The Leadership Role and Influence of Team Captaincy in Professional Rugby Union
The aim of the study and research question was to understand the leadership role, interpersonal style and impact of the team captain in a professional rugby union context and evaluate the implications of the findings for the practice (and development) of team captaincy. Loughead et al. (2006) indicated that the majority of sport leadership research has focused on the coach but that athlete leadership within a team was an important source of influence. Much of the literature in the team captaincy field was based on the experiences of varsity populations and there was scope, as Loughead et al. (2006) proposed, for future research to examine athlete leadership at other levels of competition including professional sport.
The study was framed by an interpretivist paradigm and a qualitative methodology. The research was based on a single, instrumental case study, the Southern Warriors (pseudonym), a professional rugby union team classified as competitive elite (Swann et al., 2015) who played in a top tier league. Data collection techniques included semi structured and informal conversational interviews, overt participant observation (over the course of a season) and archival research. Data was analysed using reflexive thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006).
The study found that the professional rugby context was distinguished by three dimensions - commercial (gladiatorial) spectacle, demanding (and dynamic) endeavour and collective camaraderie; that the team captain performed three key roles - environment influencer, game shaper and stakeholder ambassador; that the influencing style of the team captain was based on three key dimensions - personal qualities, process skills and agile practice and finally, that the team captain impacted three areas - team purpose, team performance and team satisfaction.
The study provided original contributions to the body of knowledge through “real world” professional sport insights (a complex and pluralist ecosystem of competing and sometimes contradictory organisational dynamics); by further developing the current taxonomy of leadership roles and revising the current definition of athlete leadership. The study also provided insights into leadership currency and proposed a framework of key in game leadership evaluation indicators.
Practical implications of the research findings for the effective practice of team captaincy included terms of reference for the supervisory leadership group, a team captain job description, a team captain person specification, a team captain (i) self-appraisal process and (ii) 360 appraisal process.
Recommended future avenues of inquiry included evaluation of the social leadership role off the field, the evaluation of leadership role and style during a game and evaluation of the selection process and development activities for team captains.