The success of team leaders has a lot to do with their ability to inspire and empower the team1. It seems that those who are able to transmit confidence to what each player and team can do, are much better than those leaders who express doubts or fear when facing a challenge2.
Research3 has analysed how the confidence of a team leader influences performance and the confidence of other members in the squad. The research team created an experiment whereby they manipulated the level of confidence that the team leader expressed with his teammates in two different training sessions. They had to complete as quickly as possible an exercise which involved passing, dribbling and scoring. The sample was made up of 144 players with young players ranging from 12 to 17 years old (average age of 14.2 years and 7.9 years of accumulated practice) and they were randomly distributed in 36 groups with 4 players in each group. Each team was then assigned a leader, who was not previously known to the participants. In the first session, the team leader’s interventions were directed towards demonstrating a neutral level of confidence: he did not encourage his teammates, nor did he express any positive or negative feelings. In the second session, the teams were distributed into three groups according to the level of confidence shown by the team leader:
Neutral – The leader acted exactly the same way as in the first session.
High – The leader demonstrated positive body language (enthusiasm, confidence) to the team’s ability to complete the planned tasks by providing individual positive reinforcements (for example: “good pass”, “keep up like that”, “perfect ball control”) and to the group as a whole (for example, “well-played team”, “Keep up with the good work and we will win the competition”).
Low – The leader’s body language emphasised discouragement (groans, ducking his head) and they communicated negative messages to the group and teammates (for example: “your level of performance is poor, even my grandmother can do it better”, “again, another bad control”, “you’ve been lucky”, “this team can never win”).
When the performance from the first and second sessions was compared, the results demonstrated that a team leader who shows confidence towards other individuals and the team, there’s a significant improvement in:
- The team’s perception of collective effectiveness.
- The confidence of each player in regard to the abilities of other teammates.
- The performance achieved in the proposed tasks.
On the other hand, if the team leader showed little confidence towards his team, the results were negative compared to the previous scenario.
So, it seems that leaders who confess their belief in “us” are able to achieve a greater identification of its team members to the group as a whole, which can lead to a better individual and collective performance. The positive confidence that leaders can convey, improves the player’s perception of individual and collective self-efficacy.
In any case, we should remember that the psychological needs of a team can be covered at least by five types of leadership4: the social leader (the one who creates a work environment that favours learning and performance), the emotional leader (the one who is capable of changing the mood of the team), the leader who exemplifies through commitment (the one that shows to the rest of the team members that what the coach has asked is possible to do), the strategic leader (the one that is an extension of the coach on the pitch) and the decisive leader (the one that determines a game thanks to his talent).
Carlos Lago Peñas
1 Bass BM, Riggio RE. Transformational leadership. 2nd edn. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006.
2 Fransen K, Coffee P, Vanbeselaere N, Slater M, De Cuyper B, Boen F. The impact of athlete leaders on team members’ team outcome confidence: a test of mediation by team identification and collective efficacy. Sport Psychol 2014, 28: 347-360.
3 Fransen K, Steffens N, Haslam S.A., Vanbeselaere N, Vande Broek G, Boen F. We will be champions: Leaders’ confidence in ‘us’ inspires team members’ team confidence and performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2016, 26: 1455-1469.
4 Marí, P. Liderar equipos comprometidos. Barcelona: Plataforma Empresa, 2017.