Exceptional adaptability in collegiate coaching
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Elite sport coaches are often compared to corporate executives in how they lead a team. Research on successful coaching has focused on task-oriented behaviors (planning, scheduling), relations-oriented behaviors (attitude, relationship building), and external leadership (communication, networking). Not surprisingly, these are also the foci of research on successful business leaders. One trait of effective leadership in business not explored in coaching is change-oriented behaviors, or “adaptability” (Pulakos, Arad, Donovan, & Plamondon, 2000). Adaptable leaders seek new ways to solve problems, master new skills, embrace new challenges, and thrive in volatile contexts such as coaching. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to analyze the exceptional adaptability of collegiate sport coaches. This study employed instrumental and collective case study to gain an insider’s view through various sources of information. Collegiate coaches (N=11) exhibiting exceptionally adaptable traits were interviewed. Criteria for participation included a winning record at more than one institution and two of the following accomplishments: (a) recognition as coach of the year, (b) multiple conference or national championships, and (c) induction into the Hall of Fame. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed inductively. Three themes emerged from the data that helped explain these coaches exceptional adaptability. These coaches: (a) possessed a non-sport related knowledge base, (b) had formative encounters related to their profession, and (c) found it essential to work like a corporate executive. While exceptionally adaptable coaches do have a firm knowledge of their sport, they also possess different types of knowledge which aid them in facilitating their plan. Additionally, these coaches have experiences throughout their lives, not just their coaching careers, from which they are able to draw to implement their approaches to coaching. Finally, exceptionally adaptable coaches conduct themselves as corporate executives by surrounding themselves with the best possible personnel and being transparent with their plan. Exceptionally adaptable coaches utilize specific knowledge, experience, and behaviors allowing them to succeed across a variety of contexts. It is these examples which set them apart from an average coach at the collegiate level.