Sports can reveal a lot about somebody’s personality. Famous tennis coach Vic Braden came up with a way to analyse the “brain types” of his players, based loosely on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. He identified that Roger Federer is an “NT,” an Intuitive Thinker. This enabled him to tailor his coaching style to suit the type who likes solutions, wants to move on quickly and doesn’t need a lot of verbal coaching.
There’s a wide range of literature supporting the idea that individual sports such as tennis and badminton suit introverted people. This is because they can participate as individuals. According to Braden, ISTP introverts are commonly found in professional sports, because they “don’t worry much about outcome; they’re focused on one thing. They don’t let the past, or future, get in their way.”
By contrast, extroverts are the most common and successful personality type in basketball, football and other team sports, according to a review from UC Berkeley. Apparently ESTPs, who pay attention to details, logically consider courses of action whilst evaluating alternative strategies and ideas in light of a given situation, are the most common and successful personality type in team sports.
The 16 MBTI personality types are:
In theory, a personality assessment tool could be useful for more effective communication and decision-making. It would help explain the different decision-making approaches, or potential conflict between a coach and player. However, one of its major drawbacks is that it can’t show how to enhance resilience. The use of MBTI in sports would be enhanced by including competitiveness, drive and motivation.
Indeed, Betsy Kendall, CEO of the European Distributor for MBTI, and Fiona Young wrote a blog article describing which personality characteristics contribute to sporting success. She identified the following traits:
Elite athletes tend to have lower scores on anxiety scales than average, making them more resilient, emotionally stable, and better at remaining calm in stressful situations.
Exceptional mental resilience is common amongst elite performers, who are able to maintain emotionally detached, single-minded focus in the face of adversity. This is considered by experts to be a key attribute in sporting success.
Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. Those who aim for perfection often struggle with fear of failure, fragile confidence, lack of trust and frustration during games. On the other hand, perfectionists tend to be highly motivated, set demanding personal standards, and strive to be the best.
Whilst losing is an inevitable part of any sport, elite athletes see defeat as a stepping stone on the path to success. Their confidence in their abilities is undiminished by set-backs.
An unshakeable belief in the ability to achieve competition goals is arguably one of the most important attributes of any athlete. There will always be differences between sports men and women, however, it’s clear that there are a few stand-out personality characteristics that can determine success. Demographic differences are an important consideration to keep in mind, e.g. age, sociocultural, or gender differences which tend to establish specific personality bias. These are worth investigating in the pursuit of greater self-awareness.