The Need for Transactional Coaching

There is a much discussion these days about different leadership methods that coaches should employ in an effort to improve. Authentic and transformational leadership methods have been suggested to be the “correct” ways to coach athletes. Personally, I encourage coaches and leaders to use such methods. They are proven to be effective, especially among young student athletes. My entire leadership method is based off of authenticity and relationship building – two important characteristics of transformational and authentic leadership. The result of the vast amount of positive press these methods have received has created an underlining bashing of transactional leadership method. But transactional is needed, especially when it comes to coaching sports.

Bernard Bass (1984) wrote about how transactional leadership is a simple reward based leadership method. Leaders reward those who perform well and punish them when they perform poorly. When there is a reoccurring problem, this type of leader punishes the subjects involved until the problem has been resolved. The leader is often times, if not always, in a high authoritative position to carry out this method.

It often times receives a bad rap in research due to its blunt authoritarian characteristic. This leadership method is not about improving the leader’s team, but is more focused on results. It doesn’t offer much opportunity for growth through positive reinforcement so often times it can seem negative. Comparing it to transformational leadership, it lacks the caring about individuals’ thoughts and concerns that embodies transformational leadership method. A transformational leader is always finding ways to inspire and motivate its members through reinforcement.

In my thesis I wrote, “playing time is a major factor for an athlete to determine whether they have been successful. Coaches may find difficulty maintaining balance and sensitivity to this determination when trying to lead (p.23).” This is when transactional leadership method is very effective. Sports are a performance based reward system, this is truer the further up the ladder into the professional realm. Therefore, transactional leadership method is at play often times in sports.

A positive characteristic about transactional leadership is that it forces the leader to have to separate themselves and become an authoritative figure amongst the team. If the leader successfully executes this method it also will help them earn respect among the team as their leader. In sports, respect is a very powerful thing. Any coach can tell you that earning the players’ respect will help them trust you during the decision making process of who to play or sit.

So, how can a coach effectively use this method without having the negative impacts that research suggests? Many texts tell us to lead a certain way but truly leadership is an ever evolving organism that requires constant ebb and flow. For example take my leadership method, I never state that I aim to be a transformational leader. I start every leadership experience with building a relationship first and, through that, foster confidence and trust. Sustaining true authenticity is my goal during the leadership process. I use a variety of methods to build this inner confidence and trust among the team. If an athlete is continuing to disobey or underperform after using tactics such as positive reinforcement and constructive criticism, then punishment (i.e. less playing time) is an appropriate tool to employ. This is the time for transactional leadership.

Some athletes will respond positively to this method while others may struggle with it. However, it is a way for a coach to measure their athletes’ levels of toughness and ego-resilience. It gives the coach good insight into which individual players can bounce back from this method, which athletes will fold under the pressure, and which will continue to work on their craft to achieve the results their respective coach desires. More than ever, the sports world today is about results so why not apply transactional leadership method to your coaching style? Reward the players that achieve results, separate yourself as an authoritative figure, and build your team’s resilience.



If you this post, please check out my thesis on “How leadership and success influence athlete’s levels of resilience.” 


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