack of understanding from their perspective. Perceptions and interpretation of information conveyed by the manager may have its origins in the formative stage of an individual’s development (Seligman, 1991). To improve the intellectual exchange between player and manager it may be necessary to integrate specialist sports psychology consultants into the team to facilitate reflection from both parties.

       To understand leadership it is important to transcend the superficial and retrospective lay-perspective which tends to define success in terms of winning. For some football clubs with limited resources, success might be defined in terms of maintaining their status (i.e. avoiding relegation to a lower division). According to Weinberg and Gould (2003), leaders typically have two functions: (i) to ensure the demands of the organization (club) are satisfied by the group effectively meeting its targets and (ii) to ensure the needs of group members are satisfied. Clearly, those individuals who are responsible for appointing leaders / managers need to ensure that the visions and targets of both the club and potential leader are compatible and that the qualities of the leader and group members (players) are not incongruent.

Early Leadership Research

       The early research into leadership effectiveness was conducted outside of sports settings (usually business, military or education) and tended to use one of two approaches (Horn, 2002). The trait approach assumed effective leadership was founded on innate personality dispositions rather than a function of learning and explicitly supposed that great leaders were born and not made. In contrast, the behavioral approach posited effective leadership to be a function of a leader’s dominant behaviors. The assumption was that an individual could learn to be an effective leader by adopting behaviors that other successful leaders used (i.e. leaders were made and not born).

       Both the trait and behavioral approaches to studying leadership rested upon the premise that a set of universal traits or behaviors could be identified that would reliably discriminate between successful and unsuccessful leaders. Eventually such research began to permeate sports. For example, Penman, Hastad, and Cords (1974) tested the degree of correlation between coaching success (male, interscholastic head football and basketball coaches) and authoritarianism. Penman et al. found that more successful coaches, in comparison to less successful coaches, exhibited more authoritarianism. Research that followed took similar approaches to investigate the relationship between effective leadership and traits or behaviors such as decision-making style and creativity (Hendry, 1969; Lenk, 1977; Pratt & Eitzen, 1989). Some theorists (Ogilvie & Tutko, 1966, 1970) even forwarded coaching profiles that were supposed to be characteristic of successful coaches. Although Ogilvie and Tutko considered traits such as authoritarianism, tough-mindedness, independent thinking, emotional maturity and realism as important characteristics, it is apparent that these theorists produced no evidence to support their profile (Weinberg & Gould, 2003).

       In hindsight, both the trait and behavioral approaches were over-simplified positions and it was too optimistic to expect a single set of traits or behaviors to be able to discriminate between successful and unsuccessful leaders. While these approaches failed in their main objectives (no single set of traits or behaviors have been consistently found to characterize effective leaders), the research that tested these conceptual models undoubtedly advanced the knowledge base and led to more complex theoretical models and research designs.

       Two of the main problems with the trait approach to studying leadership is that traits are not necessarily easy to measure (Bolden, Gosling, Marturano & Dennison, 2003), and that over time, an almost limitless list of positive adjectives have been forwarded as important leadership traits. However, Stogdill (1974) summarized the contribution of trait approaches to the study of leadership (see table 2) by listing those traits and skills that have been found more frequently in related research. These traits and skills are not specific to sport and should not be considered as essential pre-requisites, but rather as potentially useful leadership characteristics. It is important to note that the absence of such traits does not necessarily preclude an individual from being a successful leader.

Football Manager Table 2

       Behavioral research outside of sport has managed to categorize what leaders do, into two areas; consideration and initiating structure (see Weinberg & Gould, 2003). Consideration reflects the relationships between the leader and followers to involve factors such as friendship, mutual trust, warmth, building rapport and communication. Initiating structure is based upon the establishment of rules, regulations and operating systems that are designed to move a group towards pre-established goals. In non-sport settings it appears that successful leaders score highly in both consideration and initiating structure.

       Sport specific research has examined the behaviors of successful coaches and reported moderate levels of consistency. For example, both Tharp and Gallimore (1976) and more recently Bloom, Crumpton, and Anderson (1999) used case studies to examine the behaviors of elite basketball coaches. Findings revealed that these coaches were engaged in giving instructions (what to do and how to do it – sometimes using short modeled demonstrations) and encouraging effort and intensity. A qualitative study that employed in-depth interviews with 17 elite gymnastic coaches (Cote, Salmela, Trudel, Baria, & Russell, 1995) also found an emphasis on supportive, technical and corrective feedback. Ultimately, researchers such as Smith, Smoll and Curtis (1979) showed that leadership behaviors could be learned by using a coaching workshop to increase coaches’ positive behaviors and decrease their negative behaviors when coaching children. These findings showed a direct relationship between coaching behaviors and players’ evaluative reactions, however, the study did not assess performance variables such as win / loss records, and was not related to elite performers.

Interactional Approaches to Leadership

       The failure of both the trait and behavioral approaches ushered the emergence of various situational based leadership theories such as Fiedler’s (1967) contingency model. Such theories stressed the importance of interactions between the leader, group members and the situation. On this basis, the particular traits and behaviors of an effective leader are believed to vary in accordance with environmental (situational factors). Fiedler argued that task-oriented leaders (those whose primary focus is on achieving goals, and performance related variables) are likely to be most effective in either very favorable or very unfavorable situations. In this case, a task-oriented football manager who would prioritize performance goals over developing positive interpersonal relations is likely to be a more effective leader than a relationship oriented manager, in the context of a team fighting to avoid relegation.

       Another interesting, but rather limited approach to the study of leadership in sport was provided by Grusky (1963). Grusky’s group structure model (initially applied to professional baseball) proposed that players who occupied more central positions, and thus performed more dependent and coordinative tasks that necessitated interaction with others, were more likely to develop essential leadership skills and ultimately were more likely to become managers. Examination of baseball records confirmed Grusky’s hypothesis as catchers and infielders did become managers more often than pitchers or outfielders. Grusky’s findings were also supported by subsequent research (Gill & Perry, 1979; Loy, Curtis, & Sage, 1979) but as Gill (2000) suggests, the work did not extend far beyond Grusky’s initial propositions. Despite this, applying these same propositions to the study of association football would certainly provide a new perspective and perhaps allow further examination of the processes by which former players emanate to managerial positions and the success achieved by past players compared to managers who did not play professional football.

       Despite the appeal of situational theories such as Fiedler’s and other interactional approaches to the study of leadership, when sport specific research emerged, the results provided minimal support to theories derived from outside sport contexts (Horn, 2002). Some theorists have suggested that the main problem with attempting to transpose general theories of leadership to sports settings is the failure to consider the unique characteristics of sports teams (Chelladuria & Carron, 1978; Terry & Howe, 1984).

Contemporary Research: A Multidimensional Model of Leadership

       While research and theories from non-sports settings provided useful frameworks for understanding leadership (Horn, 2002), specific approaches that reflected the unique demands of sports settings were required. In response, Chelladurai (1978, 1990, 1993) developed the multidimensional model of leadership to provide a conceptual framework that allowed leadership effectiveness to be studied in the sports domain. Chelladurai proposed that effective leadership is dynamic and is based on a complex series of interactions between leader, group members and situational constraints. The model suggests that positive outcomes (performance and satisfaction) will occur when there is congruence between the leaders actual behavior (i.e. either organizing practices or providing positive feedback), the group members preferred leadership behavior (i.e. preference for a highly organized, supportive leader) and the behavior that is required in relation to the situation. In addition, behavior does not occur in a vacuum, and antecedent factors such as leader and member characteristics will influence both the actual behavior of the leader and group preferences for leadership behaviors. The challenge for football managers is to show flexibility in adapting their dominant leadership style to suit specific leadership situations, and with large squads of highly paid players, to keep everyone satisfied.

       In essence, Chelladurai’s (1978, 1990, 1993) model stresses the importance of ‘fit’ or ‘alignment’ - with high levels of satisfaction (a multifaceted construct which includes satisfaction with individual performance, team performance, type of leadership etc.) and performance predicted when there is congruence between actual, required and preferred behaviors. Therefore, when discrepancies occur, it would seem that leaders are faced with important dilemmas – to carry on without making significant changes and to expect (or encourage) others to be more accommodating; to remove barriers (i.e. problem players or other coaching staff who are creating disharmony); or to be more flexible (which may prove decidedly difficult for controlling, authoritarian managers).

       It is interesting to note that some football managers appear to be ‘recycled’ following previous failures and eventually succeed in certain types of situation (i.e. in relegation battles) but are less effective or less able to adapt their style to more positive situations (and vice versa). Weinberg and Gould (2003) make a similar observation when referring to NBA coach Doug Collins, whose autocratic and emotional style appeared to be most effective in providing direction for young, unpredictable teams. However, when Collins failed to adapt his style as the teams matured, this autocratic approach was seen as a liability and, in two similar situations, Collins was fired after making a positive initial impact. Clearly, such anecdotal observations do little to advance knowledge of leadership, but it is evident that research in this area is warranted given the potential applied importance of knowing which types of leaders suit particular situations and why.

       Before briefly reviewing some of the research that has tested the accuracy and usefulness of the multidimensional model of leadership, it is important to acknowledge that the most widely used measure in this regard, has been the Leadership Scale for Sports (LSS) which was developed by Chelladurai and Saleh (1978, 1980). The LSS has received extensive testing and generally good psychometric support (Chelladurai, 1993; Chelladurai & Riemer, 1998) and measures five dimensions of leadership which incorporate instructive behaviors, decision-making style, and motivational tendencies.

       A number of replicable research findings appear to be important when reviewing the literature concerning the multidimensional model. First, it appears that generally, as athletes grow older and more mature, that a greater preference for an autocratic and supportive style of leadership emerges (Horn, 2002). These preferences might reflect older athletes becoming more serious about their performances and more goal-oriented. Interestingly, Chelladurai and Carron (1983) suggested that the relationship between age and preference for autocratic style may occur because athletes become ‘socialized’ into preferring less responsibility in a social system (sport) that is generally an autocratic enterprise.

       Although there are more similarities than differences in the preferred leadership behaviors of men and women, there is some evidence that males prefer more instructive behaviors and an autocratic style of leadership (Chelladurai & Saleh, 1978; Terry, 1984). Interestingly, there is evidence that participants in highly interactive team sports such as basketball, football or volleyball prefer more autocratic leadership than do participants from co-acting sports such as swimming or bowling (Terry & Howe, 1984; Terry, 1984). Finally, Weiss and Fredrichs (1986) found a relationship between poorer team performance and frequency of social support which probably indicates that losing teams need more social support from leaders in order to sustain motivation.

       In general, research evidence has supported the predictions of the multidimensional model (see Horn, 2002), that indicate when there is congruence between required behavior, actual leader behavior and group preferences, that increased group performance and satisfaction will result. In contrast larger discrepancies between actual, preferred and required behaviors are likely to produce less satisfaction and influence performance negatively.

       More recently, researchers (Chelladurai & Doherty, 1998) have used the LSS to investigate the decision-making styles of coaches. While both the democratic and autocratic styles of decision-making have inherent strengths and limitations, Chelladurai and Doherty (1998) stressed that the appropriateness of autocratic or democratic styles varied with the problem situation. Also, labeling styles in absolute terms implies that there is no middle ground, when past researchers have indicated that blends of autocratic and democratic styles do exist (Blake & Moulton, 1969), and it is not unreasonable to suggest that flexible managers can use the styles interchangeably as the situation dictates. In professional football, where large squads of players are involved, it is likely that more autocratic styles will predominate by necessity, as Chelladurai and Doherty (1998) point out, democratic styles are less effective for complex problems and are more time consuming.

       Martens (1987) took a composite view of leadership theories and research when suggesting that there are four components of effective leadership: leader’s qualities, leadership styles, follower’s qualities and situational factors. The interactions between these four factors are predicted to determine leadership effectiveness.

       One highly successful American football coach, Vince Lombardi, was famed for his fiery temper and the demands he placed on players. However, it appears that in an applied sense, Lombardi understood the need to be flexible, and to deal with people as individuals, even within a team setting. Kramer and Shaap (1968) report that Lombardi developed a great understanding of his players and knew which players required more positive reinforcement, and which would respond to greater levels of criticism.

Hardiness and Mental Toughness

       In light of the high levels of stress that are associated with football management, it is interesting that a number of the traits listed by Stogdill (1974) (see table 2) appear to be associated with the concepts of hardiness and mental toughness (i.e. achievement oriented, persistence, self-confidence, stress tolerance etc.). For example, the work of existential psychologists (Kobasa, 1979; Kobasa, Maddi, & Khan, 1982) led to greater understanding of the stress-illness relationship, and the cognitive mechanisms that allow individuals to function efficiently and tolerate highly stressful situations without becoming ill. Kobasa (1979) found that executives who were exposed to highly stressful environments but remained healthy (as opposed to those who became ill) were characterized by a set of distinct cognitive attributes which has been described as the hardy personality. The three dimensions of hardiness as highlighted by Kobasa (1979) reflect: Commitment (as opposed to alienation which reflects an individual’s ability to feel deeply involved or committed to the activities in their lives); Control (as opposed to powerlessness involves decisional control, or the ability to autonomously choose between various coping strategies in order to deal with stress; and cognitive control, the ability to appraise stressful events as being part of an on going life plan, thus deactivating their jarring effects); and Challenge (as opposed to security is the anticipation of change rather than stability as the norm, and the interpretation of change as a challenge or chance to grow, rather than as a threat). These three dimensions appear to act as a buffer to stress (Kobasa, 1979; Kobasa et al., 1982).

       Maddi (2004) suggested that hardiness represents an operationalization of existential courage; that is, without courage, individuals may revert to habitual past choices and behaviors (holding on to what is already known and familiar) rather than seeking out new, and perhaps more relevant alternatives. There is a tendency to stagnate without reflection and actively seeking out new possibilities. This concept can easily be transferred to football management where a cursory glance at professional managers in England quickly reveals a distinction between those who have applied scientific principles to training and embraced new developments in sports science, as opposed to those who have more rigid, set ideas about how things should be done, which is usually rooted in past traditions.

       In more sports specific research, Clough, Earle and Sewell (2002) developed the concept of the hardy personality by adding Confidence as a further dimension to produce their own concept of mental toughness. Alongside this, Clough et al. developed an instrument that appears to be a valid and reliable measure of mental toughness (Clough et al., 2002; Crust & Clough, 2005) that is known as the MT48. Clough et al. state that:

Mentally tough individuals tend to be sociable and outgoing; as they are able to remain calm and relaxed, they are competitive in many situations and have lower anxiety levels than others. With a high sense of self-belief and an unshakeable faith that they control their own destiny, these individuals can remain relatively unaffected by competition or adversity. (p. 38)

       The ability to function effectively, not just in terms of remaining healthy, but also in terms of decision-making and remaining clear and logical in thought when experiencing adversity, would intuitively be an important characteristic of a football manager. That would appear to include keeping players focused on what is important and connecting with team members’ core values (Loehr, 2005). Recent research has shown that mental toughness is positively correlated with performance of endurance tasks (Crust & Clough, 2005); negatively correlated with perceptions of exertion in conditions of high intensity exercise; and predicts those individuals who are more likely to be able to bounce back (show resilience) after negative feedback (Clough et al., 2002). Although research into mental toughness is still at an early stage and has mostly focused on the sports performer, extending such research to incorporate football managers would clearly enhance knowledge of what some researchers have described as arguably one of the most important psychological attributes in achieving excellence (Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002; Williams, 1998).

       Interestingly, recent research has shown that hardiness can be learned, and that hardiness training with managers can lead to increased job satisfaction, lower levels of stress, strain, anxiety, disgust and blood pressure (Maddi, 1987; Maddi, Khan, & Maddi, 1998). These researchers developed a training program that involved business managers learning how to (a) cope effectively with stressful circumstances, (b) give and get assistance and encouragement in social interactions, (c) engage in the self-care that supports effective coping and social support, and (d) use the feedback from these activities to deepen their hardiness attitudes. Extending hardiness and mental toughness research to football managers should be encouraged since it is apparent that some managers thrive on the pressures of the job while others succumb to the stress and appear ill at ease.

The Coach-Athlete Relationship

       Although no scientific studies have examined the relationship between association football managers and players, recent research has developed a clearer understanding of important features of successful coach-athlete relationships. Jowett and colleagues (Jowett, 2001; Jowett & Cokerill, 2002; Jowett & Ntounamis, 2004) have explored the reciprocal nature of such relationships, giving particular emphasis to affective, behavioral and cognitive factors. This research has focused on how coaches and athletes influence each other and the interdependency that is evident. Initially, Jowett and others highlighted the importance of the three C’s of closeness, commitment and complementarity to coach-athlete relations (Jowett, Paull, Pensgaard, Hoegmo, & Riise, 2005).

       Closeness refers to feelings and perceptions that appear to be a function of interpersonal factors such as liking, trust, and respect. Open channels of communication, voicing of needs, effective problem-solving, acceptance and appreciation characterize closeness. Importantly, such qualities as trust and respect have been associated with successful coaching (Janssen & Dale, 2002), while their absence is linked to less harmony and less support (Douge, 1999).

       Commitment appears to reflect oneness of thought between coach and athlete, and is defined as an intention to maintain and optimize relations (Jowett et al., 2005). When performances fall below expectations, commitment can guard against retaliation by promoting accommodation, and this is characterized by flexibility when change is necessary. A lack of commitment has been shown to be linked to criticism, communication breakdown and a lack of common goals (Jowett, 2003).

       Complementarity, the third C, reflects a positive working environment where coach and athlete work together to attempt to improve performance. Jowett et al. (2005) suggest that complementarity has been found to relate to both high levels of performance and greater satisfaction with the relationship. Recently, Jowett et al. (2005) proposed a forth factor, co-orientation, which still requires further investigation, but reflects coach and athlete perceptions of how the other perceives them. Extending this research to incorporate manager and player relationships would certainly help to extend knowledge of interpersonal relations within football.

Future Research Directions

       Riemer and Chelladurai (1995) referred to the ‘considerable gap’ that existed between the importance attached to leadership in sport and the efforts of researchers to understand it. While this article has strived to evaluate what makes an effective football manager by drawing upon research related to leadership and coaching perspectives, this contribution alone is not sufficient in terms of expanding the knowledge domain. While conducting research that uses professional sports managers as participants is likely to be difficult (given the demands of professional sport), it is necessary to further understand effective football management. It is evident that few studies have attempted to test theory or to evaluate models with specific regard to association football, and more specifically in football management. The lack of research evidence in regard to football management means there is scope for researchers to address any number of potentially important areas.

       Future researchers might examine aspects of Chelladurai’s (1978, 1990, 1993) multidimensional model in order to assess its relevance to football management. For example, Chelladurai places great emphasis on the congruence between required, preferred, and actual leader behavior. One interesting line of enquiry might be to examine how football managers attempt to manage any discrepancies between the above and to assess professional players’ preferences in regards to leadership style, and, as a consequence, evaluate interaction between managers and players. In studying American football, Riemer and Chelladurai (1995) found that congruence between preferred and perceived leadership was critical to enhancing member satisfaction in regards to social support. However, these researchers also found that perceived (actual) leadership in training, instruction, and positive feedback were stronger determinants of satisfaction than either preferred leadership or the congruence between preferred and perceived leadership. Thus, when leaders emphasize training, instruction, and positive feedback, task demands and member performance are likely to be more important than member preferences. Riemer and Chelladurai also found some differences in the preferred amounts of democratic behavior and social support between offensive and defensive players.

       Based on extant literature from other interactive team sports, it may be hypothesized that professional football players would prefer more autocratic styles of leadership (although some position variance may occur), and that the autocratic style would pre-dominate in successful managers given the complexity of managing large squads of players. Such research would be useful to assess stereotypical perspectives of football managers as authoritarian figures. According to Kellett (2002), the coach as an authoritarian dominant enforcer of discipline, using threats to discipline players to obtain improvements in performance, is normalized in coaching literature and evidently still pervasive in modern sport.

       Another possible line of enquiry could focus upon the flow of former players who achieve managerial positions within football. Grusky’s (1963) group structure model and the related research would provide a framework from which to examine the hypothesis that players from more interactive positions are more likely to emanate to management positions in football. Researchers might also consider the success of managers (this could be measured in various ways such as achievement or time in post) based upon past playing experience, or examine differences in decision-making styles in relations to past playing / non-playing experiences.

       One interesting development in the study of leadership that has recently permeated football management is the concept of a shared mental model (getting players to think and react in an identical fashion) and the use of cultural architects (influential players that share the vision of the manager and can help to cultivate a cohesive group culture). In football, this approach came to prominence when England Manager Sven-Goran Erikkson worked with sport psychologist Willi Railo to identify and utilize three such players within the England football team. A television program (BBC, 2002) documented the approach of Erikkson and Railo, and included an interview with sport psychologist Dave Collins who stated:

This concept of cultural architects is a good example of the shared mental model in operation. It's almost like those are the guys who've bought into that picture, or who grasp that picture the best and therefore they can act as leaders, not necessarily in the formal sense, but as the cement that pulls all these bricks together in the common style.

       Researchers such as Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Converse (1993) have suggested that effective teamwork depends on the emergence of shared knowledge representations or mental models, and that the basic objective of team training is to cultivate similar mental models (Baker, Salas, Cannon-Bowers, & Spector, 1992). In action teams (as in football), where expertise, information and tasks are distributed across specialized individuals and where team success depends on rapid, complex and coordinated behavior, the existence of shared mental models appears to be crucial in regards to both interdependent and independent decision-making (Marks, Sabella, Burke, & Zaccaro, 2002). Furthermore, in laboratory tasks, Marks et al. (2002) showed that cross training (where team members are trained to understand, model or experience the roles of team-mates) facilitated the development of shared mental models, and that these mental models positively influenced team coordination and performance. Recent sport specific research (Mascarenhas, Collins, Mortimer, & Morris, 2005) has similarly shown that video-based shared mental model training was effective in improving the performance of rugby union referees.

       In football, the ability of the manager and other members of the coaching staff, to cultivate a shared mental model amongst players will likely be an important factor in influencing team coordination and performance. A more formal attempt to investigate the effectiveness of such a leadership approach is clearly necessary in order to evaluate its utility in football settings. Certainly, effective football managers are likely to value the unique abilities of their team members and learn how to integrate them into a coordinated and efficient scheme (Buckingham, 2005). In effect, the organization can become less dependent on one single person, the manager, and leadership becomes plural as important players can ‘think’ for the manager on the field of play. The manager may have the official authority, at least in the eyes of the media, but his effectiveness is a function of the cumulative effect of all those participating within the organization. This approach also appears to be similar to recent developments in business management research and ideas concerning dispersed leadership (Bolden et al., 2003).


       This paper has reviewed leadership and coaching research in an attempt to assess the implications for football management. While it is easy to agree with Weinberg and Gould (2003) who state that, ‘Determining what makes effective sports leadership is clearly not a simple process’ (p. 213), by examining the theories and research findings from the coaching and leadership literature, it is possible to formulate a composite view of an effective football manager.

       From trait approaches, there seems to be evidence of certain traits and skills that are not so much pre-requisites for success, but rather potentially useful characteristics. These appear to include traits such as adaptability, self-confidence, and persistence; as well as skills such as intelligence, creativity and knowledge of the group (Stogdill, 1974). Although forwarding mental toughness and courage as two important components might be regarded as premature given limited research attention, it is likely that the ability to tolerate stress, rebound from adversity and to seek out new practices rather than remaining ‘rooted in the past’ will be important factors. From the behavioral perspective, it is evident that consideration (including communication and building rapport) and initiating structure (processes, and goals) are important parts of what leaders do. Sports specific research suggests that providing clear instructions and contingent positive reinforcement are also key behaviors.

       From the interactional approaches, the importance of flexibility is clearly enforced: a football manager cannot expect to rely solely on one dominant style of leadership, but must be adaptable enough, and perceptive enough, to vary his leadership approach based upon situational and group variables. It is important for the manager to be aware of the interaction preferences of his/her players in order to provide satisfactory experiences and optimize player performance. According to Chelladurai and Carron (1978), if a manager adapts his or her behavior to comply with the players’ preferred behavior, the individual may be more readily inclined to repay the manager through an elevated performance (Lin, Jui-Chia, & Esposito, 2005). Furthermore, the manager’s ability to cultivate a shared mental model among players and coaching staff is likely to be important in regards to team coordination processes and performance.

       Despite a focus upon theory and research, it is clear that variables outside of the managers direct control such as finance, injury, and refereeing decisions will inevitably impact upon the degree of success an individual experiences. Also, it is recognized that there will be some football managers (by way of traits, behaviors or interactions) who do not conform to the proposed composite view but who are effective. There will be instances where the unique skills and / or knowledge of a manager, will allow him to function in ways that appear contrary to research evidence, but still be successful. The view that is present in this paper is a theoretical one.

       The utilization of sports science techniques and practices within professional football is evidently growing in recognition (Richardson & Riley, 2004). The majority of professional clubs and national associations now employ sports scientists in their quest to gain a ‘competitive edge’ (Coleman, Fairweather, & Ferrier, 2003). Indeed, the FA has created a ‘Psychology Football Strategy’ to increase awareness within professional clubs (Pain & Harwood, 2004). However this development evidently fails to address the psychological needs of the manager.

       New innovative and reflective manager training courses are clearly required to allow individuals to manage their responsibilities as effectively as possible and facilitate critical interventions. One such initiative in Britain is the training program available to all football managers at Warwick Business School in the UK (certificate in Applied Management) (Russell, 2005). This new qualification is unique in European football and contains training in marketing, media relations, sports psychology, branding, and influencing skills.

       In England, up until the creation of the UEFA professional license in 2002, the main qualification for football management seems to have been being a former player. In Germany, in contrast, aspiring managers have to undergo a mandatory apprenticeship of two years in the lower leagues. The challenge to develop a management education course is to allow prospective candidates to learn effectively from their experience (Borrie & Knowles, 2003). Cognitive skills grow from experience (Abraham & Collins, 1998) and a course which allows individuals to reflect on their skills will inevitably enhance their effectiveness in a dynamic, diverse and complex activity.


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Contact Details:
Lee Crust, PhD., BSc (Hons), P.G.C.E., ILTM, Lecturer and Researcher in Sport & Exercise Psychology, School of Sports Science & Psychology, York St. John University College, Lord Mayor’s Walk, York, YO31 7EX, United Kingdom. Tel. 01904 716307. Email: [email protected]
Ian Lawrence, MA, P.G.C.E., BA (Hons), ILTM, Senior Lecturer, School of Sports Science & Psychology, York St. John University College, Lord Mayor’s Walk, York, YO31 7EX, United Kingdom. Tel. 01904 716338. Email: [email protected]

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