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All people can lead? A learning methodology in sport contexts

Leadership has been defined as a “process whereby an individual influence a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse, 2010).  A lot of research data (Martinek and Hellison, 2009; Voelker, Gould, Crawford, 2011; Gould and Voelker, 2012) confirm the assumption that sport and physical education (PE) contexts are seen as socialization vehicles for young people and certainly provide them with numerous interactive, enjoyable, and motivating opportunities for them to learn leadership skills. However, leadership skills are best acquired not as a consequence of regular sports practice and physical education programs but as a part of practical, experiential education programs.

Based on reviews of empirical data, common sports participation has no direct effect on developing leadership skills. PE literature does not support a cause-effect relationship between sport participation and social competences. Increased levels of participation are not associated with differing levels of leadership skills, as well as the nature of the sport (coactive vs interactive) is not generally associated with skill development.

It is possible that the sporting fields could serve as a venue for experience-based learning of leadership skills, but several of the key elements necessary for learning are often not present in school PE methodologies in schools. A significant number of approaches (Weight and Côté, 2003; Dupuis, Bloom and Loughead, 2006; Gould and Voelker, 2012) suggests the main elements of the concept are the following:

  1. youth leadership is dynamic in nature. 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;
  3. young people can and do learn to lead if leadership is intentionally developed also through extracurricular activities, including sport and physical activities.

The notion of play is the first building block to improve youth skills. Serious Games are specifically designed to change behaviours and impart knowledge and are widely used in training situations. Gaming and simulation environments are excellent learning tools because they can replicate real contexts or even provide training situations that occur in very specific circumstances.

However, teaching games require flexible approaches and depend on content, context, and the needs of those being taught. Also fundamental to that position is the view that creative and constrained play can, in tandem, develop both FGS (Fundamental Game Skills) and tactical understanding of games (Smith 2016). From the perspective of the learners, the model’s processes are designed to capture their creative processes and to make them manifest in the form of an invented game. The model of “transforming play” seeks to provide game learning as an inclusive, educationally challenging, and valuable experience with the potential to transform play into more formal games and sports.

For an effective education paradigm, research’s data collected and practices already tested advice these principles:

  • To recognize that all youth can learn to lead. Although certain youths will have characteristics and experiences that will increase their capacity to lead and even enhance their leadership effectiveness, a more diffused awareness that, all young people can benefit from learning leadership skills, such as becoming positive role models, developing effective communication, contributing to team goals, and demonstrating personal and social responsibility, is needed. First, young people must realize that they have the capacity and potential to lead since many do not perceive themselves to be leaders. Next, youths may benefit from learning the fundamentals of leadership (e.g., how to communicate, listen, and provide encouragement) before adopting more complex leadership skills (e.g., taking varied input from the group and devising group goals).
  • To adopt a youth-centered focus. Youths cannot exercise leadership if they are not permitted to do so. Developing leadership requires empowering process, where adults support them but must be ready to give up some control and allow young people to participate in meaningful decision-making, take on real responsibilities, and lead their own development.
  • To understand and educate young people on real leadership. Youths, need to learn not only the general qualities of a leader (in terms of character, charisma, commitment, effective communication, competence, listening, problem-solving, responsibility, as well as being model citizens, making good decisions, encouraging others), but also how to understand the needs of their peers, read a situation, and adapt their leadership style in order to be effective.
  • To be intentional in youth leadership development practices. If leadership is not acquired by simply participating in sport or physical education activities, educators’ sense of initiative has to be boosted in choosing, implanting, and assessing specific leadership development strategies.
  • Adopt models such as Transformational Leadership and various techniques for developing it through formal and informal approaches such as observational and experiential learning, providing examples of positive leadership, offering feedback on their behaviours, and allowing them to learn from their mistakes. Finally, encourage young people to take advantage of formal training opportunities (workshops; videos; readings).

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