To Measure or Not to Measure: Using psychological assessment in sport

As mentioned in an earlier blog, I attended The Sport Performance Summit in mid November in London.  One of the workshops that I attended focused on the relevance and use of psychological assessments in sport.

Whilst there is definitely not a ‘one size fits all approach’ it’s worth debating the use and relevance of psychological measures for sport performance.  There are a variety of measures that you can use.  If you’re a coach or high performance director in a sporting organisation, here are five categories that you may consider asking your sport psychologist to use with your athletes.

Personality measures such as Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Insights, or Lumina Spark are the personality measures that most often get used in teams.  These provide an indication of people’s general personality tendencies, which can be helpful to accelerate the learning about people working together for optimum team dynamics and results.

Positive psychology measures such as Realise2, Virtues in Action Survey of Character Strengths, Fordyce Emotions Questionnaire, BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory, and Grit Survey are measures typically used for individual awareness and skill training.  These provide a snap shot of psychological skills and characteristics that focus on the promotion of strengths and the development of psychological skills to maximise personal growth and performance.

Mental health and well-being measures such as Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS), Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10), Satisfaction With Life Scale, and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale are measures used to assess mental health and well-being indicators.  These can be used as screening tools at the beginning of the season and potentially throughout the year if relevant for some athletes.

Performance skills measures that either measure levels of skills such as Sport Confidence Inventory and Athlete Coping Skills Inventory or usage of psychological skills in sport such as Test of Performance Strategies are measures used to get an understanding of current level and/or usage for psychological skills training to match the mental demands of their specific sport’s requirements.  These are a great way to introduce psychological skills training into sports performance.

All of the above-mentioned measures are self-report questionnaires with the aim of quantifying aspects of an athlete’s psychological traits and states, so of course they involve people assessing and rating their perception of themselves.  However, questionnaires are not the only way to evaluate psychological skills…

Observable behaviours can also play a valuable role in developing a common language and monitoring of psychological skills in individuals and teams.  One of the most difficult things in creating consistent standards of elite performance, particularly when it comes to psychology, is measuring… However in the case of behaviours that we want to see around here, it simply means we need to articulate the types of behaviours through a qualification process (as opposed to typical quantification processes).  Qualification measurement is different to quoting numbers, but it is relatively simple to define the behaviours you want to see.  For example, if we want to define whether people are bouncing back from mistakes on the football pitch, we can describe the types of actions we would see if people are doing this successfully.

Another effective skill training method we’ve used has been the integration of psychophysiological measures such as heart rate variability.  There are many options available – we’ve used HeartMath which has been relatively successful for some individual athletes who want to understand their current level of emotional management using their breath.  HeartMath enables athletes to track their progress over time with associated figures to support the behaviour change.

Questionnaires rely on perception whereas observable behaviours and psychophysiological measures are closer to ‘black and white’.

Measurement and monitoring is useful and provides guidance to progress, however it’s vital that the goal of the measurement is determined upfront.  All of these six categories of measures have their place in individual and team sport performance and can be used with great validity by professionals who understand how to administer, interpret, and utilise as a tool to assist athletes to perform to their potential.

If you’d like to talk more about the value of psychological measurement to assist your sport performance get in contact with one of the team.

Andrea Furst PhD | Sport & Exercise Psychologist CPsychol HCPC Registered
Get in contact with Andrea –   Andrea is based in London and provides both face-to-face and virtual sport psychology services to high performing teams worldwide.