Player leadership within rugby union has become a topic in point last week with Eddie Jones (England RFU Head Coach) commenting during the week of the lack of leadership within his squad.
"Apart from working on the fundamental skills and increasing the depth of the squad, one thing we need to do is increase the leadership density of the team. That's a big project going forward"
Therefore, how and who can step up and fill these vacant voids suggested in coach Jones' squad?
Quoting from past research, leaders within team environments have been seen to drive and coordinate 3 main areas or functions being task related, social functionality and external obligations (Longhead, 2006). Within team environments, we can find different forms of leadership forming through formally appointed leadership roles, informal leadership and/or peer leadership roles, whereby a person may only effect 2 or more people within the group yet their actions or input leads to influence of others. Looking at Leadership Scale for Sports (Chelladurai, 1980), within these 3 functioning areas of task, social or external, it looks at which areas players look for leadership within. These areas include training and instruction, democratic behaviour, autocratic behaviour, social support and positive feedback. So which areas of leadership is Eddie searching for...?
Studies have shown informal leaders or peer leaders can complete functions that formally appointed leaders such as Dylan Hartley cannot. Peer leaders are seen as influential on task related goals of the group as a whole and focus on team harmony and collective cohesion; these leaders offer greater impact around areas such as social support, positive feedback and can offer democratic decision making dependent on when situation requires them and to as small or large a group within the team as opposed to the when’s and whom by which expectations or protocol sets. Athlete or peer leaders engaged in social behaviors positively influence team cohesion and performance as a result (Vincer, 2010) as social cohesion has shown stronger link with performance than task cohesion (Jowett, 2004). These informal leaders are recognized by certain traits, most notably skill level amongst the playing group, the strongest index of peer leadership (Glenn & Horn 1993). Moran and Weiss (2006) also recognized peer leaders have higher perceived levels of competence and increased ability for expressiveness. A positive relationship has been demonstrated between the presence of athlete leaders and team outcomes such as player satisfaction, team cohesion, confidence and performance (Fransen, 2015); therefore, a open, honest and confident side....seemingly where England side have been for past 12-14 months. So, where else can coach Jones look towards?
Past research has recognized good teams having good leaders with strong social connectedness, which goes hand in hand with task leadership, as displays higher level of collective efficacy (Fransen, 2015). The quality of social support received is critical to group success and player satisfaction; while important to receive social support from coach-athlete relationship, the increased pressure to ensure the player does not let down their parts within the relationship can lower autonomy and intrinsic motivation through perceived controlling behaviours. Therefore, the leadership dynamics and coach’s willingness to allow player leaders to be identified, creating connected individuals and responsibility being distributed amongst the group through social networking is important within team dynamics.
Coaching success stems around the competence, confidence, connection and character developed by the athlete as a result of the coach-player relations; however, coach adopted transformational leadership styles, which look at the importance on the leader-follower relationship, would result in positive intrinsic motivations and increased athlete effort. Bass (1985) recognizes this style of leadership as the ability to inspire and motivate followers to exceed performance expectations by shaping follower’s beliefs and attitudes. This form of leadership can be developed by inspiration or motivation to team members, through creating a vision of common goals, idealizing influence through modelling behaviors or values, individualizing consideration, through allowing for other’s needs and feelings and intellectual stimulation through encouraging creativity. However, if levels of autonomy are not offered, player’s feelings are ignored or common team goals discounted, this could move into controlling or style.
In coaches attempts to gain impact in instruction for learning or becoming task focused the coach could adopting an autocratic or controlling interpersonal style. Adopting this style puts reduces players levels of autonomy and increases pressure on the players to act, think and feel in a way consistent to the needs and wants of the coach (Amorose, 2015). In developing levels of control through power assertive techniques forcing player compliance and using social comparison for evaluation, would adopting these leadership styles for task functions while allowing player or peer leaders to satisfy individual player social relatedness and perceived group autonomy gain suitable levels of satisfaction and group cohesion? Is Eddie suggesting relinquishing some control to the players??
Previous studies suggest collective cohesion and team success should be seen as leadership driven and responsibility for all team members as high levels of individual’s intrinsic motivations are experienced when coaches exhibit a leadership style that empathized instructional behaviors and democratic behavior rather than autocratic leadership styles (Amorose, 2007). It is recognized good teams having good leaders with strong social connectedness, which goes hand in hand with task leadership, as displays higher level of collective efficacy (Fransen, 2015). The leadership dynamics and coach’s willingness to allow player leaders to be identified, creating connected individuals and responsibility being distributed amongst the group through social networking is important within team dynamics.
For this example, would Eddie's time be spent identifying players to translate the coaching group's vision, helping develop task leaders through adopting principles of law of diffusion of innovation? As he introduces MMA training practices to improve contact work and adds visual awareness coach to improve player's awareness, continuing to push and improve player's abilities, can a strong clear vision with increased player involvement and group cohesion offer him the impact and number of leaders he is searching for? With the Six Nations kicking off in 2 weeks, time shall tell.....