Status and Impact


My friend, Gordon, has been following up on research articles for coaches.
One of his finds today is a SportsCoach UK summary of How a Coach’s Reputation Influences Player Behaviour. (A copy of the paper that prompted the summary can be found here.)
We have been exchanging ideas about the leadership and followership dimensions of two workshops I am facilitating at an ECB Conference this week at St George’s Park.
I have been working through some ethological studies of leading and following. One of the studies I am looking at is exploring the impact of personality on animal social behaviour.
Jolle Jolles was the lead author in the paper. His research aims “to understand individual differences in animal behaviour and how this affects the structure and functioning of social groups” and to increase “our understanding of the boldness and sociability personality traits and their role on leadership and group movements”.
Jolle and his colleagues have looked at the role of previous social experience on risk-taking and leadership in three-spined sticklebacks. Within his research, Jolle is looking at boldness and shyness as traits.


Enter Gordon and the paper on Reputation. The research report summarised a study by Andrew Manley and his colleagues of 35 players recruited for one coaching session. The group was divided into three sub-groups.
Research 1
The observations of the players in the session revealed that:

  • Players who thought the coach was experienced spent significantly more time gazing at the coach.
  • Players who thought the coach was experienced put in the most effort (they completed significantly more drill-specific activities on their own, spent less time standing still and retrieved the ball quickly on significantly more occasions).

Andrew and his colleagues posit that “expectancies based on positive information may be more powerful than negatively framed expectancies, and can be harnessed by coaches as a means of developing effective relationships with their athletes”.


These readings have prompted me to go back to look at Erving Goffman’s (1963) book Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. In it he observes that ““an individual who might have been received easily in normal social intercourse possesses a trait that can obtrude itself upon attention and turn those of us whom he meets away from him, breaking the claim that his other attributes have on us.”
I take this to be the force of Andrew and his colleagues’ research on coach reputation.
This stigma has social costs. Another ethological study draws attention to the health impact of these identity and reputation issues.
Jenny Tung and her colleagues propose that social environment is associated with gene regulatory variation in the rhesus macaque immune system.
They point out that:

  • In humans and other primates, adverse social environments often translate into lasting physiological costs.
  • Dominance rank results in a widespread, yet plastic, imprint on gene regulation, such that peripheral blood mononuclear cell gene expression data alone predict social status with 80% accuracy.
  • These results illuminate the importance of the molecular response to social conditions, particularly in the immune system, and demonstrate a key role for gene regulation in linking the social environment to individual physiology.

In the introduction to their paper they note:

Social status in nonhuman primates is encoded by dominance rank, which defines which individuals yield to other individuals during competitive encounters. In settings in which hierarchies are strongly enforced or subordinates have little social support, low dominance rank can lead to chronic stress, immune compromise, and reproductive dysregulation.

Leading and Following

Gordon’s find and my ethological ramblings do raise some fundamental issues about leading and following.
They have encouraged me to think about ascribed and achieved status too.
The ECB Conference is a great place to consider these issues. The theme is Leading to Performance.

Photo Credits

Feeding the Fish (Jolle Jolles)
Board Meeting (Nosha, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Peleton (Andrew Sides, CC BY-NC 2.0)


  1. Which may, in some small measure, account for why players don’t always make the transition to coach. Their players’ don’t see them as successful coaches in the first place.

    • Yes.
      But strangely we often give status to international players who are appointed as coaches …without exploring their ability to coach.
      Thank you for making this conversation possible, Gordon. I have really enjoyed the last 24 hours.

  2. The assumption being that if you’ve been coached by an outstanding coach then some of it must have rubbed off on you. Your players may be just continue to see you as a outstanding player. Fascinating…


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