The leaders you find in sporting organizations can be some of the best leaders you’ll ever find. This is because leaders of sporting organizations, like head coaches, or even the assistants under them, work in high pressure environment that demands a certain level of results. And many a time they are expected to achieve those results without the right pieces. They are forced to work with the pieces they have. So, leaders in these situations have to play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. This epitomizes the concept of Contingency Theories, which is the described in the PSU WC lesson commentary (2016) as, “a group of theories, such as situational leadership, path-goal theory, and Fiedler’s specific contingency theory that try to match leaders to appropriate situations”.
This past summer I was blessed with the opportunity to work training camp for the New Orleans Saints, and see an amazing coach at work, up close. During this camp I was the assistant to Sean Payton’s assistant. I was given a lot of behind the scenes jobs to do such as filling playbooks, and inventory orders. And I learned a lot about what it takes to properly run an NFL team.
So far, we’ve learned about three types of contingency theories, Situational, path-goal theory, and Fiedler’s theory. All three of those types of contingency Theory can be applied to a successful NFL team like the Saints.
Situational Theory of leadership is for the short term. Like dealing with immediate problems, such as a game. During the preseason I’ve gotten the chance to see Coach Payton on the field up close. Granted a preseason game is much lower stakes and stress than a regular season game, but that didn’t matter to Coach Payton. I suspect part of the reason he’s such a great coach is because he treats every game like it’s a playoff game. He keeps his intensity high and tries his best to simulate a regular season game as best he can. Coach Payton will look at situations, or have his assistant coaches look at situations and put in the right players and use the proper plays. I think it would be obvious to say that Coach employs a Coaching Style of directive behavior, which is “a high directive-high supportive style. Coaching leaders focus on goal achievement as well as the needs of followers. These leaders still make the final decisions about how goals are to be accomplished.” (PSU WC, 2019, L. 5, Part 2, p.3). With this Method Coach is able to get the most out his players and assistant coaches.
Path-goal is a good way to address the long-term situations a Coach may be put in. In most cases it is the whole of the season, with an end goal of a championship. Coaches will set a goal and everything they do during that time period leading up to the intended completion of that goal will be for he purpose of completing that goal. The main purpose of a coach engaging in Path-Goal theory with their team is to motivate them to achieve victory. And according to the path-goal theory introduction from the class lecture notes. “The leader’s actions should strengthen the follower’s beliefs that if they exert a certain level of effort, then they will accomplish a task and if they accomplish a task, then they will achieve a valued outcome”. So a leader like Coach Payton does his best to try and motivate his team to win so they can have a successful post-season.
Fiedler’s Theory is best used when maneuvering assistant coaches to get the best results. A good head Coach is a master delegator. They will realize that they can’t do everything. They will also realize that their assistants may be better at certain things than they are. So, a good Coach will put his assistant in positions where they can best manage their own small portion of the game and players. Coach Payton realizes that “Some leaders are better in some situations and less effective in other situations” (PSU WC, 2016, L. 6, Part 1, p.3). But he must also look at how Coaches will interact with players. He must consider each assistant coach’s LPC or Least Preferred Co-worker. He must do this so that each coach doesn’t have too high of tensions with individual players in a way that may hurt team moral. So, in addition to putting coaches in their areas of expertise, he must also place them with players they won’t be at odds with. It can be a difficult balance, but with enough experience, it can be done effectively.
Coaching is a very complicated job, but in sports you’ll find some great leaders, Like Coach Payton. What sets them apart is how they address both immediate and long term issues within their organization. It is important for leaders to know the situation they’re in and act accordingly. If they don’t it could result in the collapse of their organization, or if they are a sports team it could result in a poor season and them getting fired. So, a good Coach will work every angle differently. They will address every situation in the best possible way they can. And when a coach is truly great, they will be recognized by their results.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 5: Style and Situational Approaches. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1985970/modules/items/26589487
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 6: Contingency & Path-Goal Theories. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1985970/modules/items/26589487