Where is leadership in sport going: the future of leadership.

Where is leadership in sport going: the future of leadership.


First…there were the LEADERS. The autocratic, dictatorial, “my way or the highway” type leaders.

Then came the Leadership groups, leadership councils and leadership teams.

So what’s next?

There is a revolution in leadership coming: the way we think about it, the way we talk about it, the way we develop it is all about to change.

Read on…………………. 

Let’s look at it this way:

Sport is one small part of society and as such is subject to the social trends and changes being experienced in other areas of life.

The way society is going, it is highly unlikely the old style, dictatorial, autocratic, “bully boy” head coaches will re-emerge as the dominant leadership style in sport. Their time has come and gone. They were a product of the times and of our limited understanding of leadership in the past. But things have changed: everything changes.

Business learnt this about 30 years ago. Sport has been a little slow on the uptake but we are getting there.

Then the concept of “decentralised” or “shared” leadership become popular – and again sport started a little behind the business community in embracing this idea, but over the past 10 years has grabbed the concept enthusiastically with the introduction of the now ubiquitous “leadership team or leadership group”.


Leadership Groups in Sport.

The “leadership teams” model which has become “the” trendy thing for all professional sports to put in place is becoming increasingly under challenge for several reasons including:

  • Players not in the leadership team, will often pass the responsibility for their own standards and behaviours to the leadership team;
  • Clubs rarely invest any where near enough time or money into developing the leadership abilities of all the individuals in the leadership team;
  • Inevitably, some individuals on the leadership team find loopholes in the system with the end result of feeling they do not have to play by the same rules as the rest of the team;
  • There is no evidence that having a leadership team makes a difference to on field performance. Sure it makes sense to have players “leading” as decision making on field in the heat of battle is an important part of all team sports. But teams have won and will win titles without the benefit of a great leadership group.

And let’s face it – the leadership team model has not worked.

Look at the newspapers – we still have problems with discipline, alcohol, drug abuse (social and performance enhancing), violence, sexual harassment in all professional sports every where in the world.

The leadership team model has given a voice to some players – maybe even provided a forum for some players to raise important issues and “play” leader but in the majority of cases the real leadership in the team is still the Board, the Owners, the CEO, the Sponsors and the Head Coach.


So where to next?

So what’s left? What possible direction could leadership go if it isn’t based on the old “Military General” style leadership model or the trendy “leadership teams” model?

Answer: leaders…..there won’t be any!Well, not in the traditional sense.

Think about it.

What we are seeing in society and particularly from the generation Y and generation I athletes and players is a distinct “my way” approach. It is the era of individualisation.

In the past we have talked about teams in terms of WE not ME.

Now we are looking at a prevailing attitude of ME and WE – the maximisation of the potential of each individual and the combining of individuals operating at their full potential into a functioning team.

In the past a team could carry an individual with weaknesses or frailties.

Now with the emphasis in professional teams on analysis and review, teams can not afford to carry any players who have weaknesses which can be exposed in competition under pressure situations.

It is the responsibility of every player to be operating consistently at their maximum possible potential: as players, as athletes, as people and as leaders – at training, on the field and in society.


Team sport is a thing of the past.

There are no true team sports at professional level left in the world.

At professional level with the emphasis on finding and exploiting every possible advantage, football, AFL, cricket, basketball, rugby, American football, baseball……all of them – have become individual sports wrapped in a team environment

The critical leadership area now is for every player to be leading themselves  – on and off the field -to the best of their abilities and to the limits of their potential.

How many times have we seen members of a club’s leadership team, in trouble?

Have a look at the back pages of your morning newspaper today. The press is currently full of them.

How can someone lead a team if they can’t lead themselves? 

The way we have looked at the concepts of leadership and team has to change considerably: we are at the threshold of some revolutionary changes in how we think about both areas.

The challenge of course is how to best embrace this new leadership direction and enhance the leadership abilities of each individual whilst fitting it into a team environment and…..most importantly…ensure that it makes a measurable impact on performance.

Let me know what you think.

Wayne Goldsmith


  • Joanne Broadbent Posted May 5, 2009 8:15 am

    Hi Wayne,
    I couldn’t agree more. I am the Head Coach of the Queensland FIRE women’s cricket team in Qld, Australia. I have been coaching this senior team for 6 years.
    We are definately heading in this direction of leadership you talk about. Each player in the team is a leader and the aim for me as the Head coach is to find the players skills both on and off the field and delegate roles appropriately.
    We have a really young squad and the youth in our squad shows better leadership skills than some of the current senior players. Our squad a few years ago was full of senior players with not many leaders at all. This is why at first I didn’t believe in leadership groups.
    Then we started to develop younger players and the senior players dropped off. Some examples of what we do now. When we have an injuried player we encourage players who have had injuries in the past to help them out. Also we have a player who works in a gym, so we tap into her expertise and she conducts some parts of our trainings. Another is good with music and she and a couple of others created our team song that we sing after wins. These can be very challenging to all players young and experienced but it gives them a feeling of worthiness to themselves and the team. Their confidence levels pick up and they feel like they belong.
    This season we are setting up individual trainings. We give them some training options and they tell us when they want to train. As long as they fit in 10-13 hours a week to our program. They also have the option of one on one trainings at anytime during the week. They basically organise when they want to train and we set up the program so we cover all aspects of our game. Our aim is to have a combination of team and individual trainings.
    My biggest challenge this year is to involve all our players somehow in the areas they can lead both on and off the field.
    My thoughts are that everyone in a squad/team has something to offer. Put everyone’s ideas together using good communication and compromise and teams can create great environments to enjoy sport and life. I now believe that everyone is a leader, I just need to bring it out of the players I coach.

  • Wayne Goldsmith Posted June 25, 2009 10:53 am

    Thanks for the great comment.

    Leadership is like a fire – once ignited it is a powerful force for change.


  • Jeremy Pryce Posted July 3, 2010 8:14 pm

    You´re on to something, but from my perspective, it seems that it´ll take time for it to seep down and be accepted on a larger scale.
    It´s all about the individual taking a personal responsibility for the whole. Estabilshing such an environment/culture where this is natural is the role of the “leader”. Sports is competitive by nature, and many fall into the trap of looking exclusively at results and ignoring the process. Society too has a good way of only acknowledging result, so it is easy to see where a dictator type leadership style is prefered in some instances. It´s kinda why we have the situation we have today.

    Kippling got it right in his second jungle book when he wrote: “Now this is the law of the jungle- as old and as true as the sky; And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die. Like the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runeth forward and back- For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the Pack.

    Looking forward to following you on this subject Wayne! Keep up the good work of challanging us with interesting topics.


    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted July 5, 2010 8:38 am

      Thanks JP.

      Looking at some of the “mega-trends” in the world today – one of the biggest is the shift towards individualisation and the tailoring of services, training programs, even University courses.
      People want and will demand products and programs which are tailored for their unique needs. So for me, in terms of coaching this will mean a shift towards individualisation of team sports environments where it will be the responsibility of every individual in the team (and by team I mean players, coaches, management, sports science…everyone) to be the best they can be in all aspects of their performance in the D.A.T.E. Daily Athlete Training Environment.
      And this will require a shift in leadership thinking – dictators and autocrats will not survive in the future where coaching by collaboration is the key. A real problem with the old coaching by dictatorship was that some individuals could get by being mediocre in some aspects of preparation and performance and rely on team-members and their leader to get them through.
      Now it is about the optimal preparation and performance of each individual in the team – and teams will be stronger as a result.

      Thanks for the great comment.


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