Scarred for the Rest of My Career? Career-Long Effects of Abusive Leadership on Professional Athlete Aggression and Task Performance

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
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  • 1 Queen’s University
  • | 2 Wilfrid Laurier University
  • | 3 University of British Columbia
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Based on the contention that leadership has sustained effects on followers even after the leader–follower relationship has ended, we investigated the career-long effects of abusive coach leadership on athlete aggression and task performance. Abusive leadership scores were derived from ratings by two independent raters’ evaluations of coaches’ biographies, and athlete aggression and task performance data were derived from objective sources. Data were obtained from players (N = 693) and coaches (N = 57) involved in the National Basketball Association (NBA) between the 2000–2001 and 2005–2006 seasons. Controlling for tenure, salary, team winning percentage, and absence due to injuries, multilevel modeling showed that exposure to abusive leadership influenced both the trajectory of psychological aggression and task performance over players’ careers. These findings suggest that the effects of abusive leadership extend far longer than currently acknowledged, thus furthering our understanding of the nature and effects of abusive leadership.

Erica L. Carleton, Julian Barling, Melissa Trivisonno, and Kelsey Tulloch are with the Smith School of Business, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. (Carleton is now with the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.) Amy M. Christie is with the School of Business and Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Mark R. Beauchamp is with the School of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Address author correspondence to Erica L. Carleton at