The Relationship between Athletic Participation and High School Students' Leadership Ability

By Dobosz, Robert P.; Beaty, Lee A. | Adolescence, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Athletic Participation and High School Students' Leadership Ability


Dobosz, Robert P., Beaty, Lee A., Adolescence


Leadership development is important for society, as today's youth will be tomorrow's business and government decision-makers. One objective of the present study was to determine whether involvement in high school interscholastic athletics is related to leadership ability. Students who participate in athletics are exposed to leadership role models (e.g., coaches) and often are required to exercise some degree of leadership with their peers (e.g., team captains). Therefore, it was of interest to see if school athletes had greater leadership skills when compared with students who did not participate in interscholastic athletics. A second objective of the study was to explore gender differences in the leadership ability of high school athletes.

Leadership may be defined as the capacity to guide others in the achievement of a common goal. Decisiveness, determination, interpersonal and organizational aptitude, loyalty, self-efficacy, and self-discipline are considered some of the attributes of effective leaders. Athletics is an area that provides the opportunity to develop and display leadership qualities. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of empirical research examining the extent to which athletics plays a role in the development of leadership abilities.

Studies on leadership have identified personal as well as interpersonal characteristics. Summarizing the psychological literature, Hogan (1978) stated that "leaders generally can be found to be very social, intelligent, self-confident, and dominant. Furthermore, their knowledge and skills must be adequate to justify others following them" (p. 394). Hohmann, Hawker, and Hohmann (1982) identified sensitivity to others' needs, acceptance and use of others' contributions, tolerance for personal differences, and confidence in skills and knowledge as characteristics of strong leaders. Graustrom (1986) found that adolescent leaders, as compared with nonleaders, were dominant on both physical and psychological dimensions. Graustrom also noted that adolescent leaders were more active and aggressive, received more positive feedback from adults, and were dealt with by peers in a more positive manner.

In a study of 4,461 high school males, Snyder and Spreitzer (1992) explored the relationship of academics and athletics to social and behavioral characteristics. Results showed that those who held both scholar and athlete roles stood out in regard to positive attributes, including leadership. The athlete group scored lower than the scholar group, but significantly higher than the nonscholar and nonathlete groups. Snyder and Spreitzer concluded that athletic participation appears to increase the potential ability to lead.

Other studies indicate that athletes have significantly higher levels of self-esteem in conjunction with leadership (Ryan, 1989; Pascarella & Smart, 1991). Ryan reported results for a national sample of college students. Pascarella and Smart have pointed out that there is a lack of research in this area at the precollege level.

Widespread athletic participation among high school females is a fairly recent phenomenon. Much of the research in this area has dealt with female roles and resulting role conflict. Anthrop and Allison (1983) found that high school female athletes had little problem adjusting to the dual roles of female and athlete, although conflict arising from external sources remained high. Such conflict seems to be mediated by strong self-concept among these female athletes. In a later study, Goldberg and Chandler (1991) found that the female social status system was very complex: popularity was most important, with academics being a fast-growing second. Although there have been increasing numbers of females competing in sports, athletics has continued to be ranked low, perhaps because of stereotypical and often negative feedback from others.

Research on adolescent dominance, as summarized by Savin-Williams (1979), has shown that more dominant females are tougher, older, bigger, more popular, and the focus of attention. …

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The Relationship between Athletic Participation and High School Students' Leadership Ability
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