Which Style Embraces Player Development?
There have been many articles, books, and seminars on leadership. I think leadership is easier to define
than to develop or demonstrate. Simply stated leadership is the ability to influence people by providing
purpose, direction, and motivation while working to accomplish a goal, improve participant’s skills, and
instill positive values. History shows us that not all leadership skills have been in a positive manner or for
the common good. We have all known and seen coaches that are poor role models and have leadership
qualities that have had negative impact on players. Similarly, we have seen or experienced players that
have lead teams and teammates down a negative and sometimes destructive path. Our challenge is to
identify and develop positive and constructive traits of our leaders. Positive and constructive leadership is
much more difficult because it requires commitment, dedication, and hard work from not only the
leader(s) but from the group as well.
Clearly, if we are looking for short term/quick results we may use one leadership style while longer term
goals and results may require a another style. As you read this think about where your current leadership
style fits.
This is the first of several articles on the topic of leadership. As we move forward, we will discuss the
leadership skills of players along with aspects on mental toughness (creating and maintaining a
competitive edge) as well as the concepts and benefits of team building. This article focuses on coaches
and their leadership style. Let us first begin by reviewing Leadership Styles and Qualities.
Authoritarian or Autocratic – often dictatorial
Participative or Democratic – cooperative
Delegative or Free Reign – laissez’ faire
Combinations – mixed styles
Authoritarian or Autocratic – often dictatorial: The literature suggests this is the most often-used
coaching style. The coach is in charge and accepts virtually no input from players or other sources. It is
accepted because it is efficient and characterized by repetitive action. It teaches players that this is the
way we have always done it and therefore resists change. Often when a player develops skills, he/she
resists learning additional or better skills because under this style he/she fears failure. Players are often
afraid to make mistakes and they play safe within their “comfort zone”. Here are some questions for
those that use this style to contemplate:
1. Does this style use predictable and structured systems?
2. Is this style easier to play against?
3. Does this style discourage player creativity?
4. Is this style fun to play under?
5. Is the coach willing to learn and accept new ideas?
This is not a test but these questions should give users of the dictatorial style pause and some things to
think about.
Participative or Democratic – cooperative: Using this style encourages coaches to reach out to
colleagues and players using ideas and motivational techniques to encourage players. It gives players
direction and instruction but allows them room to grow. It encourages risk taking and playing outside
their comfort zone. It allows players to learn by doing. This style coach teaches players skills, concepts,
and not structured systems. To consider this leadership style weak would be wrong. The coach still
maintains the final decision making authority, however the participative coach allows players and staff
some input regarding team rules and guidelines. This style may require more patience from the coach but
players will enjoy it, have more fun, and ultimately be more successful. The USA Hockey Athletic
Development Model for players aged 11 & under encourages use of this style. The new CEP Age
Appropriate Modules will utilize concepts of democratic coaching.
Delegative or Free Reign – laissez’ faire: Basically, use of this style is a free for all. The coach allows the
players to do what they want but still has the responsibility for outcomes. This style is not recommended
for young teams or competitive teams. We have seen this style in adult leagues and with very mature and
experienced teams. The word “shinny” comes to mind.
Combinations – mixed styles: A good leader/coach will use all three of the above styles depending on the
time of year and the situation. Mixing styles should be goal motivated, reward motivated, and recognition
motivated. Early in the season when players first come to practice, the coach may be more authoritative
and controlling. However, depending on the players’ age, the coach should move as quickly as possible
toward allowing players to learn by doing, trying new skills and techniques. Players are given the
opportunity to be all that they can be. Allow them to be creative and have fun while doing it. I am not in
favor of structured systems (I am sure I get a call or two on that statement). I believe players should learn
concepts and then they will react to situations as they occur with the skills you taught them.
In summary: I am fully aware that many youth coaches are under enormous pressure to win and win now.
However, our ultimate goal should be to develop players and prepare them for the opportunity to reach
their potential. I believe even the junior and college levels need to create an environment of learning and
developing – many do. In fact, I have seen more development and learning at the junior and college level
than in many youth programs. I summit that the “democratic/cooperative” leadership style places player
development as a priority.
I hope you find this beneficial and it has caused you to think about your own coaching and leadership style.
I look forward to your comments as we prepare the next installment on leadership.
“The most important key to achieving great success is to decide upon your goal and launch, get started,
take action, move.” Coach John Wooden,
Submitted by:
Al Bloomer
USA Hockey Director Emeritus
Former USA Hockey National Coach in Chief