The social institution of sport and the field of leadership share many connections including deeply embedded gender stereotypes, assumptions, and ideologies. For example, college sport features a gendered history controlled by men and steeped in dominant masculinity. This domination continues today, despite the fact that women are participating in college athletics at record levels (Acosta & Carpenter, 2012). Leadership also has a gendered past where common conceptions of leadership are linked to forms of masculinity (e.g., heroic individualism, authority, and assertiveness) and men are (more often) perceived to be good leaders (Eagly, 2007; Fletcher, 2004; Hovden, 2000). Leadership is socially constructed and embedded in a context where history and assumptions matter (Osborn et al., 2002), and female college athletes' understandings of sport leadership might be manifested based on their experiences of gendered stereotypes and assumptions. The purpose of this study therefore, was to explore how female college athletes come to understand leadership in a context dominated by men and certain forms of masculinity. This is important given the popular notion that `sport builds leaders', yet the number of women holding leadership in college sport has failed dramatically to keep pace with the increase in women's college sport participation. Social constructivism (Crotty, 1998; Wright et al., 2010) and gendered social processes (Acker, 1992; Ely & Meyerson, 2000) provided the framework for this study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 female athletes participating in six team sports at the NCAA Division I level. Using an interview guide participants were asked to define leadership in sport, identify specific situations in sport where leadership occurred, and to reflect on the relevancy of gender in sport leadership. Data analysis involved first engaging in initial and axial data coding to develop categories, properties and dimensions of leadership. Next using the literature, thematic analysis (Boyatzis, 1998; Braun & Clarke, 2006) was used to identify, analyze, and report themes in terms of leadership perceptions and the gendered nature of participants' understandings of leadership. Results were reported based on two core leadership categories: peer and coach leadership. Female college athletes' perceptions of leadership included three leadership themes including leader-focused behaviors and attributes, outcomes, and various styles and approaches, which were embedded in the context. Peer leadership consisted mostly of traditionally masculine leadership themes, while coach leadership included both feminine and traditionally masculine leadership themes. Gendered leadership narratives, images, attributes, and expectations were also identified and discussed. This study contributed to the gender relations and leadership literature and has practical application for sport practitioners and coaches.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. April 2014. Major: Kinesiology. Advisor: Lisa A. Kihl. 1 computer file (PDF); xii, 204 pages, appendices A-D.
Schull, Vicki Denise.
Female college athletes' perceptions of leadership in college sport: a gendered approach.
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