Research Article: How many leaders does it take to lead a sports team? The relationship between the number of leaders and the effectiveness of professional sports teams

Date Published: June 10, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Francisco M. Leo, Tomás García-Calvo, Inmaculada González-Ponce, Juan J. Pulido, Katrien Fransen, Filipe Manuel Clemente.


This study aimed to analyze the number of task, social and external athlete leaders within sports teams, and to examine the effectiveness of different leadership structures in male and female teams. The participants were 317 male and 214 female soccer players belonging to 18 teams playing in the third highest male division and to 13 teams playing in the highest female division in Spain, respectively. First, we identified the leadership structure in each team (i.e., having zero, one, two or three leaders); second, we grouped the teams according to these leadership structures; and third, MANOVA was used to compare different leadership groups in terms of their effectiveness. The results demonstrated that: (a) the most common structure within the teams was to have one task leader, one social leader, and two external leaders; (b) shared leadership across and within leadership roles was seen as the most effective leadership structure for male and female teams; and (c) male teams showed more benefits when having more task and external leaders, while female teams experienced more benefits when having more task and social leaders on the team. Based on these findings, coaches can optimize their team’s functioning by implementing a structure of shared leadership within their teams, both across and within the different leadership roles.

Partial Text

Leadership is an interactive process between leader and followers, where the leader tries to guide and influence a group of individuals toward common goals [1]. Leadership can be seen as effective when a leader succeeds in creating a good team atmosphere, strengthening the team’s cohesion and communication, and establishing a strong work ethic [2]. This effective leadership is, in turn, an important driver of the team’s functioning and effectiveness [3, 4]; that is, the team’s ability to develop adequate cognitive, motivational, affective and coordinative processes [5].

In the present study, our aim was three-fold, namely (1) to identify the number of task, social, and external leaders in sports teams; (2) to examine the effectiveness of different leadership structures; and (3) to examine possible differences between male and female teams.