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What’s your Scene? Personality and sport

In sport, we are always interested in ways to help enhance athletes’ performances. From a sport psychology point of view, one goal when working with athletes is to help them bring all the performance aspects (mental, physical, tactical and technical) together to get the edge over their opponents. What personality traits are helpful for peak performance? This is potentially one of the most allusive questions in sport.  Research has explored the use of personality profiles to distinguish between successful and unsuccessful athletes in particular sports, in particular positions, and team selection (O’Sullivan, Zuckerman & Kraft, 1998; Piedmont, Hill, & Blanco, 1999; Vealey, 2002). Despite the relationship between sport performances and personality being far from crystal clear, the Mental Notes team has found that assessing personality traits gives an important insight into the athlete that can help in both individual and team preparations.

Knowing more about their own personality can help an athlete understand why they act the way they do in certain situations as well as how they want to portray themselves to others and how this can influence performance (O’Sullivan, Zuckerman & Kraft, 1998). By identifying their particular personality traits, an athlete can be more aware of what comes naturally to them, and what they may need to work harder at to help achieve their ideal performance on a more consistent basis. For example, an athlete may have a natural tendency to be planned and structured. This might be reflected in the routines they have developed to recreate their ideal performance state. However, they sometimes might need to be able to adapt these routines if, for example, their flight or race is delayed. Without the ability to adapt to the needs of their surroundings, athletes’ performances may be impacted upon negatively.  Some things about individuals are generally ‘set’, but athletes can learn to adapt their behaviours to match their surroundings if they are aware of their own personality traits and are willing to work at using their traits to help rather than hinder them in a situation.

Understanding your own personality strengths and weaknesses is especially important for individuals in team sports. Think of a moment in your sport where you have had to do things that are unnatural to you, but that you know are good for you and the team? For example, an athlete might be naturally laid back and not particularly like strict timeframes to be set for them, but the team environment might require them to be at training at a particular time or awake and ready punctually when travelling with the team. Knowing that this may not gel particularly well with you would allow you to use strategies to ensure you do what is best for your team and your performance (e.g., alarm clock, reminders, and schedules).

Just as it is helpful for an individual to learn and understand about their personality, it also can be helpful for a team to understand each other’s personality traits as this might help with team dynamics and communication. For example, some athletes may like to keep to themselves and listen to music to get them into their ideal performance state while other athletes may like to talk to other people to help get them ready to perform at their best. It is helpful for these types of athletes to know about how each other likes to prepare so they do not pull them away from their ideal state. It might be helpful for those athletes who like to talk to know what other athletes in their team also like to do this before they play.  It is also important to note that just because an athlete’s natural tendency works best for them does not mean that it works best for the team as everyone’s personality is different.

There appears to be an advantage for athletes in individual and team sports to learn about their personality and the skills needed to adapt to their environment. Although there is no clear cut relationship between personality and performance, athletes can benefit from learning more about themselves, how they operate, and how this may impact their ideal performance state and the preparations of their team. The Mental Notes team can help any team with personality profiling.  To learn more about making your team as effective as a cohesive unit please contact us at


O’Sullivan, D. M., Zuckerman, M., & Kraft, M. (1998). Personality characteristics of male and female participants in team sports. Personality and Individual Differences, 25, 119-128.
Piedmont, R. L., Hill, D. C., & Blanco, S. (1999). Predicting athletic performance using the five-factor model of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 769 – 777.
Vealey, R. S. (2002). Personality and sport behaviour. In T.S. Horn (Ed.), Advances in sport psychology (pp. 43-82). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.