Athlete’s personality is a strong influencer on the performance efficiency. Based on the personality, athlete’s approach can differ towards the whole training process and the outcomes of it, the performance.
Personality is a strong foundation for the athlete’s development and managing thoughts, emotions and behavior in general. As such, it determines the athlete’s levels and types of motivation, self confidence, perception and attitude as well as many other psychological components of the athletic performance. Knowing the athlete’s personality can help us understanding how do the athletes feel, think and why do they behave the way they do during the training process and at competitive level. This can be a step towards the very successful training process as in this way an athlete can be helped to reach the optimal levels of self confidence, self awareness and self determination.
Understanding the athlete’s personality gives a chance to the coach to create a type of training process with which athlete can identify and to accomplish set of goals that are compatible with the athlete’s perception of success. Although personality is very much individual component of the athlete’s psychological profile, it shouldn’t be monitored isolated from the social context and influence of the athletic environment.
Personality traits that are the most relevant for the successful training process and performance in general are: self esteem, perfectionism, fear of failure and need to control.
Self esteem is an image athletes have about themselves, how do they perceive themselves and their place in their environment. Their actions and decisions can be largely influenced by the desire to see themselves worthy of the environment they function. As by that, the positive image will give them a boost of confidence but on the other hand, athletes with the negative image need help from the coaches or sport psychologists to reverse their mental state into positive as the negative self esteem can be a risk factor for developing the depressed psychological state and aggression. Maslow (1968) regarded that the pursuit for the self esteem can be one of the most powerful drives in creating emotions, feelings, thoughts and behaviors and by that he defined it as the basic human need.
Self esteem assesments: The athletes that are more vulnerable towards the distractions, their level of motivation for the participation and improvement will drop drastically. One of the most widely used instrument to measure the levels of self esteem is the RSES (Rosenberg General Self Esteem Scale, 1965). Although this scale is constructed for the general population, it’s often used in the sports environment to assess the levels of overall self esteem in athletes.
Perfectionists are athletes that create high performance goals that can be sometimes unrealistic. Having unreachable goals and failing to accomplish those goals, athletes tend to devalue themselves and their abilities.
Different sources of perfectionism can influence the athlete’s behavior and performance in a different way. Socially perfectionism emerge not from an internally desire to be truly best but from the fear of environment, as a fear of failure and a desire to avoid embarrassment, shame or guilt. On the other hand, self-oriented perfectionists may use their pleasure in their accomplishments as encouragement to continue and constantly improve their work.
Although sounds positive, any type of perfectionism can lead to the emotional exhaustion due to the constant mental and physical effort to achieve somehow unreachable goals. The challenge of working with the perfectionist athletes is to embrace and encourage the self oriented patterns and to reduce and control the perfectionistic patterns of behavior that comes from the environment. Athletes with the unhealthy perfectionism approach to their failures with the high dose of self criticism and self devaluation, and if not properly managed this can lead to frustration and depression. High perfectionist state is very much interconnected with the feelings of self esteem and fear of failure.
Perfectionists assessment: Most used assessment tool to measure perfectionism is the MPS (Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, Hewitt and Flatt 1991), measuring three dimensions of perfectionism: self oriented, other oriented and socially prescribed. MPS create a profile of the athletes based on the motivational and cognitive sources of their behaviors in the training and competition phase. The athletes that are high in scores in the self oriented dimension, have their actions driven towards the unrealistic high expectations (self determined) without developing feelings of satisfaction through the process. Athletes high in scores in the other related dimension have a unrealistic high expectations from the others included in their process to be driven the same way as they are towards their self determined goals. Athletes high in scores in socially prescribed dimension are striving to be presented as perfect as possible to the environment, often feeling rejected and devaluated if they fail.
Fear of failure is based on the concept of unwanted consequences of the performance failure or errors. Usually, the consequences are the negative reactions and criticism from the environment or the athlete itself. The essence of managing the failure is understanding what is the perception of the failure and if the perception differs between the athletes and the environment. Establishing strong guidelines what the future failure truly will be, can create an atmosphere of the efficient team work between the athlete and the supporting environment. The feeling of failure increases the chance that in the future athlete will feel as a failure, as the negative thoughts would create the negative emotions and behaviors. The consequence of the accumulation of negative feelings is the psychological stress that can lead to the burnout and quitting the process as the athlete is backing off and hesitates to accept changes that could improve the performance.
Fear of failure assessment: Instrument mostly used to measure the fear of failure is the multidimensional Performance Failure Appraisal Inventory (PFAI, Conroy et al., 2002). The inventory consists of 25 items that can identify five negative consequences of the failure: experience of shame, devalued self esteem, being uncertain about the future, loss of interest by the other important people and upsetting the other important people.
Need to control comes from the athletes belief that gaining more control over environment lowers down the levels of instability and risk, which are the feelings needed for the general well being, healthy and productive environment and successful performance. Usually, feelings of losing the control are leading to the lower levels of self esteem and higher levels of anxiety and these psychological conditions do make an athlete physically vulnerable and eventually pain and injury. The perception of complete control in athlete has an influence on many psychological parameters such are motivation, self confidence, arousal levels, concentration, emotions and the rate of recovery from the failures. These parameters are drivers to the successful training process as they are highly influential to the levels of self confidence and trust to overcome the challenges, to understand how to overcome the pressure of the competition, and to respond in positive and acceptable manner to the potential failures along the whole process of training and competition.
Need to control assessment: The instrument most widely used to measure and understand the need for the control is a Desirability of Control Scale (DCS), developed by Burger and Cooper (1979). Although the high scores on the scale do lead to the more positive reactions and outcomes, the researches have shown that the lower scores lead to mental and physical well being, low burnout rates and general satisfaction.