Leading from the Centre: A Comprehensive Examination of the Relationship between Central Playing Positions and Leadership in Sport


Research aims

The present article provides a comprehensive examination of the relationship between playing position and leadership in sport. More particularly, it explores links between leadership and a player’s interactional centrality—defined as the degree to which their playing position provides opportunities for interaction with other team members. This article examines this relationship across different leadership roles, team sex, and performance levels.


Study 1 (N = 4443) shows that athlete leaders (and the task and motivational leader in particular) are more likely than other team members to occupy interactionally central positions in a team. Players with high interactional centrality were also perceived to be better leaders than those with low interactional centrality. Study 2 (N = 308) established this link for leadership in general, while Study 3 (N = 267) and Study 4 (N = 776) revealed that the same was true for task, motivational, and external leadership. This relationship is attenuated in sports where an interactionally central position confers limited interactional advantages. In other words, the observed patterns were strongest in sports that are played on a large field with relatively fixed positions (e.g., soccer), while being weaker in sports that are played on a smaller field where players switch positions dynamically (e.g., basketball, ice hockey). Beyond this, the pattern is broadly consistent across different sports, different sexes, and different levels of skill.


The observed patterns are consistent with the idea that positions that are interactionally central afford players greater opportunities to do leadership—either through communication or through action. Significantly too, they also provide a basis for them to be seen to do leadership by others on their team. Thus while it is often stated that “leadership is an action, not a position,” it is nevertheless the case that, when it comes to performing that action, some positions are more advantageous than others. 


Autor / Fonte:Katrien Fransen, S Alexander Haslam, Cliff J Mallett, Niklas K Steffens, Kim Peters, Filip Boen PloS One 2016, 11 (12): e0168150
Link: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0168150&type=printable