Exploring the nature of transformational leadership in sports: a phenomenological examination with female athletes

Aubrey Newland, Maria Newton, Les Podlog, W. Eric Legg, Preston Tanner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Transformational leaders lift and inspire followers to achieve performance beyond expectations and realise their full potential. Transformational leadership fosters performance and increases positive outcomes in a variety of domains (e.g. business, military, and education) and may have a salient impact on the quality of athletes’ sporting experiences. Bass identified four primary behavioural components of transformational leadership: idealised influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualised consideration. Yet little is known about what constitutes transformational leadership in a sport setting from a qualitative perspective. This study addressed this issue by interviewing eleven female collegiate athletes about their positive experiences with current or former coaches. Thematic analysis of transcribed interview text revealed four major themes: caring, motivating, teaching life lessons, and trusting. Caring was exemplified by the coach taking the time and energy to establish a personal and individual relationship with athletes. Having high expectations and physically and mentally challenging athletes were salient aspects of motivating. Teaching life lessons was characterised generally by the high quality mentoring that transformative coaches engaged in with athletes. Lastly, trust was perceived when the athletes felt their coaches cared about them, were willing to relinquish some power, and acted in the best interests of the team. Similarities and differences emerged when comparing the themes with Bass’, Podsakoff et al.’s, and Rafferty and Griffin’s components of transformational leadership. Unique elements of sport that may affect the manifestation of transformational leadership in sport include physical coach–athlete interactions, group size, and the motivational reasons for participation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)663-687
Number of pages25
JournalQualitiative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 20 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • caring
  • coaching
  • college athletes
  • females
  • leaders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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