Enhancing Youth Leadership Through Sport and Physical Education

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    Enhancing Youth Leadership Through Sport andPhysical EducationDaniel Gould a & Dana K. Voelker ba Department of Kinesiology , Michigan State University , East Lansing , MI 48824b Department of Kinesiology, Sport Studies and Physical Education , College atBrockport, State University of New York , Brockport , NY 14420Published online: 26 Jan 2013.

    To cite this article: Daniel Gould & Dana K. Voelker (2012) Enhancing Youth Leadership Through Sport and PhysicalEducation, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 83:8, 38-41, DOI: 10.1080/07303084.2012.10598828

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  • 38 JOPERD Volume 83 No. 8 October 2012

    If you ask physical educators, coaches, and parents what psychosocial benefits are derived from youth sports participation, the development of important life skills is often cited. Leadership is one such life skill that may be more important to develop in todays youths than at any other time in our history. For example,

    polling shows that this is the first generation of parents who expect their children to be worse off during their lifetime (Mendes, 2011). With the birth of the seven bil-lionth baby, food resources are a greater concern. The United States in particular is facing an obesity crisis, and the world is trying to climb out of the worse economic recession since the Great Depression. These are the types of issues that todays youths will face well into their adult years, and we therefore need good leaders to deal with them effectively. Of course it would be foolish to assume that coaches and physi-cal educators will resolve all of these problems alone. However, sport and physical education contexts are seen as socialization vehicles for young people and certainly provide numerous interactive, enjoyable, and motivating opportunities for youths to learn leadership skills. In fact, physical education and sport may offer some of the most potent contexts for learning leadership within schools.

    Unfortunately, of all the venues that may be used to develop leadership in young people, competitive sport appears to be one of the most underutilized. In an exami-nation of coaches views on youth sports today, Gould and colleagues found that poor leadership was the sixth most frequently cited problem among players (Gould, Chung, Smith, & White, 2006). In a focus group study with British youths, leadership was identified as a key interpersonal life skill needing development (Jones & Lavallee, 2009). Finally, in a qualitative study with former high school sport captains, none reported being formally trained or prepared by their coaches for their leadership role (Voelker, Gould, & Crawford, 2011). Despite the apparent need for youth leadership development, the evidence suggests that this is not intentionally occurring in sport and physical activity contexts. Why?

    Contrary to popular belief, mere participation in sport and physical activity does not automatically foster leadership in young people. For example, research indicates that simply being an athlete does not correlate to adult leadership (Extejt & Smith, 2009; Kuhn & Weinberger, 2005). Youth leadership development requires intentional efforts on behalf of effective coaches and physical educators, where youths are not only given leadership opportunities but are also taught how to be effective in those roles (Gould, Voelker, & Griffes, in press). In addition, perhaps researchers and prac-titioners have not provided adequate educational opportunities to train coaches and physical educators on how to develop leadership most effectively in young people. Lastly, coaches and physical educators may not have the time and resources neces-sary to devote to youth leadership development. The purpose of this article, then, is to provide a brief summary of the principles of developmental youth leadership, including ones derived from the general psychology and sport psychology literatures, and to offer information on what coaches and physical educators need to know about youth leadership development practices using a case study approach.

    Enhancing Youth Leadership Through Sport and Physical Education

    daniel gould dana k. Voelker

    Leadership does not result from simple participation in sport. It must be intentionally taught.

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  • 39JOPERD Volume 83 No. 8 October 2012

    Research on Fostering Youth LeadershipThe primary goal of this article is to discuss the practical implications of the existing youth leadership research for coaches and physical educators. However, we refer the in-terested reader to several books, chapters, and manuscripts in the area that provide more detailed reviews and sum-maries of the research literature (e.g., see Gould, Voelker, & Blanton, 2012; Martinek & Hellison, 2009; van Linden & Fertman, 1998; Voelker et al., 2011). Here we will summarize the main points.

    Leadership has been defined as a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal (Northouse, 2010, p. 3). While thousands of studies have been conducted on leadership in adults, far fewer have specifically examined leadership in youths, especially in sport and physical activity contexts. One could argue that the large knowledge base on adult leadership may be used to inform our understanding of that in youths. However, review-ers warn against blindly applying adult leadership theories to youth populations due to the distinct differences in age, experience, and developmental level (MacNeil, 2006; van Linden & Fertman, 1998). Youth leadership research, theoreti-cal developments, and measures are clearly needed.

    However, empirical interest in youth leadership develop-ment through sport and physical activity has increased in recent years. For example, our research team as well as several other scholars in the field (e.g., Dupuis, Bloom, & Loughead, 2006; Wright & Ct, 2003) have been examining youths in formal leadership roles. From this work, we have reached the following main conclusions: (1) youth leadership, like that in adults, is dynamic in nature, such that it involves a complex and flexible interaction between the person, the situation, and his or her followers; (2) youth leadership is learned in phases and stages; and (3) youths can and do learn to lead if leadership is intentionally developed through extracurricular activities, including sport and physical activities.

    Other theoretically driven work provides insight into the types of leadership that may be developed in youth sport and physical activity participants. For example, of the many leadership theories developed, transformational leadership is one of the most popular theories examined today. More often, scholars contend that this type of leadership can and should be fostered in young people (e.g., Zacharatos, Barling, & Kelloway, 2000). Transformational leadership by definition involves individual consideration (e.g., cares for others), inspirational motivation (e.g., talks optimistically), intellectual stimulation (e.g., promotes problem-solving), fostering acceptance of group goals and teamwork, high performance expectations, appropriate role modeling, and giving contingent rewards (e.g., providing encouragement and support; Bass, 1998; Callow, Smith, Hardy, Arthur, & Hardy, 2009). Continued work in these areas will improve our understanding of the leadership capacity of youths; of when, how, and what types of leadership should be devel-oped; and of the role that important mentoring adults play in the process.

    Implications for Professional Practice