Have you ever noticed players not getting on well within a team but are key players? They perform well on the biggest stage and enjoy the admiration and have a massive amount of self-worth!

Narcissists perceive themselves to be exceptional performers and seek opportunities for personal glory. If a narcissists’ performance is clearly identifiable within the team, they should invest more effort and perform better. Conversely, if a narcissists’ performance is not identifiable within the team, they should loaf (invest less effort and perform less well).

Dr. Ross Roberts, stated, “We think the reason why narcissists thrive in these stressful situations is because when they perform exceptional well under these conditions; they receive the admiration and glorification that they crave” (Evans, 2012). This offers as an explanation to why some great athletes are involved in individual sports or were not seen as the best team players as a narcissist would find it difficult to share victory and if a failure occurred team members or other factors would be to blame. However, most great professional athletes tend to show narcissistic characteristics.

It is all good to have highlighted the features of this personality trait, but how do you deal with them?

Recently, the research on narcissism in sport has started to look more at the applied aspect, for example the influence of psychological skills and coach behaviours on narcissists’ performance. Taking an interactionist perspective, narcissists’ love competing which may mean that psychological skills which are specifically designed to help athletes in performance may not be particularly beneficial for narcissists as they already perform well in these types of environments, however for low narcissists it is more likely to be beneficial. In performance terms, there is evidence to suggest that narcissists benefit from skills such as relaxation, self-talk (Roberts et al, 2013), and imagery, if the imagery is the image of the self (i.e. external perspective) (Roberts et al, 2010).

Looking at the coaches’ influence on the narcissists’ behaviour has quite limited research, although what research appears to suggest is that narcissists benefit from mastery or performance motivational environments, due to the environments allowing the narcissists to get their coaches’ attention (Roberts et al, 2015). Additionally, coaches who have greater expectations and try to adopt feelings of unity in the group may make the narcissist respond less positively, due to the coaching styles reducing the chance for personal glory (Arthur et al, 2011), although this unity may be better for the rest of the group, so be cautious with your approach.

Although research is limited when looking at narcissists, this topic does warrant further investigation in the sporting domain to get the most out of player and team performance, and demonstrates the importance of personality and individual differences within sport.

ReferencesShow all

Arthur, C. A., Woodman, T., Ong, C. W., Hardy, L., & Ntoumanis, N. (2011). The role of athlete narcissism in moderating the relationship between coaches’ transformational leader behaviors and athlete motivation. Journal of sport and exercise psychology, 33(1), 3-19.

Evans, G. (2012). Narcissism 'boosts' athletes' performance, study finds. WalesOnline - Welsh news, sports, politics, business, jobs and lifestyle in Wales. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2012/05/02/narcissism-boosts-athletes-performance-study-finds-91466-30880237/

Roberts, R., Callow, N., Hardy, L., Woodman, T., & Thomas, L. (2010). Interactive effects of different visual imagery perspectives and narcissism on motor performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 32(4), 499-517.

Roberts, R., Woodman, T., Hardy, L., Davis, L., & Wallace, H. M. (2013). Psychological skills do not always help performance: The moderating role of narcissism. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 25(3), 316-325.

Roberts, R., Woodman, T., Lofthouse, S., & Williams, L. (2015). Not all players are equally motivated: The role of narcissism. European journal of sport science, 15(6), 536-542.