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Developing effective leadership skills in Coaches and Athletes

Allen Jackson, M.Ed., Dr Laura Gaudet, Dr Larry W. McDaniel, discuss concepts related to developing leadership skills. They ask the question "How may the Supervisory Behavioral Continuum assist in the process of developing leadership skills in coaches and athletes?".

Coaches need to be aware of the overall effect they have on the athlete. Coaches as educators share the responsibility for the development of our country's future leaders. Leadership is much more than entitlement, and it is an ongoing responsibility to the athletes we serve to present ourselves as leaders in sport. An additional responsibility of coaches would be to develop leadership in the athletes they coach. Effective leadership comes from a variety of sources. Some people receive degrees that recognize them as trained professionals in the field while others have acquired a high level of self-confidence in their ability to work with and transform the lives of those they serve. Sensible leadership depends upon a variety of factors such as flexible behaviour; an ability to identify specific behaviours needed at a particular time, and the ability to incorporate such behaviours at the appropriate time (Wilcox, 1997)[7].

A basic understanding of a supervisory behavioural continuum, consisting of specific behaviours, has been important in assisting one in developing the skills of effective leadership. The supervisory behavioural continuum has been proven to play a vital role in the decision-making process. This continuum has been adapted for use in the leadership development process. The supervisory behaviour continuum includes ten specific behaviours; listening, clarifying, encouraging, reflecting, presenting, problem-solving, negotiating, directing, standardizing, and reinforcing. Each behaviour has been clustered into the sub-groups of directives, directive informational, collaborative, and nondirective.

To be an effective coach, one must engage in all aspects of this continuum which gives the coach a method to deal effectively with everyday issues occurring in practice or on the field of competition. These professionals are striving to offer learning experiences aimed at problem-solving and seeking workable solutions. There are many skills involved in one's ability to lead, including those that have been taught or acquired. Coaches need to recognize that groups function more effectively when leadership has been shared appropriately.

Most athletes are habituated to participating in a process where the coach assumes the dominant role of leader. Athletes must also be given ownership and encouraged to assume an authoritative role in the decision-making process. This can best be accomplished by providing encouragement and guidance on how to take on different roles best.

When coaches neglect the responsibility of effective management practices and fail to provide leadership themselves or invite athletes to take on leadership roles, athletes may often elect to engage in informal leadership roles in competition or practice to unite the group. To initiate this type of skill training in the learning environment has an essential part of the overall coaching experience.

To be effective in practice or while competing coaches must have the aptitude to know when, why, and with whom to engage. Although one may have a preference or supervisory philosophy that indicates a personal preference to supervision and instruction, an understanding of the supervisory continuum is fundamental to the overall success in passing the role of leadership on to the next generation of athletes.

The Supervisory Behavioral Continuum

Glickman, Gordon & Ross-Gordon (2004)[5] have presented a criterion that identifies and expounds on the use of different approaches to supervision. As a coach one encounters a variety of athletes possessing a wide range of skills and competencies. As the coach and leader, one needs to have developed an awareness of the capabilities of those with whom you work. Learning and ability levels vary for different areas, thus requiring diversity in one's approach to leadership (Glickman, Gordon & Ross-Gordon, 2004[5]). When the coach initiates different forms of developmental instruction, the goal is to assess where the athlete is and to supervise at the necessary level to develop a more self-reliant, reflective athlete (Glickman, Gordon & Ross-Gordon 2004)[5].

A supervisory behavioural continuum is a necessary component that can be used to determine how interactions can be most effective between the coach and athlete. This continuum may also play an important role in one's interaction with the athletes. It offers an effective model incorporating different approaches that can be used in the decision-making process. The continuum gives the coach a means to deal effectively with everyday issues, allowing one to come up with meaningful, workable solutions to unexpected problems (Unknown n.d.)[3].

By understanding and employing this behavioural continuum, a coach motivates athletes to improve performance and provide different choices of action. In any organizational setting, it is necessary to match the supervisory strategies with different characteristics of the individual. By using strategies outlined within the supervisory behavioural continuum, coaches as educators can select the best approach or strategy for use with any given athlete (Unknown n.d.)[3].

Within this continuum, there are different sub-groupings. The first being a "directive approach" which involves the coach making direct statements and suggestions to the athletes about performance while offering encouragement. With this approach, feedback between the coach and athlete must occur. Decisions for the implementation of change are made by the coach who assumes responsibility for determining an appropriate plan of action (Stroot et al. 1998)[6]. For those who function at lower levels of development and need direct supervision, this approach is commonly used (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2004)[5].

The "Directive Informational approach", the second subcomponent of the continuum is commonly used for younger athletes or those who are lacking experience, knowledge, or confidence in making the transition from high school to the world of Academia (Glanz & Sullivan, 2000)[4]. Key steps in this approach include identifying the problem and soliciting clear information while offering solutions to the problem, assessing alternatives, while requesting that the athlete expounds on different solutions. In the Directive Information approach, it is important to realize that athletes are seeking information from the coach who they feel can provide expert guidance. The coach wants the athlete to feel ownership in learning through sharing (Glanz, & Sullivan 2000)[4].

Collaboration, another sub-component of the continuum, is a process involving group participation to initiate and sustain positive change. This gives the athlete ownership in the team and builds on the athletes' confidence. The collaboration includes the process by which parties who see different aspects of a problem can explore the differences and search for solutions that go beyond their vision of what is possible. The coach's decision is not the end-all in any deliberation. Athletes need to be encouraged to challenge ideologies, knowing that their input is heard and respected (Gray, 1989, p. 5, as cited by Borden & Perkins, 1999)[2].

Non-Directive supervision, the final sub-component in the continuum, assumes that athletes know best what changes need to occur. They are capable of thinking and acting on their own. The coach is aware of the abilities of those under his or her tutelage and understands that athletes can act in their best interests. The coach's role is to direct the athlete through the processes of critical thinking and making decisions (Block et al. n.d.)[1]. In Non-Directive supervision, the final sub-component in the continuum, the supervising roles changes, and the coach contributes little to the discussion unless asked. Any feedback from the coach is intended to extend critical thinking; there is little influence in the actual design of the decision-making process. In this case, the instructor is acting as a guide; asking leading questions while probing for in-depth thought (Block et al. n.d.)[1].


To be an effective coach or leader, one must engage in all aspects of this continuum which offers the coach a method for dealing effectively with everyday issues that may occur within the sports setting and to develop workable solutions that contribute to the athletes' learning (Block et al. n.d.)[1]. Supervisory skills are an essential part of effective coaching and instruction by providing the mentor with knowledge about knowing when and with whom to engage appropriate behaviours. Those behaviours have been included in this continuum. Although one may have a preference or leadership philosophy that indicates a personal preference for supervision, the supervisory continuum is vital to the overall success of any organization and may be employed in sports to begin building leadership skills among coaches or athletes.


  1. BLOCK, M. et al. (n.d.) Examining instructional supervision [WWW] Available from: [Accessed August 5 2007]
  2. BORDEN, L. and PERKINS, D. (1999) Assessing your collaboration: A self evaluation tool. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed August 6, 2007]
  3. UNKNOWN (n.d.) Directive Control Supervision [WWW] Available from: [Accessed August 4, 2007]
  4. GLANZ, J. and SULLIVAN, S. (2000) Supervision in Practice: 3 Steps to Improving Teaching and Learning. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed August 5, 2007]
  5. GLICKMAN, C., GORDON, S. and ROSS-GORDON, J. (2004) SuperVision and Instructional Leadership: A Developmental Approach. Boston: Pearson.
  6. STROOT, S. et al. (1998) Peer assistance and review guidebook. Columbus, OH: Ohio Department of Education. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed August 5, 2007]
  7. WILCOX, S. (1997) Leadership in the classroom. Instructional Development Centre, Queen's University. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed January 14, 2008]

Page Reference

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  • McDANIEL, L. et al. (2008) Developing effective leadership skills in Coaches and Athletes [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Authors

Dr Larry W. McDaniel Ed.D. is an Associate Professor of Exercise Science at Dakota State University Madison, SD. USA. Dr McDaniel was a First Team All-American football player (USA Football), a Hall of Fame Athlete, and Hall of Fame Wrestling Coach.

Allen Jackson, M. Ed. is an Assistant Professor of Physical Education and Health at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska (USA) who is well known for his presentations & publications at international conferences focusing on Leadership, Curriculum, and Health.

Dr Laura Gaudet, Ph.D. is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Counselling, Psychology, and Social Work at Chadron State College, Chadron NE. She is well known for her publications and presentations at international conferences focusing on various topics in the field of psychology.