Authoritarian Leadership

It is undignified and offending when we need to obey orders, 

although we are more than ready for cooperation.

– Jesper Juul –



The coach keeps his integrity by firm authority, he has knowledge and experience or he is young and ambitious, he thinks kids have to become senior players before having an opinion and till then they need a firm hand. 

The development is based on his demand for repetition of what brings results; everything else is stopped. 

Relationship is marked by high level of control, moralising, criticising, excessive praise, mockery, offending, intolerance; if there is a conflict – it is clear who is to blame. 

We hope there is less and less physical punishment or that is completely gone. 

Judging by himself, he does not allow a child to deviate, to be different from “given model”, to have diverse playing development (he knows what the best is for a player). 

He does that by criticising “bad ones” and praising “good “ones

and he reaches his goal: everybody does things the way they should be done. 

The area of responsibility is not clearly divided: coach is the person with the ultimate authority, his power is unlimited, and a player’s area of responsibility is to carry through coach’s will. 

Given this division of responsibility, we see a paradox situation:

A player makes decision about the game;

a coach is denying him the right to do it.  

Their relationship is changing from one situation to another, depending on what suits the coach in given moment.

The word  „responsibility“ we use in a context of making decision, meaning taking responsibility for deciding, not in a context of taking responsibility for consequences of those decisions.

(Too)often we witness situations in which a person takes responsibility for deciding, while leaving the responsibility for consequences of those decisions to somebody else, especially in the case of failure. 

A person is happy to take over a responsibility for success from a person who took responsibility for making a good decision.

Leading a young team in such way will usually give quick results.


Authoritarian coach leads kids by giving direct instructions – offering ready-to-use solutions which he came up with through his own experience or personal reflection.

There is already somebody at trainings who will tell them how to behave,

what to think,

when to listen,

what they are allowed to say,

where they should stand,

why they should be happy –

at trainings there will be a leader in a person of a coach.

He will lead them and with his power he has overtaken their internal leadership, since he knows it better.

Kids listen.

Thinking and seeking solutions, they will learn somewhere else.

If they are lucky, they will find such place.

The problem is that these capabilities are being learnt from early childhood, and if not then, a grown up person is not capable of learning them or it is very difficult.

What sense for self-worth

has a person who is not capable of taking care of himself

or does not make his own decisions?

This is for us to judge.

I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary.

The evil it does is permanent.

– Mahatma Gandhi –

Authoritarian leadership is the method used in raising most of today’s middle generation in Croatia – most of us, today’s coaches and parents.

Success of this method is quickly visible: a coach (parent, teacher) gives an order to a child – child obeys: the goal is achieved.

Children have a wonderful power of forgiveness,

they recover fast from an attack on their integrity

and seemingly they keep functioning well.

Kids are especially easy to lead in this way: they trust, at least until they get into puberty and become capable of questioning adults and their behaviours.

In time, some will imitate this model in their relationship with other kids, or rarely, with the coach and thus relieve the burden of guilt and fear that he imposes: they act destructively on the team.

Some other will equally be aggressive,

not towards other kids but towards themselves.

They have a bigger problem: they are autodestructive.

If coach has a great knowledge about handball, adding up the numerous trainings and matches, talents of players, with time kids will learn a lot about the handball.

It is to expect that team will make good results, win medals on tournaments and at a first glance it seems all is well organised.

Such teams are usually very motivated for winning and that, especially at their early age of the handball development, mostly works for them.




They become obedient – do not resist

They become defiant – fight for their integrity

”Good kids” develop with time good (for their environment) characteristics. They behave well, please everybody, rarely express their own opinion, and have high social responsibility – all that people around them like.


A personal price to pay is often (too)high:

Instead of learning all of their characteristics, ”good kids” that are exposed to strong pressure for obedience relate only to the models of behaviour that others consider good.

Unfortunately, they are brought up in the environment where obedience is more important than developing personality.

Because they are the way they are, adults are very generous to them:

praise them when they do something really good,

praise them when they are average,

praise them when they do not disturb,

praise them when they criticise disobedient kids,

praise them when they put themselves above others…

They will do all it takes to be accepted.

Criticising and punishing disobedient kids, bullying and manipulations, it will all cause partial or complete giving up of one’s own opinion.

When ”good kids” express their opinion, they consider a pressure from a coach as an introduction to a punishment. The consequence is an adult who is determined by a mindset from his childhood: dependence on a praise of others.


This often leads to a life that adds up to a desire to reach unrealistic perfect ideals.

On the other side, they are afraid of other people’s opinions:

What if result of their opinion would be a critic, a punishment or something similar?

What if I am not good enough?

A fear of making mistake is created and continuous feeling of being guilty.

When we add up a dependence on a praise and turning away from criticism, we get a person who does not have an internal leadership and who is searching it in others, has difficulties in standing up for himself and easily becomes a victim.

A sense of self-worth is permanently destroyed with such kids, because:

How could somebody be sure that he is always valuable,

if he depends on other people’s opinion?

Self-fulfilling prophecy:

Repeat often enough to me what I am doing badly,

and with the time I will become bad.

”Bad kids” are the children that can not give in, although sometimes they wish so.

With spite they respond to attacks, fighting for their integrity and trying to build their internal leadership.

To have this freedom they need to be disobedient.

The authority does not like such kids, because:  they ruin my authority, so they will only put up with them if kids are talented for handball, based on their judgment that such trade would pay off through wins of the team.


They are usually brought up using the method of criticising their behaviour. In the end, thanks to the constant critics they might develop bad personal characteristics, because they have only been linked to „bad” characteristics of their personality:

This is wrong = you are guilty…

10 x a day x 10 years = I am a bad person,

which leads to the daily decreasing sense of self-worth.

The notion of social responsibilty is for them ruined permanently, because they have been constantly receiving a message that fighting for themselves was socially irresponsible.

Although it seems paradoxical, exactly such kids may be very useful for the team: only they have enough courage to point out that something is wrong with the leadership, however they are too young to make real changes.

For them, this battle has to be recognised by adult person, ideally the coach himself, who should start changing the way of leading the group.

It is important to be aware of real reasons for kid’s behaviour in such situations: authoritarian leadership or family situation. In the latter, changes have to be done in the family.



People around obedient players give them credits in all wins.

They are not responsible for defeats.

The „disobedient“ players are to blame.

If an obedient kid is talented, he can learn a lot about handball technique and the game in general.

Following instructions from his coach, his development will be programmed in a right way and will have certain logic.

Especially when he plays defence, he will become disciplined and efficient.

In an organised attack he will fulfill his role in a precise way. Through the youth categories the coaches will be mostly satisfied with such player.

More often with obedient girls than with boys, the desire to fulfill parents’ or coach’s ambitions is one of the main reasons for becoming lower quality handball players in comparison to their talents.

There are two areas where this is most obvious:

Limited number of technical elements used in the game – a consequence of continuous use of “what goes well” instead of continuous upgrade of their play. In the end, their game becomes predictable.

Lack of te-ta creativity development – a consequence of a continuous automated performing of a limited number of tasks in the game, relying on instructions from the bench instead of continuous upgrade of their play. In the end, their understanding of the game is very narrow and sums up to the searching of ready and upfront determined solutions.

The game is automated, simplified and predictable.

If such player is criticised by his coach, he will play worse that he is objectively capable of or, in extreme cases, he will stop playing handball.

In important matches, especially when there is lots of stress involved, he will fail.

A fear of criticism after defeat is too strong barrier.

His decisions will not be the result of game situations, but coach’s directions. Considering that the situation in the match changes all the time, his game is predictable, he makes wrong decisions or remains passive.

He is not capable of taking responsibility for making important decisions: his capability of doing that was taken away from him a long time ago.

Obedient player feels guilty after the match

and guilt will even more undermind his sense of self-worth.


We usually call such players: rascals, mischiefs, scamps... they are usually all alone against others.

If they are not talented, they soon stop playing handball and everybody is happy: ”They only created problems.”

If they are talented, the coach gives in some of his power only to them, because he expects a favour in return during the match.

The experience is teaching us that such players often bring victories: they are not afraid.

If the team is made mostly of obedient players from previous chapter and one or two rascals, they will partially take over leadership from the coach and the team will depend on their self-will.

You can take the man out of the ghetto,

but you can’t take the ghetto of the man.

– Zlatan Ibrahimović –

They have earned the right to make their own decisions during the match, thus they will develop in better players: they will try, make mistakes, score goals, miss the goals, pass the ball in various ways and learn by doing so.

Some will grow into good players and coach will take over major credit. However, the truth may look different:

They succeeded despite such leadership. 

The pressure and potential punishments will not stop them; because of their faith in the coach they will accept most of what he was saying to them and they will become: arogant, cheeky, rude…

The relationship between coach and such players will depend solely on the result of the match:

When players play well: coach praise them, accept their power, “take credits for their talents”.

When players do not play well: considering that the coach has transferred responsibility, gave up his power and the rights to create the game, usually he concludes:

I have given you everything and this is way you return me.

A punishment follows.