Unleashing the Power of Athlete Leadership Groups: Strategies Perceived to Leverage the Potential of Shared Leadership in Professional Football Teams

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Gina Haddad Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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Donna O’Connor Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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Kellie Burns Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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Coaches of professional sports teams frequently adopt athlete leadership groups in their quest to gain a competitive advantage. Although the benefits of shared leadership approaches are well established, the sharing of leadership with athletes is never straightforward with little in the way of guidelines to assist coaches with this process. The current study provides insight into the strategies perceived to leverage the strengths of this shared leadership approach in professional football teams. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 16 coaches and 14 athlete-leaders from 17 professional teams, across four football leagues. An inductive thematic analysis generated five high-order themes: (a) player-owned team values and behaviors linked to accountability, (b) player-driven values-based athlete leadership group selection, (c) authentic and appropriate empowerment, (d) strong intrateam relationships, and (e) expert facilitation and dedicated leadership development support. Results illustrate teams are more likely to realize the potential of athlete leadership groups when coaches pay careful attention to the preparedness, social identity-based group influence processes, expert facilitation, and ongoing leadership development support required for shared leadership. Findings suggest that establishing high levels of trust and progressively and authentically empowering athlete-leaders within clearly defined parameters based on a mutually agreed behavioral framework may mitigate risks commonly associated with player empowerment-based leadership models.

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