Title: Atleetleiders als sleutelfiguren voor een optimaal teamfunctioneren: De mediërende rol van het teamvertrouwen van spelers en hun identificatie met het team
Other Titles: Athlete leaders as key figures for optimal team functioning: The mediating role of players' team confidence and their team identification
Authors: Fransen, Katrien
Issue Date: 5-Sep-2014
Abstract: The legendary baseball player Babe Ruth once claimed: “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime” (Williams, 1997). In order to optimize team functioning, effective leadership and team confidence have often been proposed as crucial determinants. The present PhD thesis elaborated the theoretical foundation of both athlete leadership (Part 1 and Part 2) and team confidence (Part 3). By doing so, we developed new methodological instruments to support future research in this area. Furthermore, this PhD thesis went beyond mere description and sought to explain the mechanisms through which athlete leaders influence teammates’ team confidence and as such foster an optimal team functioning (Part 4). In this summary, we will shortly elaborate on the most important contributions of this PhD thesis to the current research knowledge. Part 1 – Theoretical Foundation of Athlete Leadership In contrast with the abundant literature on leadership of the coach, leadership of athletes within the team (i.e., athlete leadership) has received only limited research attention and focused predominantly on the team captain as formal athlete leader. The sparse existing research emphasized the benefits of high-quality athlete leadership for athlete satisfaction, team confidence, team cohesion, and team performance. Coaches, players, and sports psychologists all acknowledge the crucial role of athlete leaders for optimal team functioning. For instance, Chuck Noll, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a professional American football team and winner of four Super Bowls, stated; “On every team there is a core group that sets the tone for everyone else. If the tone is positive, you have half the battle won. If it is negative, you are beaten before you even walk out on the field” (Pim, 2010, p. 127). Nevertheless, a considerable gap exists between the importance assigned to athlete leadership and the efforts made to understand it. In Part 1, encompassing three papers, we attempted to create a solid theoretical foundation of athlete leadership in order to inspire further research in this area.Paper 1 relied on a sample of 4451 players and coaches within nine different team sports in Flanders. In this paper, we developed and validated a new four-fold athlete leadership classification, which extended the previous three-fold classification of Loughead, Hardy, and Eys (2006). Our new classification includes four leadership roles that athletes can occupy; two leadership roles on the field, namely the task leader (who provides tactical instructions to his/her teammates) and the motivational leader (who is the biggest motivator on the field), and two leadership roles off the field, namely the social leader (who cares for a good team atmosphere outside the field) and the external leader (who handles the communication with club management, media, and sponsors). The findings of Paper 1 emphasized the relevance of this leadership classification by demonstrating that an effective fulfillment of the four leadership roles resulted in higher team confidence, stronger team identification, and a better team ranking. In contrast with the wide-spread belief that the team captain is the only athlete leader of the team, the results of Paper 1 demonstrated that only 1% of the participants indicated that their team captain was the best leader on the four leadership roles. Even more remarkable is that in 44% of the teams the team captain was not perceived as best leader on any of the four leadership roles, neither on the field, nor of the field. It can thus be concluded that in most of the teams the informal leaders, rather than the team captain, were perceived as best leaders, both on and off the field.Paper 2 relied on the same sample as was used for Paper 1 (i.e., 4451 players and coaches, active in nine different team sports) and identified the characteristic attributes of each of the four leadership roles. In order to take the surrounding team context into account, we used a novel context-dependent measure that assessed leaders’ characteristics in a relative way (i.e., in comparison with the other team members). The results revealed that ‘the leader’s impact on teammates’ team confidence’ emerged as the most decisive characteristic (of the 27 characteristics that were examined) of the perceived quality of a leader. This finding held for each of the four leadership roles (i.e., task, motivational, social, and external leader). ‘Being socially well accepted by teammates’ emerged as the second most important characteristic of high-quality athlete leaders. In other words, the more a leader is perceived as having impact on teammates’ team confidence and the more a leader is socially well accepted in the team, the higher his/her perceived leadership quality on the different leadership roles. Paper 3 provides a deeper insight in the Social Identity Approach to Leadership (Haslam, Reicher, & Platow, 2011), which was used as theoretical framework in the present PhD thesis to discuss our findings. The Social Identity Approach asserts that the psychology and behavior of team members is not only shaped by their capacity to think, feel, and behave, as individuals (in terms of personal identity as ‘I’ and ‘me’), but also, and often more importantly, as group members (in terms of a shared social identity as ‘we’ and ‘us’). The recent application of this approach to leadership argues that leaders’ effectiveness depends on the extent that leaders are able to create and manage a shared identity within a group. In other words, effective leaders are able to create a shared sense of ‘we’ and ‘us’ within the team. A quote from Drucker (1992, p. 14), a well-known researcher on leadership, nicely illustrates this leadership theory: “The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I’. And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I’. They don’t think ‘I’. They think ‘team’.” In short, team identification lays the platform for effective leadership. In Paper 3, we created and validated the Identity Leadership Inventory (ILI) to assess this identity based leadership style. An international cooperation resulted in four different samples: Study 1 (N = 238, general population in USA), Study 2 (N = 645, general population in USA), Study 3 (N = 338, employees in China), and Study 4 (N = 421, sport teams in Belgium). The last study relied on a data collection in the framework of the present PhD thesis and included athletes from four different sports: basketball, soccer, volleyball, and handball. This new measure provides a means to assess this identity based leadership style in organizations (Study 1, 2, and 3), but also in a sports setting (Study 4). More specifically, the ILI distinguished between four dimensions of effective identity based leadership. First, leaders need to be in-group prototypes (i.e., represent the unique qualities that define the group and what it means to be a member of the group). Second, they need to be in-group champions (i.e., advance and promote the core interests of the group). Third, leaders need to be entrepreneurs of identity (i.e., bring people together by creating a shared sense of ‘we’ and ‘us’ within the group). Fourth and finally, leaders need to be embedders of identity (i.e., develop structures that facilitate and embed shared understanding, coordination, and success). The present inventory can be used to advance theory and practice in order to achieve a more comprehensive examination of the Social Identity Approach to Leadership.Part 2 – Social Network Analysis as Pioneering Tool to Examine Athlete LeadershipAthlete leaders do not lead in a social vacuum, but instead are imbedded in a web of interpersonal relationships with their teammates and coach. Leadership is a socially constructed phenomenon and therefore, highly dependent on the surrounding context. As leadership expert Ladkin (2010, p.21) stated: “trying to understand leadership without looking at the context is like trying to comprehend ‘love’ abstracted from the people who feel and enact it. You may be able to capture a trace of it, but it is virtually impossible to really appreciate its full impact and significance as a detached observer.” Nevertheless, one of the major limitations of the existing athlete leadership research is that most studies focused on individual perceptions when examining athlete leadership and that they failed to capture the complete surrounding context. Also Paper 1 and Paper 2 only provided insight in the characteristics of the best leaders on the different roles. As such, information on the leadership provided by other team members, who may not be the best but still influential leaders, is missing. As a consequence, the possibility cannot be excluded that important aspects of the leadership structure in the team remain concealed. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a suitable technique to examine the complete leadership structure in the team because it takes the leadership perceptions of all team members into account. SNA pictures teams in terms of networks, consisting of nodes (representing the players) and ties (representing the relationships between the players, such as leadership perceptions). Only very recently, the social network approach has entered organizational research to explain leadership phenomena. In the present PhD thesis, we have used SNA for the first time in a sport setting to obtain a deeper insight in the formal and informal leadership structure within sports teams. By doing so, the three papers in this part addressed four limitations that characterize organizational research that used SNA to examine leadership.First, previous studies distinguished categorically between leaders and non-leaders, thereby using binary networks to examine leadership (i.e., networks based on dichotomous relations represented by 0 ‘no leader’ or 1 ‘a leader’). As such, the strength of the leadership quality remains concealed. Second, being a leader does not necessarily imply that a person is also a good leader. From the perspective of leadership effectiveness, the quality of leadership is obviously most essential. Therefore, Paper 4, Paper 5, and Paper 6 focused on the perceived leadership quality of athlete leaders, thereby using valued networks, in which the strength of the ties refers to different degrees of athlete leadership quality, ranging from 0 (very bad leader) to 4 (very good leader). Third, previous studies that examined leadership in organizational settings with an SNA approach focused on leadership in general. Paper 4, Paper 5, and Paper 6 did not only investigate leadership in general, but these studies went more in depth by investigating the perceived leadership quality on each of the four different leadership roles (i.e., task, motivational, social, and external leadership role). Fourth, previous studies that used SNA in a sport setting (to examine other constructs than leadership) tested only one to three teams. Paper 4, Paper 5, and Paper 6 encompass data from 46 complete teams (including 575 players) in their social network analyses, which exceeds the sample sizes used in previous research by far. In addition, the stratified sampling technique to constitute the sample yielded a variety of male and female teams, in four different sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball, and handball), playing both at high and low competition levels.The use of valued leadership networks, the focus on leadership quality, the inclusion of role-specific leadership networks, the large sample size, and the variety within the sample are innovative elements that characterize our research in team sports. Moreover, the combination of these characteristics also underlies the uniqueness and noveltyof these papers in other research areas, such as the organizational setting.With respect to the specific research questions of the different papers, Paper 4 established the validity of the four-fold athlete leadership classification,as developed in Paper 1, for the leadership structure in the whole team. Furthermore, Paper 4 provided more insight in the formal and informal leadership structure of the teams: on the task and external leadership roles, no difference emerged between the leadership quality of athlete leaders and coaches. However, on leadership in general, and on the motivational and social leadership roles in particular, athlete leaders were perceived as better leaders than their coach. Furthermore, our findings revealed that informal athlete leaders and the team captain shared the lead, both on and off the field.In Paper 5, we investigated the attributes of high-quality athlete leadership at the individual level and at the team level. It was demonstrated that the extent to which other team members felt connected to the leader was most decisive for the leader’s perceived leadership quality in general and also for the leader’s perceived leadership quality on each of the four specific leadership roles. At the team level, teams with high quality athlete leadership were characterized by higher levels of team identification and stronger social connectedness perceptions.In Paper 6, we constructed networks for task and social cohesion and revealed that teams with higher athlete leadership quality demonstrated higher levels of task and social cohesion. This finding held for each of the four leadership roles. Given the results of the present study and of the above-mentioned papers, coaches and sport psychologists should educate athletes about the importance of providing tactical advice to teammates (i.e., task leader), motivating group members (i.e., motivational leader), promoting harmony and social relationships within the team (i.e., social leader), and representing the team in the community (i.e., external leader).Part 3 – Theoretical Foundation of Team ConfidenceIn Part 1 and Part 2, we tried to build a sound foundation for a more comprehensive view on athlete leadership. However, before the relation between our two key concepts is investigated in Part 4, in Part 3 we elaborate the theoretical foundation of team confidence. This second key concepts has been highlighted as an important precursor of performance. Part 3 included four papers: in Paper 7 we clarified the conceptual meaning of team confidence (N = 4451; nine different sports); in Paper 8 and Paper 9 the sources of team confidence were identified in respectively volleyball (N = 2365), soccer (N = 1028), and basketball (N = 1692); and in Paper 10 we conducted two field studies in soccer (N = 259) to provide a deeper insight in the reciprocal relation between team confidence and team performance during a game.The existing research on team confidence is characterized by inconsistencies in the manner in which team confidence has been conceptualized, and operationalized. In this regard, Paper 7 provided more conceptual insight by distinguishing between a process-oriented type of team confidence (i.e., collective efficacy; e.g., “I believe that my team will demonstrate a strong work ethic during this game”) and an outcome-oriented type of team confidence (i.e., team outcome confidence; e.g., “I believe that my team will win this game”). The papers within this PhD thesis revealed similarities between the two constructs, but they pointed also at important differences: both constructs are related to different background characteristics (Paper 7), are predicted by different sources (Paper 9), and are in a different way related to outcome variables such as team identification (Paper 11 and Paper 12) and performance (Paper 10 and Paper 12). In order to realize a coherent advancement of the research on team confidence, both constructs should be distinguished and assessed separately. We hope that the findings in the present PhD contribute to this aim by creating more conceptual clarity for future research on team confidence.In Paper 8 and Paper 9, we examined the sources of team outcome confidence in volleyball (N = 2365), soccer (N = 1028), and basketball (N = 867), and the sources of collective efficacy in basketball (N = 825). Positive supportive communication among the athletes and positive coaching were perceived as most predictive sources for high levels of team confidence. It should be noted that while outcome-oriented sources (e.g., being in the lead) were more predictive for athletes’ team outcome confidence, process-oriented sources (e.g., team enthusiasm) were more predictive for athletes’ collective efficacy. Negative communication and emotions emerged as most predictive sources for low levels of team outcome confidence and collective efficacy. Although previous research had suggested that past performance was the strongest source of team confidence, the findings of the present PhD thesis suggest that in-game sources were even more important predictors of team members’ team outcome confidence and their collective efficacy. These papers also highlighted the important role of athlete leaders in affecting teammates’ team confidence, both in a positive and in a negative way. When analyzing the worst competition start in 15 years of the Belgian soccer champion R.S.C. Anderlecht journalist Peter Vandenbempt emphasized the detrimental impact of low team confidence, thereby underlining the essential role of athlete leaders: “The main problem is the organization and the confidence in defense. With every counterattack, the players are trembling with fear. There is a harrowing lack of leadership on the field. We already noted that before. No one takes the team in tow when the team encounters difficulties. The best proof is that not once this season Anderlecht has been able to come back afterbeing behind” (Sporza, 2013). Athlete leaders thus seem to hold the flaming torch of team confidence. The sparks,emanating from the leader’s torch, can ignite the other team members, thereby causing the fire to quickly spread throughout the team. This fire can foster the passion in a positive way (when the leader expresses high team confidence) or (and this may be even more pertinent) cause a stifling feeling in a negative way (when the leader expresses low team confidence).Paper 10 presented two field studies in soccer: Study 1 (N = 134) and Study 2 (N = 125). Both studies addressed the two major limitations in the existing research on the relation team confidence-team performance: (1) the inability to capture the dynamic nature of team confidence and therefore the impossibility to obtain an insight in the dynamic relation between both constructs in the course of a game, and (2) the fact that the distinction between collective efficacy and team outcome confidence has been disregarded. Paper 10 demonstrated that both types of team confidence before the game were not significantly related to the team performance during the first half. However, both types of team confidence during half-time did relate to the performance in the second half. In other words, the more confident athletes were concerning the abilities of their team during half-time, the better they perceived the team performance during the second half. With regard to the opposite relation, it was shown that a better team performance consistently led to higher subsequent levels of team confidence.Paper 10 also demonstrated that team confidence is a dynamic construct that varies within a single game instead of being a trait-like characteristic with a strong cross-temporal stability. However, a major limitation of the existing research is its inability to capture this dynamic nature of team confidence. Because the assessment through long questionnaires appeared to be the major barrier in past research to realize frequent in-game assessments during a game, observations could provide a viable alternative. In Paper 7, we developed a new short scale that is based on observations and therefore constitutes a first step towards such a dynamic in-game measure of collective efficacy; the Observational Collective Efficacy Scale for Sports (OCESS).Part 4 – The Impact of Athlete Leaders on the Team FunctioningAfter we established a sound foundation for athlete leadership (Part 1 and Part 2) and for team confidence (Part 3), all tools are available to investigate in the fourth and final part how athlete leaders shape team members’ confidence in the abilities of their team, and in turn affect the team’s performance. As summarized in Figure 1, we expected that the creation of a stronger team identification and confidence in the controllable processes (i.e., collective efficacy) constitute important tools by which athlete leaders can foster team members’ team outcome confidence, and in turn the team’s performance.Figure 1. Theoverarching model of the present PhD thesis. Team members’ identification with the team // \\ // \\ Athlete leaders Team members’ Team members’ - Perceived leadership quality --> collective efficacy --> team outcome --> Performance- Expressed team confidence confidence Paper 11 described a cross-sectional study (N = 2867; nine different team sports), which demonstrated a positive relation between athlete leaders’ perceived quality and team members’ collective efficacy and team outcome confidence. These findings provided support for the applicability of the Social Identity Approach to Leadership in sport settings: high-quality athlete leaders seem to be able to cause their teammates to think, feel, and behave in terms of ‘we’ (as a team), rather than ‘I’ (as individuals), thereby enhancing team members’ confidence in the abilities of their team. This is nicely illustrated by CEO Lewis Ergen, who noted that “the ratio of We’s to I’s is the best indicator of the development of a team” (Quick, 1992, p. 20). The present findings suggest that the athlete leaders are of crucial importance to foster this sense of ‘we’.Moreover, collective efficacy mediated the impact of athlete leaders on teammates’ team outcome confidence. In other words, by creating a strong belief in the team’s abilities to perform the requested processes successfully (i.e., increase athletes’ collective efficacy), athlete leaders fostered team members’ confidence in obtaining the outcome.Paper 12 presented an experimental study with male basketball players (N = 102) who participated in groups of four. The appointed leader of this newly formed basketball team (a research confederate) was asked to express either high or low team confidence. The results revealed an effect of team confidence contagion throughout the team such that team members had greater team confidence when the leader expressed high (rather than low) confidence in the team’s success. In line with the Social Identity Approach to Leadership, this effect was partially mediated by team members’ identification with their team. In addition, the findings indicated that when leaders expressed high team confidence, team members’ performance increased during the test. By contrast, when leaders expressed low confidence, team members’ performance decreased. Athlete leaders thus seem to have the capacity to shape team confidence among team members (in both positive and negative ways), thereby significantly affecting team members’ performance. Conclusion We can conclude that the present PhD thesis extends current scientific knowledge in different research areas. First, we extended the conceptual knowledge of the two central concepts of this thesis: athlete leadership and team confidence. Furthermore, we developed two methodological tools (i.e., ILI and OCESS) and demonstrated that Social Network Analysis is a pioneering and promising tool to investigate athlete leadership. Third, the present PhD thesis was the first to use the Social Identity Approach to Leadership as theoretical framework in a sport setting.With regard to the leadership structure in sports teams, the Theory on Shared Leadership, which only recently entered the organizational leadership literature, was supported by our findings: coaches, team captains, and informal athlete leaders are sharing the lead. More specifically, the present PhD thesis provided support for each of the following leadership approaches: (1) top-down leadership, (2) lateral leadership, and (3) bottom-up leadership. First, with regard to top-down leadership, Paper 4 demonstrated that in more than half of the teams, the coach took the lead on the task and external leadership role, which supported the top-down influence of the coach. Furthermore, Paper 9 demonstrated the team confidence expressed by the coach to be an important predictor of team members’ team confidence. Second, several papers in the present PhD provided support for lateral leadership, (i.e., shared leadership among athletes). Paper 1 and Paper 4 demonstrated that informal leaders, rather than the captain, take the lead on and off the field. Furthermore, Paper 1 demonstrated that the number of different athlete leaders in a team (i.e., extent of shared leadership) was positively related to athletes’ team confidence, their team identification, and theteam’s performance. The Appendix that supplements Paper 6 added that even shared leadership within a single leadership role (e.g., more than one task/motivational/ social/external leader) is beneficial for the task and social cohesion within the team.Third and finally, with regard to bottom-up leadership, Paper 4 demonstrated that with respect to the motivational and social leadership role, the informal athlete leaders within the team were clearly perceived as better leaders than their coach and their team captain. Furthermore, Paper 11 revealed that the perceived quality of athlete leaders determined coaches’ team confidence and their identification with the team. In addition, Paper 8 and Paper 9 demonstrated that the expression of team confidence by athlete leaders is one of the most decisive sources for coaches’ team confidence.In conclusion, we hope that this comprehensive research endeavor, including conceptual, methodological, and theoretical aspects, will inspire further research in the different research areas. The translation of our findings from sport teams to other settings, such as organizational, educational, or academic settings, would meet the increasing interest in informal and shared leadership. The consistency of the relationships in the overarching model (see Figure 1), as demonstrated across the different papers, testifies to the reliability of the findings of this PhD thesis. Creating a shared team identification and confidence in the controllable processes (i.e., players’ collective efficacy) appears important for athlete leaders to foster their teammates’ team outcome confidence, and in turn their performance. It can thus be concluded that athlete leaders who believe in ‘our team’, are able not only to make ‘us’ a psychological reality, but also to transform ‘us’ into an effective operational unit. In this way, a team of champions can become a champion team.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Physical Activity, Sports & Health Research Group
Social and Cultural Psychology
Department of Health and Technology - UC Leuven

Files in This Item:
File Description Status SizeFormat
Popular Summary - English.pdf Published 317KbAdobe PDFView/Open Request a copy
Wetenschappelijke samenvatting - Nederlands.pdf Published 339KbAdobe PDFView/Open Request a copy
Scientific summary - English.pdf Published 259KbAdobe PDFView/Open Request a copy
Populaire samenvatting - Nederlands.pdf Published 155KbAdobe PDFView/Open Request a copy

These files are only available to some KU Leuven Association staff members


All items in Lirias are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved.