Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Perspectives of Leadership Behavior in Women's Collegiate Tennis from Leaders and Followers: A Test of Social Role Theory

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Perspectives of Leadership Behavior in Women's Collegiate Tennis from Leaders and Followers: A Test of Social Role Theory

Article excerpt


Several studies in business and sport have noted systematic differences in leadership behavior between men and women. Many of these studies only examined leadership behavior from the perspective of the leader or the follower. This study's purpose was to examine the impact that a coach's gender may have on leadership behavior indicators as reported by leaders and followers. Collegiate women's tennis coaches (M= 40; F= 71) and female collegiate tennis players (n = 167) participated in separate studies and completed the Revised Leadership Scale for Sports (Zhang, Jensen, & Mann, 1997), which assesses the following six leadership behaviors: training and instruction, democratic behavior, autocratic behavior, social support, positive feedback, and situation consideration. Study one examined self reported leadership differences on the basis of sex from the leader's perspective and found female coaches reported significantly less (p = .048) autocratic behavior than male coaches. Study two examined leadership differences from the female athletes' perspective and found no significant differences in perceived leadership behavior based on the coach's sex. These findings are subsequently discussed within the context of social role theory. The results of this study support the notion that perceived gender role orientations become linked to the social roles occupied rather than the leader's gender.


Anne Donovan, head coach of the WNBA's 2004 Seattle Storm, and Tina Theune-Meyer, head coach of Germany's 2003 World Cup soccer team, made headlines as female coaches who won world championships in their respective sports. These coaches have earned the privilege of being named alongside some of the most successful female coaches of our era such as Pat Summitt (University of Tennessee basketball), Mary Wise (University of Florida volleyball), Sue Enquist (University of California, Los Angeles softball), and Suzanne Yoculan (University of Georgia gymnastics). However, female head coaches are still underrepresented in athletics, particularly within high profile coaching positions.

Although Title IX provided the impetus for an increased number of female athletes, the number of female coaches has actually declined over the past three and a half decades (Acosta & Carpenter, 2006: Pastore, 1991). The proportion of women serving as head coaches of women's teams in the NCAA has steadily decreased from 90% in 1972 to 42.4% in 2006 (Acosta & Carpenter, 2006). As noted by Stahura and Greenwood (2002), "Title IX was not intended to transform the structure and processes that compose the foundation of women's sport with respect to occupational employment trends and participatory patterns. Rather, it was merely intended to impose upon educational institutions the necessity to provide opportunities for girls and women within sport in the same capacity that men had already been afforded" (p. 1). However, while past research focused on gender inequities (Dubois & Bacon, 1999) and hiring practices (Kane & Stangl, 1991; Pastore & Meacci, 1994), this study focused on the leadership behaviors of female tennis coaches from two perspectives-that of the coach and the athlete.

Literature Review

Research illustrates that leadership styles can vary by sex. A meta-analysis of more than 160 studies from 1961-1987 found sex differences in organizational studies which assessed leaders' styles (Eagly & Johnson, 1990). The results indicated female leaders adopted a more democratic (or participative) and less autocratric (or directive) style than males. In fact, 92% of the avail able comparisons indicated a more democratic or participative style among women. Another meta-analysis incorporating published studies between 1987-2000 produced similar results (van Engen, 2001). A recent meta-analysis of 45 studies compared male and female leaders on measures of transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles and found female leaders were more transformational than male leaders. …

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