Appropriate organizational leadership within athletics is an intriguing topic that promotes various opinions. When performed effectively, the organization flourishes in all on and off field aspects. On the other hand, ineffective leadership will quickly ruin the experience of everyone involved in the program. Leadership establishes the culture of the organization which plays a crucial role in shaping behavior, expectations, and the beliefs of the group.
Leading other coaches, administrators, athletes, and families requires a forward thinker that can inspire, evolve, and use effective methods for maneuvering the group into its most advantageous position. John Maxwell states, “True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not to enrich the leader,” and the model that exemplifies this is servant leadership.
Rieke, Hammermeiser, and Chase (2008) provide evidence that athletes who perceive their coach to be a servant leader display:
- Higher intrinsic motivation
- Increased satisfaction with their sport experience
- Improved mental toughness
- The ability to perform better individually and as a team when compared with athletes coached by non-servant leaders
Servant coaches create a trusting and inclusive environment, have a humble attitude, and provide care and concern for their athletes on an individual level which leads to the participant having an enhanced sense of being treated in a positive manner. The quality relationship built between the coach and the player promotes a sense of community and loyalty among the two groups leading to a more intimate, cohesive group of followers (Ebener & O’Connell, 2010). Servant leadership does not mean the coach cannot be critical of the athlete. Servant coaches build up trust over the course of numerous interactions with the athlete to allow them to speak candidly and critically in order for the athlete to continue to develop. The athlete and coach have a complete belief in each other.
The trademark of a servant leader is encouragement and a true servant leader says “Let’s go do it” not, “You go do it.” Servant leaders act in a selfless manner and want to find ways for the the entire group to benefit. Servant leaders are not created through an individual action but through a lifetime of experiences. These experiences lead to coaches that:
- Commit to the total growth and development of the individual.
- Accept and recognize people for their special and unique talents.
- Listen to the athletes they coach and create a positive environment for learning.
- Communicate with parents and athletes in a transparent and realistic manner.
- Mentor less experienced coaches to work towards successful servant leadership.
How is servant leadership measured? As stated at the Robert K. Greenleaf Center For Servant Leadership website (2016),
The servant-first leader makes sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely to become servants?
The servant leadership philosophy can be put into play anywhere direction and influence are needed, just not on the athletic field. I hope you give it a try in your leadership role.
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Ebener, D. R., & O’Connell, D. J. (2010). How might servant leadership work? Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 20(3), 315-335.
Greenleaf center for servant leadership. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/.
Rieke, M., Hammermeister, J., & Chase, M. (2008). Servant leadership in sport: A new paradigm for effective coach behavior. International Journal of Sports Science &Coaching, 3(2), 227-239.