Our Research

Field Work:  STUDY #1


Grounded theory was used to answer the research question what is the process of ensuring team member well-being (relationships maintain intact) after a series of physically and emotionally demanding and competitive practices—practices that involved little empathy (as outlined by the study) from the coaching staff ?

The sample consisted of 41 participants from three different high school basketball teams.  Each participant rated the selected practices on a scale of 1 a very light physical effort and emotional expenditure and 5 being a very physically and emotionally demanding practice.  Each participant also rated (using the Academy for Sport Leadership’s Rate Your Teammate Instrument) team members on teamwork relations and interpersonal interactions.   Team A (N=15), was trained in the Academy for Sport Leadership’s After Action Review and Critical Incident Techniques.   Team B (N-13) went through a 6-week leadership development program highlighted by each team member choosing his own leadership role (See Dobbs’8 Roles of Team Leadership).  Team C (N=13), received no training and development at all.  In addition to the use of the two instruments, the author of the study (Cory Dobbs, Ed.D.), observed three practice sessions for each of the three teams, noting “flare-ups,” “dressing downs,” and active moments of “blame.”  The results demonstrated that Team B, the most prepared group, had the least number of negative incidents, the most time spent discussing team member well-being (healing rifts and differences) without a coach present, and the highest ratings of team member relations as evidenced in the ASL’s Rate Your Teammate Instrument.  Team A, performed better on these elements than Team C—the team that received no training.

The constant comparative method of concurrent data collection and analysis was used to develop a three-part process (study/practice/implement = awareness, interest, action) for (a) team building, (b) team member well-being, (c) interpersonal problem solving techniques.  Coaches can use this vital understanding of the learning process to guide the implementation of a leadership development program.


Field Work: Study #2

If you’ve ever watched the Tour de France bicycling race which takes place annually you know that the race is a “stage” race; that is the event has various stages and awards points for winning a stage.  The tradition is that, at each stage, the overall time leader wear the identifying Yellow Jersey during the following stage—so that the participants are literally following the leader.

We’ve all played the kid’s game follow-the-leader.  A student gets up in front of the class and “leads” her classmates around the room doing various gestures to mimic the leader.

It’s no secret; in most situations the leader is clearly visible to the followers.  The legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant took his place high above the practice field on his “tower.”  We seem to like the certainty that our leaders are visible.  It promotes a heightened sense of awareness.

It’s also no secret that most student-athletes fall into the trap that only a few players are capable of leading.  The aim of this study was to see if we could take a “minor” player (non starter) and have them perform in a leadership capacity.  The aim of this research was to accurately describe the lived experience of three female college student-athletes as they performed in the role of team leader.  Each participant was provided a moderate level of leadership training along with—get this—an identifying jersey to be worn in five practice sessions.  Specifically, the study sought the reactions, perceptions, and feelings of the “chosen” leaders and the rest of the team—the followers.  At this point, I want you to keep in mind that the players chosen to wear the leadership jersey were identified by their coaches to be the least likely (as diagnosed by low levels of willingness and ability) to perform leadership roles and responsibilities.

The research question sought to explore what is the lived experience of a student-athlete who has never acted in a leadership role.  The sample consisted of 3 female college students (participants on a college soccer team with 22 players) with no formal training in leadership.  The three participants were provided two weeks of formal training by The Academy for Sport Leadership.  Data were collected through semi-structured, audiotaped interviews with participants and personal journals kept during the three week study.  Analysis involved identification of core and major themes in the data focusing on reactions, perceptions, and feelings of the participants.

During the initial training the author of the study (Cory Dobbs, Ed.D.) noted the participant’s high levels of anxiety related to fear of not knowing how teammates would respond to their leadership requests.  In addition, each of the participants was highly self-conscious as to the potential embarrassment of “getting it wrong.”

The findings demonstrated a decrease in the area of irrationally perceiving leadership acts as “offending a teammate” and an improved ability to interact with one’s teammates.  From the first practice to the fifth the participants showed an increase in confidence as identified through their reactions to the actions they performed.  Also visible was the shift in perception that “I’m not a leader” to “I am a leader.”  And finally, participants noted a strong feeling of contributing in an area (leadership) they had previously disregarded.

The findings provide an important understanding of the ability of student-athletes to learn about themselves in a leadership role.  This study provides insight into the role of deliberate practice as a way of preparing student-athletes for expanded interpersonal roles and responsibilities.  As a part of the deliberate practice, it is important to note the changed social identity of the participants along with the role of identifying (via a special jersey) leaders.  The deliberate visibility provided to the participants allowed the followers to respect the role their teammates were given to perform during the three week study.

*This study was replicated with seven more teams with very similar results.


 Field Report: Study #3

This study utilized a qualitative approach to deconstruct the meaning of followership in the team sport context. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with college student-athletes (N = 75) in various sports at eight colleges and universities.  Conversations lasted 30 to 60 minutes in length and were conducted primarily when the athlete was “in season.”  The purpose of the study was to examine how individuals socially construct their role (team sport) as followers and to explore followership schemas and contextual influences that relate to these constructions. The guiding question for this research was: How do college student-athletes construct an understanding of the concept of followership in the team sport context?

Results suggest that most participants socially construct the definition of followership around the concepts of passivity, deference and conformity; however, some student-athletes did emphasize the importance of constructively questioning and challenging their peers and coaches. With regard to personal dispositions that are thought to make followers effective, major themes such as conformity, interpersonal apathy, agreeableness, non-expressing of opinions, and discouragement of the taking of initiative were found to be most similar across the groups of participants.

Previous organizational research (Kellerman, 2008) suggests that “Followers are subordinates who have less power, authority, and influence than do their superiors, and who therefore usually, but not invariably, fall in to line.”  This study was open to the potential of finding the sport team environment less restrictive in its construct than Kellerman’s findings.  Unfortunately, the findings were aligned with Kellerman’s consideration that followers “fall in to line” to some authoritative figure.

Results revealed that contextual factors such as team norms, athletic department resources, coaches’ beliefs and practices, may act as constraints on following and affect both the social construction of followership and behavior in the follower role. A unique feature emerged from the data.  Two programs (specific college teams) emerged from the data to have created a culture of leadership in which the student-athletes strongly indentified their followership experience as promoting the more active social construction of followership.  The participants on these two teams (one a college track and field team, the other a women’s college basketball team) overwhelmingly crafted positive and active constructions of followership.  The context and its influence of these two teams is the subject of further research in a follow-up study.  Generally, these findings have important implications regarding a need to examine the construct of followership in leadership research, as well as raise interesting possibilities for advancing an “expanded” view of leadership in organization.


Field Report: Study #4

Problem:  The need to identify how student-athletes conceptualize leadership.
Research Question:
 How do the ways in which high school student-athletes conceptualize leadership shape their participation in leadership of the team?

Data Collection: Four focus group sessions of ten student-athletes per group were conducted at individual school (four schools) sites.  Participants were selected randomly by school athletic director.  Participants were all “senior-to-be” and had three years of sport participation.  Groups watched a 15-minute series of video cuts of sport team practices (clips from various sports). The video was used as a tool for “priming the pump,” directing participant’s minds to sport leadership.  After viewing the clips, each participant completed a concept map with the simple instruction of “Leadership is….”  Concept maps are graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge. They include concepts, usually enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between concepts indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts.  While creating the concept map each participant was instructed to create a hierarchy of concepts—most important to least important.

Data Analysis:  Concept maps were coded and analyzed using six common themes: responsibilities, traits, abilities, skills, behaviors, relationships.  Using the concept maps and the participant rankings of the concepts the researcher created a brief profile of each participant’s conceptualization developing a personalized task assessment tool.  Post season surveys using the individual’s concept profile were given to respective participant coaches.  The participant’s coach rated the participant on the six dimensions citing: SE (strong evidence), LE (limited evidence), NS (not seen), and OE (opposing evidence).

Results:  After comparing individual concept map with coach evaluation the data indicate a moderate connection between participant conceptualization and leadership behavior.  However, the results show that the majority of participants were consistent; the actions and behaviors they did exhibit with strong evidence were those concepts at the top of their hierarchy of concepts (such as “effective leaders show they care about their teammates”).  Data also indicate—via concept maps—limited breadth and depth of knowledge of leadership.

Discussion:  The study participants were not given leadership training and sport team environments varied tremendously.  The culture of the team, the role of the player, and the leadership opportunities are difficult to tease out of the results.   However, the limited breadth and depth of knowledge of leadership illuminates a tremendous opportunity for coaches.  Further research is needed to better understand how an increase in knowledge will affect leadership behavior.  Also necessary is a better understanding of how taking actions and behaving like a leader can expand the student-athletes’ concepts of leadership.

Field Report: Study #5

This study utilized a qualitative approach to explore the issue of a Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset (Dweck, 2007).  At the personal or individual level, we know coaches have either a fully developed operating philosophy, or a working philosophy that is grounded in the values of the coach.  The assumption undergirding this research is better understand how the coach with a growth mindset is more likely to present formal leadership training and more opportunities to lead than does the coach with a fixed mindset.  Because the literature on fixed mindset and growth mindset to date has only focused on education and intelligence the research approach had to be novel and exploratory.  To begin the exploration (knowing this would be phase one of the project) I used the research question: How do coaches distinguish between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset?

 Coaches from four schools participated in this research; two high schools (N=35) and two colleges (N=30).  Each participant was emailed a questionnaire designed by the researcher to identify the respondent’s orientation—fixed or growth mindset.   Each participant answered the questionnaire and, as instructed, and then rank-ordered five (5) attributional statements from the survey they believed they would never change their answer.  The participant’s were instructed to bring both documents to a scheduled group meeting.