Personality, Training & Leadership: Training

I’ve just realised that I spent a long time tearing my hair out on the dissertation for my masters, and haven’t ever talked about it on the Mighty Pucks. The title was examining the interactive effects of athlete personality and coach transformational leadership upon athlete training behaviours which is not only a horror to write, I had to spit that out during a speech too!  It was important to research this – not just to finish my degree – because each area has been researched but nobody has really connected the dots.


A top level athlete will spend the majority of their time in training, rather than actually competing. Take Usain Bolt who competes for 9.6 seconds – he obviously spends a significantly longer amount of time training to hit those speeds. In fact, it’s said that more than ten years of practice is needed to compete at an international level.

Olympic athletes have reported that, among other factors, training needs to be of the highest quality to be integral to success, and professional golfers have cited meticulous planning and training as big contributors to their sporting achievements. Talent can only take an athlete so far – yet despite understanding that training is a necessary step too greatness, it has been under researched.

A quality of training inventory was developed by researchers (led by an incredible lecturer of mine who turns statistics from a nightmare to a dream for me!) that tapped into three main areas: distractibility, coping with adversity, and quality of preparation. They developed using a questionnaire called the test of performance strategies (TOPS-2) which examines strategies employed in both training and competitions, such as self-talk, imagery, emotional control, and goal setting.


Now this study was a great starting block for my dissertation because it examined the relationship between these three training behaviours and the big 5 factors of personality. Personality is consistently related to training behaviours. It should have been quite obvious, even if you know the basics about personality. An extraverted individual is said to constantly be seeking external stimulation – if the training environment is boring then they will become more easily distracted by talking to others, messing around etc. Secondly, people who good emotional stability are more capable of coping with adversity – they don’t have a meltdown when things don’t go their way in training/competition. And lastly, conscientious individuals – the people who are meticulous in their work – had the highest quality of preparation.


Personality, Training & Leadership: Personality

I’ve just realised that I spent a long time tearing my hair out on the dissertation for my masters, and haven’t ever talked about it on the Mighty Pucks. The title was examining the interactive effects of athlete personality and coach transformational leadership upon athlete training behaviours which is not only a horror to write, I had to spit that out during a speech too!  It was important to research this – not just to finish my degree – because each area has been researched but nobody has really connected the dots.


There are many, many, many personality theories out there and probably so much research on personality in different applications that you’d need many years to read through it all. What we’re focused on is sport. Around 20-45% of variance in an individual’s performance is due to their personality. Perhaps the most well known theory of personality is the Big Five.

Openness – intellectual curiosity, imaginative, appreciative of a wide variety of experiences

Conscientiousness – self-discipline, dependability, planning

Extraversion – outgoing, assertive, sociable, sensation-seeking

Agreeableness – well-tempered, warm, compassionate

Neuroticism – emotional stability

I’ve knocked this together to give examples of athletes (and Torts) who I believe exemplify these attributes.


Generally, extraverts tend to excel more in competitions than training. A training environment is simply not exciting enough to provide the necessary stimulation that a competition does. Further, extraverts tend to gravitate towards team sports because there is a higher level of social contract thus more opportunities for distraction. Likewise, it’s predicated that athletes who score highly on openness, are also more easily distracted because they’re more curious.

Exercise Psychology

Sport psychology features a heck of a lot more here than exercise psychology so I thought I’d an 8 month late post about general exercise psychology…

Exercise psychology is concerned with understanding the psychological factors associated with health related physical activity – the determinants, consequences, and correlates.

  • Determinants – adoption and adherence, dropout rates, non-participation, excessive participation, the self, intensity, duration, frequency, barriers to exercise, participation motives.
  • Consequences – psychological and emotional effects of exercise, body image, mental health, emotional responses, stress reactivity, interventions.

After living in Scandinavia where people seem to exercise because they don’t know what else to do with free time, why the heck do people exercise?

  1. Improved physiological health/physical fitness
    1. lowered mortality and morbidity.
    2. Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, diabetes
    3. lower blood pressure
    4. helps with weight loss/management
  2. Improved psychological/emotional health
    1. reduces/alleviates depression, stress, anxiety and negative mood
    2. enhances positive mood, self esteem and sleep
    3. improved body image
    4. improves social relationships

There seems to be a bombardment of healthy lifestyles that we should follow – which is not necessarily a bad thing – but 20-50% exercisers drop out within the first six months and there is a gap between people’s intentions and their actual exercise behaviour. We’ve all been there on New Year’s Day with big hopes of the year ahead more often than not fall flat.

A lot of it is down to self-efficacy, which in simple terms is the belief that you can do it! Whatever it may be. Unless you believe you have the ability to do something then you’re unlikely to have the incentive to do it.


We are also influenced by impression motivation, as can be seen on instagram and facebook. Individuals are motivated by the impressions of themselves in others’ minds e.g. I want to be seen as this great vegan cross-fitter. And impression construction is used to facilitate this process by enhancing self-concept; individuals will alter their social image and meet target values e.g. to be seen as super vegan cross-fitter, I will train 4 times a week at the gym and live a vegan life, I’ll post gym selfies. Often on social media you post your highlights, you don’t post the photos of you laying on the sofa with a double chin with food wrappers all round you like a graveyard of shame.

Thirdly, self-presentation is involved because we are motivated to engage in exercise for appearance (social physique anxiety) and social identity. Our choice of exercise is limited by this factor as is the quality of the exercise. We’ve seen the memes that vilify women who wear a full face of make up to the gym as only being there to win a man’s affection rather than actually exercising.

So there you have it… a quick and dirty toe dip into the realm of exercise psychology!

Self-Determination Theory

Is this all there is? A question that has plagued humankind for a long time. Our pursuit of knowledge and growth has ensured that each generation extend themselves further than the previous due to our innate need to grow. The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) holds that we seek to resolve psychological inconsistencies and satisfy needs, therefore interventions focus on facilitation, support, and nurture.

There are three fundamental needs and a good way to really understand them is thinking about the PK//Weber trade:sdt1

  • Autonomy – volition and agency is your actions aka when PK was traded to Nashville, it was not an autonomous decision from him.
  • Competence – the need to feel effective within your environment and experience the optimal exercise of your capabilities e.g. PK is more than a competent player – he’s incredible but I’m biased – however Therrien didn’t feel he had competence in Montreal so bye bye Pernell
  • Relatedness – the need to experience mutually satisfying social relationships… Therrien banned the triple low five between Carey Price and PK Subban because they had an overwhelmingly satisfying social relationship, and it is one he cannot relate to

So there we have our basic needs. But not everybody will seek to have meaningful relationships, be autonomous, or be competent at what they do; and for some it will not be of their own free choice. We all know that going running is great for the body and the mind, but let’s be honest – it is awful. So why do people run? It’s all down to different motivations.


On this spectrum amotivation is a complete lack of intention to engage in a behaviour (definitely me on the running front). External regulation is running because others have pressure me to go and if I don’t go running then I have to cook dinner/I get to run and come home and eat dinner. Introjected regulation is accompanied by a negative emotional tone and an inner conflict because you don’t value the activity but you have a high demand to do it. I must go running or else I will feel guilty about not going. A little further along the scale there is identified regulation whereby you engage in a behaviour because it has personally valued outcomes. I run because it has health benefits and is good for my asthma therefore it’s important that I do (no matter how much I cry). Integrated regulation means the activity fits with your own sense of self, I run because I am a runner. Now this is different to intrinsic motivation where you run just because you love running and love a challenge (very strange). The goal is to shift motivations closer to intrinsic.

You can have all these needs and the desire to achieve them but you need an environment where you can thrive. Think of PK in Montreal. Quality player, good relationships, he was the only player who had his sh*t together last season, the city of Montreal really loved him – they still love him – he gave a lot to charity and got involved with the community. So naturally, you trade this player from his facilitating environment………… Likewise, Shea Weber was very loved in Nashville and served as their captain. Changing environments can be a strange experience, so another part of SDT is to maintain a facilitating environment to nurture the three needs. Conversely, one that is controlling, over-challenging or rejects an individual’s needs will result in defensive behaviours and psychological withdrawal. Take Tyler Seguin who started out alright in Boston, but he was a young guy with the world at his feet on a team where the majority were married and settled down and the management began to restrict him. Send him to Dallas, with an environment that better fits him and what a turn-around in his stats. How do you provide a supportive environment?

  • sdt3Autonomy Support – provision of options, minimise pressure, encourage them to initiate their own actions
  • Structure – Positive feedback, clear and realistic expectations, behaviour-outcome relations are understood by both
  • Involvement  – emotional support, genuine interest, empathy


(If you really want to thwart someone’s needs then be controlling, give unstructured or negative feedback, and alienate them!).


The Needs Assessment – A Sport Psychologists Number One Tool

A psychologist is not a psychic, though people seem to muddle the two, and even believe psychologists can read minds. Unfortunately, we cannot. What we can do is listen to other people speak their minds’ and understand how best to help them. In sport psychology, one of the quickest and more informative ways to do this is by conducting a needs assessment.

A needs assessment is a way of evaluating the psychological demands on individuals or groups. This can be done through observation, information from the client/coaches/others, as well as researching literature or information from sport governing bodies. My favourite method is the performance profile. It’s fairly simple and easy to understand which means it’s great to use with athletes who have little to no knowledge of sport psychology.

It was created by Butler and Hardy (1992) based on Kelly’s (1955) personal construct theory to assess the factors that athletes consider to be important to their own performance.

A blank performance profile

Why is it good?

  • It creates an appreciation for all the aspects involved
  • The athlete takes an active role
  • It increases communication between athlete and therapist
  • It can develop the athlete’s self-awareness and increase their motivation (Weston, Greenlees & Thelwell, 2013).
  • Able to identify weaknesses as well as strengths of their performance, and areas that are resistant to change
  • It can be used in team building practices (Yukelson, 1997).

Using the performance profile

Stage 1 Identify Qualities
Stage 2 Understand Qualities
Stage 3 Ideal Levels
Stage 4 Actual Levels
Stage 5 Calculate Discrepancies
Stage 6 Identify Strongest/Weakest

So just to illustrate it a little more… you meet with your client who is a hockey player. You have a chat and get to know each other then introduce the performance profile. He will identify the qualities important to his game (at this point, you don’t suggest any – this is what they feel is important for now). Then to understand the qualities, discuss them! Communication is key to ensure that you are on the same page about what the quality is. Ask them to rate their ideal level of the qualities, usually a 1-10 scale is used, then their actual levels. It’s important to note that they don’t have to ideally be a 10/10 in everything – sometimes that’s a little unrealistic. Then calculate the discrepancies to identify their strongest and weakest qualities to then figure out where to go from there… ppfillIn this mock up (half of) one, you can see that although goal setting has the lowest actual level, the discrepancy between actual and ideal is only one whereas self-talk has five points difference and stick handling has three. Those two would be the qualities to work on improving, firstly. And actually, those two might work well to combine, for example using positive self-talk when stick handling to encourage and praise.

The performance profile can be adapted with regular sessions and used to monitor progression. When implementing recommendations, it’s important to consider the time frame in which you have to work, is it a couple of weeks to make the improvements or a season-long project? It’s important to consider the facilities and resources available – do they have access to an Olympic standard training room or is it a local gym? Finally, consider the athlete themselves; if they are a student then parents may have an influence on them, they may have school commitments in addition to those set by the coach; if they’re non-professional then they have to balance their sport with work and life commitments.

So there ya’ have it folks. A performance profile is a sport psychologist’s dream come true!

General Sports Rehab I

Athlete rehabilitation can be considered both continual and sequential steps. Rates of progression are not constant and setbacks are common. Rehab provides the opportunity to develop the athlete in areas beyond just the injury as the following steps illustrate:


Diagnosis & Assessment

Acute Injuries – I did this and now it’s broken
Chronic Injuries – Knee has been sore for months and I’m not sure what happened
There is an overlap between the two sometimes e.g. my ankle’s been sore for ages but I hurt it today now it’s broken.

Acute Injury Assessment – mechanism of injury, adequate history, accurate assessment of pathology, structures injured, and the extent/severity of the injury. It can be investigated with history/examination, ultrasound, X-Ray, MRI, CT scan.

Chronic Injury Assessment – pathology, assess cause, history, examination, biomechanical assessment, intrinsic and extrinsic factors.




Benefits of Sports Injuries

Before we begin, I want to clarify that benefits can arise following an injury rather than attempting to injure yourself because it will yield some benefits. (Does that make sense? I’m not sure).  On the whole sports injuries are more likely to be a source of stress (a post will follow later). There are three general phases to an injury: Onset, rehab, and return to sport. Each one has its own distinct issues: The onset can be a very emotional situation e.g. if the ACL is torn and you’re out for the season; rehabilitation is not a straight line, setbacks can be frustrating, and rehab can be long and dull; return to sport is often fraught with anxiety about fitness or re-injury. However, research is beginning to examine possible positive effects of sports injuries. Wadey, Clarke, Podlog, and McCullough (2013) investigated a coach’s perceptions of their athlete following an injury and four areas of growth emerged; physical, psychological, social, and personal.

sports injuries.jpg

Personal growth – This is really to do with your own beliefs and thoughts and is possibly as a result of the other three forms of growth. Following a sports injury, you have plenty of time to think about the sport and yourself – your response to the injury, your abilities – and these may change as the rehabilitation process unfolds.

Social – social networks can become hugely important in the instance of an injury. If anybody has had crutches, you’ll know how frustrating it is to do simple things like carry a cup of tea into the living room. With more severe injuries, like Denna Laing’s recent one, where you’re bed bound for a time then you’ll rely on that social network for help and comfort. When people reflect on that, that they have these people to look to for support, it helps them to realise that they have a great network; this doesn’t have to just be family and friends, it can be the club too. However, it’s important to recognise that some people may not have strong social support, so this may hit home that the athlete is quite isolated.

Bayern Munich players display the shirt of injured teammate Holger Badstuber

Psychological – The long layoff from sport provides the opportunity to develop psychological skills, particularly if the athlete is unable to engage in physical exercises. I worked with an golfer recovering from double hip surgery who wanted to improve imagery skills, which we used to enhance the rehabilitation exercises, as well for him to apply once back on the golf course. Mental toughness/hardiness and goal setting are good areas to improve during rehab and can encourage the process e.g. completing the rehab exercises morning and night for a week and recording this in a diary along with some reflective practice.

Physical – Come back stronger. It’s a phrase often associated with injuries, and with good physiotherapy and rehabilitation it can be done. Physiotherapy seeks to strengthen the injured area and often the whole athlete too; muscles don’t work in isolation. For a torn ACL, you don’t just focus on the knee, attention is paid to the hamstring and quadriceps muscles of both legs, or you could examine the gait to see if that can be improved to prevent injuries. A rugby player has dislocated their shoulder and can’t use it? Great, we can focus on strengthening the leg muscles.

Why does it matter? Injuries are often a source of worry, so if trainers can put a positive spin on it then it may enhance rehabilitation outcomes and motive the athlete.