Exploring elite female youth hockey teams' shared leadership through coach and athlete leaders' experiences


Effective leadership is considered fundamental to optimal sport performance (Chelladurai, 2012). While extensive research has examined coaches as leaders, much less work has focused on athlete leadership within teams (Fransen et al., 2015). Guided by emerging frameworks of shared leadership structures and athlete leadership categorization (e.g., Fransen et al., 2014, 2017), this study explored shared coach and athlete leadership within elite youth female hockey teams. Fifteen coach and athlete-leader pairs (i.e., N=30) were purposefully sampled from top level youth female leagues (i.e., U18 AAA) for representation across Canada. Each participant engaged (individually) in a semi-structured interview towards the end of the season, focused on their overall sport experiences, with consideration to their leadership approaches (e.g., implicit/explicit), and team outcomes (e.g., performance, positive youth development). Preliminary findings suggest strong alignment between coaches' leadership philosophies and athletes' leadership implementation within teams. Specifically, themes emerged in three key areas: (a) preference for a shared and collaborative leadership structure as opposed to a single captain model; (b) desire for team leadership that puts "we before me"; and (c) success measured not only by win/loss record, but also by self and collective improvement, development of life skills, and athlete satisfaction. Findings are discussed in the context of existing leadership models, best practices, and the value of continued exploration of shared leadership in diverse youth sport contexts.