2020 applicants
Postgraduate Research Opportunity

Transformational leadership and the ethics of sports coaching

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Title: Transformational leadership and the ethics of sports coaching

Start date: October 2019

Location: Colchester Campus

Based in:  School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences

This project can be offered either on a full-time or a part-time basis. Please note that this is not a funded studentship.


As a social context capable of affecting others’ rights and wellbeing, sport represents an important setting for the development of ethical thought and action (Bandura, 1991).

Researchers in both developmental and sport psychology emphasise the important role coaches play in the socialising of young people within sport and the influence the habits they form both in terms of skill development and moral functioning (Côté, Bruner, Erickson, Strachan, & Fraser-Thomas, 2010). By modelling and either tacitly or explicitly endorsing appropriate or inappropriate behaviour, coaches play a particularly influential role in the moral development of their athletes (Weiss et al., 2008).

Given the importance of this function, researchers have begun to develop our understanding of individual differences in ethical leadership (Mills & Boardley, 2017a, 2017b) and moral processing within sport (for a full review see Boardley, 2018) combine to create a moral atmosphere (Kavussanu, Roberts, & Ntoumanis, 2002; Shields & Bredemeier, 2007; Benson, Bruner, & Eys, 2017). What is less known, however, is the long-term impact the coach and coaching environment has on individual athlete moral development and the ethical judgements athletes make?

This project specifically seeks to investigate the impact of sport coaches’ ethical intentions and actions have on athlete behaviours, cognitions, emotions, and well-being. Given the broad scope of the research, successful candidates may select their particular area of interest within this remit.

Bass and Steidlemeier’s (1999) conceptualisation of transformational leadership underpins the research and other relevant theories may be integrated as appropriate.

Researchers with experience of qualitative and quantitative methodologies are encouraged to apply; with the resultant methodology selected informed by the research question posed.

Selected references

  • Boardley, I. D. (2018). Moral behavior in sport and physical activity. In T. Horn & A. Smith (Eds.), Advances in sport and exercise psychology (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
  • Côté, J., Bruner, M. W., Erickson, K., Strachan, L., & Fraser-Thomas, J. (2010). Athlete Development and Coaching, in: Lyle, J., Cushion, C. eds., Sport Coaching: Professionalism and Practice, Elsevier, Oxford, 63–79.
  • Mills, J. P., & Boardley, I. D. (2017a). Development and initial validation of an indirect measure of transformational leadership integrity. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 32, 34-46. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2017.05.005
  • Mills, J.P., & Boardley, I.D. (2017b). Advancing leadership in sport: Time to ‘actually’ take the blinkers off? Sports Medicine, 47, 565–570. PubMed ID: 27995533 doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0661-3
  • Weiss, M. R., Smith, A. L., & Stuntz, C. P. (2008). Moral development in sport and physical activity. In T. S. Horn (Ed.), Advances in sport psychology (pp. 187-210,449-452). Champaign, IL, US: Human Kinetics.


You will have a good undergraduate and/or master’s degree in a related subject (e.g. a sub-discipline of psychology) and a deep interest in sports leadership.

The student will also require an Undergraduate Honours degree with a minimum classification of a 2.1 or equivalent, research experience in the form of undergraduate or MSc dissertation in sport psychology or related field, and an English Language qualification for international students.

For informal discussions about this studentship, please contact the project supervisor Dr John Mills.

How to apply

In the first instance, you should submit a CV and covering letter to john.mills@essex.ac.uk detailing your interest in the project. From there, you can apply here