Facilitating the Development of Women Leaders in Sport Through Leader Self-Efficacy




Moe Machida-Kosuga, PhD, Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences, Japan


In organized sport and other domains, the percentage of women who have positions with higher leadership responsibility is still small as compared with men. As a girl who grew up in Japan, I had never really questioned why there were very few women who coached our sport teams (in my sporting career as a swimmer and a long distance runner, I only had one female coach), or worked in sport, because that was how things were. But I always had a love for sport and so I decided I wanted to do something to contribute to this field, which led me to come to the United States to study (since I perceived the United States as “the great sporting country”).

After I started my college life at California State University, Northridge, in 2002, I noticed that there are actually a number of women who work in the sporting field, and they often have leadership positions in their teams or organizations. For example, the managers for whom I worked as a part-time lifeguard at the campus rec center and the adapted sport center were both women, and the head of the kinesiology department was also a woman and great advisor – Dr. Carol Oglesby! So being mentored by women became natural to me. But as I started to take on leadership responsibilities myself and continued to pursue my education in the United States under other great women advisors (Dr. Robin Vealey and Dr. Melissa Chase at Miami University; Dr. Deborah Feltz at Michigan State University), I started to learn that there are still very few women who possess leadership positions in athletics. And for me, personally, that is a problem, because I know, from my firsthand experiences, that women are great leaders. So I started to explore possible reasons why this is so.


Among the books that I have read regarding the lack of women in leadership positions in sports, the most helpful in overviewing the issue was Drs. Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli’s book, Through the labyrinth: The truth about how women become leaders (Eagly & Carli, 2007)Through reading the book and articles, I found out that research actually supports my hypothesis; women are just as qualified for leadership responsibilities as men (see review by Eagly & Chin, 2010). Some research suggests that women may even be better leaders (e.g., Eagly, Johannessen-Schmid, & van Engen., 2003). The reasons for underrepresentation of women in leadership roles discussed in studies are varied, including gender biases/discrimination, family constraints, people’s general perceptions of leadership positions being held by men, etc. And that was when I went to see Dr. John Schaubroeck, a professor of psychology and management at Michigan State University, who specializes in leadership research. Through our discussions, we reached a consensus that there is a psychosocial factor that may play into the issue: confidence (or self-efficacy) in leadership.


Leader self-efficacy is defined as one’s perceived capability to successfully lead others (Machida & Schaubroeck, 2011). Research shows that women in general tend to underestimate their ability as leaders (as well as in other domains of life), and this may limit their advancement to higher leadership positions in athletics (see also a review by Burton, 2014). Dr. Feltz, Dr. Schaubroeck, and myself started our research on women leaders in US collegiate athletic administration and examined how leader self-efficacy may be related to leadership career ascendance (Machida, Schaubroeck, & Feltz, in press). The results showed that leader self-efficacy was positively related to leadership career ascendance. And leader self-efficacy was positively predicted by the amount of developmental challenges future leaders were given at work, as well as feedback and support they received from colleagues and supervisors. Our findings suggest the importance of quality developmental experiences for women leaders in athletic administration.


We also investigated whether these relationships also apply to men, having female and male assistant coaches in college athletics as participants (Machida, Schaubroeck, Gould, Ewing, & Feltz, 2016). In this study, we found that leader self-efficacy was related to their intentions to advance their coaching careers to head coaching positions. And developmental challenges, support, and feedback assistant coaches received from head coaches were positively related to leader self-efficacy. We also found that perceived gender discrimination and family-work conflicts were negatively related to their expectations to obtain future head coaching positions, and this in turn, was negatively related to these assistant coaches’ intentions to advance their careers to head coaching positions. These relationships were not different between women and men. However, being consistent with previous research, women showed lesser intentions to become a head coach and lower leader self-efficacy than men. We also found that women were less exposed to developmental challenges. Resulting implications are that a lack of opportunities to challenge themselves at work may be limiting female assistant coaches’ self-efficacy as leaders and intentions to advance to head coaching positions in the future.


There is no question that this area of research is work in progress. Despite an increase of girls and women who participate in sport, the percentage of women who hold leadership positions in athletics has not shown much increase (and it is even smaller in Japan… There it looks like it hasn’t changed much since when I was playing sport). The reasons for an underrepresentation of women in athletic leadership positions are multifaceted; the issue involves complex interactions of psychosocial and cultural factors. Because the environment that surrounds girls and women in sport is constantly changing across the world, these reasons identified for the underrepresentation of women in leadership thus far, can also be changing. It is necessary to continue investigating how their leadership potentials can be maximized in various sporting fields.



Burton, L. J. (2014). Underrepresentation of women in sport leadership: A review of research. Sport Management Review, 18, 155-165.

Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007). Through the labyrinth: The truth about how women become leaders. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.

Eagly, A. H., & Chin, J. L. (2010). Diversity in leadership in a changing world. American Psychologist, 65, 216-224.

Eagly, A. H., Johannessen-Schmidt, M. C., & van Engen, M. L. (2003). Transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles: A meta-analysis comparing women and men. Psychological Bulletin, 120, 569-591.

Machida, M., & Schaubroeck, J. (2011). The role of self-efficacy beliefs in leader development. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 18, 459-468.

Machida, M., Schaubroeck, J., & Feltz, D. (in press). Leader self-efficacy of women intercollegiate athletic administrators: A look at barriers and developmental antecedents. Manuscript in press for publication.

Machida, M., Schaubroeck, J., Gould, D., Ewing, M., & Feltz, D. (2016). What influences collegiate coaches’ intentions to advance their leadership careers?: The roles of leader self-efficacy and outcome expectancies. Manuscript in review for publication.



For more information – please visit:  appliedsportspsychology.com



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here