by Mitch Hauschildt, MA, ATC, CSCS
I recently came across an really interesting article regarding coaching style and injuries rates which I am hopeful will steer some coaches in a productive direction. As the injury prevention coordinator at a NCAA Division 1 university, I am constantly looking for new ways to improve our techniques and our overall approach to reducing injuries with our athletes across the board, so when I see a new approach or concept, I am more than interested in reading about it.
This article was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and it looked at several different leadership styles and correlated them to their team’s injury rates. They researched 36 elite soccer teams in 17 different countries over a 4 year period. In the study, they broke the coach’s leadership style into 3 major categories: transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire. They defined the different styles in this way:
- Transformational: democratic. participative. leadership style associated with higher levels of motivation and performance, improved development and skill gains, increased well-being, increased satisfaction, reduced aggression, increased team cohesion, and willingness to make personal sacrifice for the good of the team.
- Transactional: authoritarian. directive. leadership style based on rewarding and disciplining followers on the basis of their achievements or failures.
- Laissez-Faire: the absence of leadership.
They classified the coaches into one of the 3 classifications by asking the medical staff to rate the head coach in several different categories. I find this aspect of the study interesting because it wasn’t the coach who defined their own coaching style. Rather, it was the medical staff that defined their coaching style based on daily interactions and observations.
They then looked at several different injury statistics, including significant injuries and time loss. The overall results indicated that there is a strong relationship between transformational leadership and reduced injury risk. Meaning, those coaches who demonstrated transformational leadership qualities had teams that were, on average, injured less.
The following graph demonstrates visually the relationship between various leadership styles and injury rates and attendance. Those who scored highly in specific leadership area and have a strong correlation with injury rates are rated as High. If there is a weak correlation, it is labeled as Mod and those qualities that are not correlated are Low. These classifications are estimations on my part to help simplify the understanding of the numbers and are not exact statistics within the research, so take them with a grain of salt. I am looking at these observations as overall trends.
|Vision||Staff Development||Supportive Leadership||Supportive Leadership||Empowerment||Innovative Thinking||Leading by Example||Charismatic Leadership|
|Attendance at Training||Mod||Mod||Mod||Mod||Mod||Mod||High||Low|
|Attendance at Matches||Low||Low||Low||Low||Low||Mod||Mod||Low|
The big take home from these numbers for me is that things like projecting a positive vision to your team, developing your staff and allowing them to do what they do best, thinking outside the box and leading by example all have a pretty strong correlation with overall injury burden and the rate of severe injuries. There is a much weaker relationship between transformational leadership qualities and attendance at both games and matches, so some might say that these numbers aren’t all that important, but one can easily make the argument that even if they are on the field for training sessions and matches, if they are injured to some degree (as indicated by the injury burden) their ability to train hard and improve will be diminished. Whenever there is a reduced capacity to perform at an athlete’s highest, it will always have an impact on long term athletic development.
I have long been a fan of transformational coaches, such as Tony Dungy, instead of the other 2 styles, mostly because I believe that athletics and sport are about so much more than winning and losing. It’s about learning life long skills and qualities that will help us throughout our lives. Transformational coaching demonstrates this philosophy in everything that we do. That is a big part of the reason that I love to see this research.
It does beg the question as to why there is such a strong correlation between leadership style and injuries. My guess is that it is because transformational coaches are different in their coaching approach. They tend to employ different drills that they employ and employ different strategies for pushing their athletes physically and mentally. I don’t know if there is a similar correlation to winning percentage or not, but I would be interested in reading that research as well. My personal hope would be that success, injuries and a host of other measurables would point coaches towards a transformational style. It is by far my favorite approach to coaching and one that I stride to embody with my athletes.