Forget ability, is personality a new way to gauge if someone is going to be successful in the future? The answer is fairly complex, but in short: an athlete’s future success won’t solely be predicted because of certain parts of their personality, but it may well give us a better idea!
It has been found that athletes at the national/international level have higher levels of conscientiousness and lower levels of neuroticism in athletes competing than those at a club/ regional level (Allen, Greenless, & Jones 2011). Whilst those with higher levels of conscientiousness have also been found to prepare better(Woodman, Zourbanos, Hardy, Beattie, & McQuillan, 2010). 32 elite youth athletes progress was monitored over 7 years and during this time, coaches rated their potential whilst observing their personality traits. Predictions were made about which athletes would make it professionally, and this was done with 100% accuracy, of the predictions, 84% of the athletes were correctly judged on personality traits alone (Aidman, 2007).
Extravert vs. Introvert?
Gravitational theory/hypothesis proposes that more extraverted people gravitate towards sport and competition. I’ve seen examples of this through being involved in youth coaching where those extraverts seem better suited towards sport, but I would not say that all of the best players I came across were extraverts… There is an argument (change hypothesis) that sport encourages individuals to become more extraverted through the interactions and communication aspects (Allen et al, 2013). Extraverts and introverts may thrive in different sporting situations and under different conditions (types of sport, make-up of the team, coaching styles etc.) so I am cautious to make predictions on whether an introvert or an extrovert would excel more.
The ‘Big five’
The Big Five personality traits are as follows:
Steca et al. (2018) outlined differences in personality amongst athletes and non-athletes, high and low success athletes, as well as team and individual sport athletes. Based off of the big five personality dimensions they found that high level athletes scored higher in every category except openness than their lower-level counterparts. However, they only sampled male athletes, and did not sample a wide range of sports so the findings cannot be confidently transferred. Their study is not without its limitations, but it does provide a more in-depth sample size as well as their findings confirming results of existing literature.
Ways to measure personality (and its effect to “predict” sporting success) have been strengthened by the developments like the big five personality traits and it has been suggested that a typological approach could aid in creating profiles for the sporting population (Steca et al., 2018). It is encouraging that such profiles can help to predict future success, but this should not be taken as gospel, an athlete’s personality should be one part of the jigsaw that determines their success. A couple of points I’ve thought of when looking at it from a coach’s perspective:
A few things to consider
As I have already stated, personality can be a strong predictor of future success, but I think we need to treat this subject with caution, the considerations above must be taken into account and that’s by no means an extensive list. Like most things I think there needs to be a balance and trying to predict whether someone will thrive in professional sports because of their personality can be risky; It would be wise to make an informed decision based on a number of factors.
Professional clubs already use personality profiles for their academies, draft prospects in America have been subject to personality tests so this isn’t totally new ground. It is not just athletes’ personalities that are being scrutinised, some professional clubs are already profiling potential managerial candidates to see if they will work harmoniously with the club’s hierarchy, trying to identify those that may thrive in the existing conditions. With the right conditions we can all thrive in different ways and I would hope that those making the predictions keep that in mind…