By Adam Stanners


Personality: Personality is a combination of the qualities and attitudes of a person.

Within sport there is no such thing as a universal athletic personality. However, there are noticeable differences between non-athletes, athletes and athletes in different sports. In comparison to non -athletes the athletes who participate in team sports or more extroverted and athletes that perform in individual sports are more introverted than non-athletes. This suggests that there is a broad spectrum of personality types within the sporting world.

Originally it was believed that successful athletes showed lower levels of fatigue, confusion, anger and depression that non-elite athletes. Other research has suggested that personality accounts for less than 1% of performance variations. This is because psychological theories don't take into account a players ability, only there personality.

Within personality there are two different types, type A and type B. Type A personalities tend to be more outgoing and extroverted and tend to have a lot of ambition with a strong desire to overcome every challenge. Cristiano Ronaldo is a strong example of a type A personality because of his attitude towards hard work and ambition to be the best football player in the world. On the other hand type B personalities are more laid back and emotionally expressive, this can cause them to be hard to motivate in comparison to a type A personality who can experience higher levels of anxiety which can be channelled into motivation on the pitch.

The impact being a type A personality can have on a sporting performance is that usually the player will give there all to win and will never stop, but if the team is losing they can become aggressive towards fellow team mates and incredibly frustrated which can lead to them doing something exceptional like score a goal or the opposite by getting sent off. Type B personalities on the other hand aren't affected as much by the teams performance and because they don't experience high levels of anxiety they may be more useful than a type A personality in a penalty shoot out because they are more calm and composed under pressure.

Personality Theories

In the world of psychology there is a vast amount of theories, old and recent. The first theory we will talk about is Marten's schematic view.

Martens schematic view

Martens schematic view says that peoples personalities have three different levels. These levels are the psychological core, typical responses and role-related behaviour. The psychological core is who you are as a person, it is made up of your values, attitudes, interests and beliefs. These qualities are known to be stable as they don't really change throughout a persons life.

The typical responses aspect of the personality are ways that a person responds to the world around them or the different situations they may experience. An example of this could be responding angrily in basketball if someone intentionally fouls you, this could make you angry because you are worried about getting injured but around people in a nonsporting environment you might be very quiet and shy.

Role-related behaviour is said to be determined by the circumstances the person is in. This aspect is the most adaptive as it can change depending on the persons perceptions of the situation. This can be shown by being a the boss and lead decision maker in a job but then being just a team member on a sports team.

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Psychodynamic theory

The psychodynamic approach to personality says that personality consists of conscious and unconscious sections. The first segment of the personality is known as the 'ID' which stands for instinctive drive. This is the unconscious part of the personality and makes you complete things without thinking. This can be linked to a footballer preparing to take a penalty and the pressure causes them to automatically feel anxious and freeze up.

The next two parts of the personality are the ego and superego which both make up the personalities conscious area. The ego is the reality principle which decides if and when impulses will be satisfied while the superego is the personalities moral guidance which works as the personalities conscience. The ego works as the reality principle, this states that the gratification of impulses should be delayed in order to accommodate the demands o the real world. This is the logical and rational part of the brain, and the egos role is to prevent the ID from enabling impulses in socially inappropriate ways.

Finally the superego is the moral component of the personality, it is responsible for the social and morally acceptable standards that are taught to a person by their parents and society. The superego is what controls the ego and stops it from trying to break out of the rules of morality and the acceptable standards of society. This is why people feel guilty when they commit bad deeds in sport such as intentionally fouling someone or diving for a penalty in football.

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Trait-centred theory

The trait theory suggests that individuals have characteristics that partly determine how they shall behave. Traits are known as consistent aspects of personality, theorists known as Eysenck and Cattell argued that traits were inherited. This theory states that there are two dimensions to the personality, the stable-neurotic dimension and the introvert-extrovert dimension.

Introverted personality types are individuals who avoid excitement and would rather be in more relaxed environments. They are more in there element completing tasks that require concentration and dislike unexpected behaviour. Extroverted personality types are essentially the polar opposites of introverts due to their thrill seeking and struggles with tasks that require long periods of concentration. Extroverts are said to be greater at sporting competitions than introverted athletes because they aren't affected by the competitive nature and distracting pressure that can be present in sports events such as playing in front of a large crowd.

Partnering these personality types are stable and neurotic, athletes can be a mixture of either ranging from a stable extrovert to a neurotic introvert. The stable personality types are more easy-going and even tempered meaning they will be less likely to make rash decisions such as fouling an opponent when under pressure. Neurotic personality types on the other hand are known as being unstable and have higher tendencies to become anxious in a sporting situation which could lead to them crumbling under the pressure of a sporting environment. From this theory you could argue the greatest type of athlete is a stable extrovert with their abilities to cope with the pressure of competition easier than a neurotic introvert. Although it can also be argued this theory is too simplistic and personality alone can not be used as a predictor for a player or teams success.

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Situational-centred View

The situational view in psychology argues that behaviour of a person or an athlete is depending on the environment or situation. This view argues that situation holds more of an influence than traits in any situation. This theory states that even though an athlete may be introverted and very quiet naturally, this can change in a sporting environment with the athlete becoming loud and more aggressive because the sport requires them to adopt that type of personality. This can occur with an introvert playing a team sport such as rugby which can require a lot of aggression and a forceful nature. In an opposite nature a loud extroverted athlete may have to adopt a calm and quiet approach to a sport such as snooker.

Interactional View

The interactional view is a happy medium between both the trait and situational based theories. This theory argues that the personality traits of an athlete may link in to the situation if it is the correct intensity to affect behaviour. This view is better at predicting what an athlete may do in a high pressure situation such as a penalty shoot out. For example an introverted player might commit an outlandish celebration if they score the winning penalty.

The effect personality has on sporting performance

The effect personality has on sporting performance can't be proved but can only be based on suggestions as there is a vast range of theories which all argue against each other. There is also little evidence that can be provided to prove these theories but they can be used to make rough predictions on how an athlete may compete. For an example the type A and type B theory can be applied to predict who will be the more effective player. If you have two players who play left wing on a football team, one type A and one type B with the same ability.

The type A personality player would be a more useful asset as they have qualities such as a "strong urge for competition, a high desire to achieve goals and experience higher levels of anxiety"(Sport and Exercise Sciences) this strong urge for competition and higher levels of anxiety can be a benefit for a footballer as it is a high intensity game. These higher levels of anxiety could be used to motivate the athlete and used as a drive rather than a hindrance.

Furthermore athletes have heightened personality aspects in comparison to non-athletes. Although non-athletes might be somewhere on the introvert or extrovert scale drive them on in a game situation. This shows that the use of personality theories when analysing players can be a strength for coaches and managers. they won't be as extroverted or introverted as the athlete. This be used to justify why an athlete with the correct personality type is more successful in these sports than a non-athlete. This is means it is hard to make general assumptions of the comparison between non-athletes and athletes as the personality spectrum is far too broad "To study the differences between athletes and non-athletes, you should consider the sports the athletes play before reaching meaningful conclusions" (Sport and Exercise Sciences) this backs up my point that athletes personalities are varied depending on the sport they play. Psychological toughness can also play a key part in the difference between an elite athlete and a non-elite athlete, as it has been said elite athletes aren't just technically superior but mentally also with greater amounts of concentration and higher ability to deal with pressure, this can by a study Jim Golby and Michael sheard conducted on rugby players in different divisions "Findings demonstrated that performers playing at the highest standard (International players) scored significantly higher in all three hardiness subscales (commitment, control and challenge) and in two of the seven mental toughness subscales (negative energy control and attention control)." (Mental toughness and hardiness at different levels of rugby league) this backs up the statement that elite athletes are stronger psychologically than non-elite or lower division athletes as they are better and coping with the commitment and challenge of the sport.

The trait centred views of personalities suggest that the best athlete for a team sport will be a stable extrovert because they have traits such as being stable, lively, outgoing and a leader. These traits would benefit an athlete in comparison to being a unstable introvert who's personality contains traits such as being quiet, rigid and a pessimist. Introverted athletes can be useful in a team environment but because they don't communicate due to not being outgoing they are said to fade out of games and their performances may go unnoticed. Also a study by Daniel J.Garland and John R.Barry highlighted the positive performances of extroverted athletes in an American football environment "It was found that the personality traits extroversion, emotional stability, tough-mindedness, and group-dependence, along with the perceived leader behaviours of training and instruction, democratic behaviour, autocratic behaviour, social support, and rewarding behaviour, were predictive of performance in collegiate football" (Personality and leader behaviours in collegiate football: A multidimensional approach to performance) this study shows that extroverted players stood out more and had better performances in the college football.


Motivation can be defined as a combination of drives within us to achieve our goals and the outside factors which affect it. Motivation is said to have two different forms; intrinsic and extrinsic.


Intrinsic motivation is when somebody is taking part in a sporting event without any external reward such as trophies or money. This means their primary motivation can be as simple as a sense of achievement or stimulation such as an adrenaline rush. Intrinsic motivation can be broken down to simply being an athletes participation in sport for enjoyment. If a person says they play sport 'for enjoyment' or 'because it makes them feel good' they are motivated intrinsically.

Intrinsic motivation contains three key parts knowledge, stimulation and accomplishments.

The knowledge based motivation is when an athlete wants to know more about techniques or skills and wishes to learn more about them to improve their own performance.

The second form of intrinsic motivation is stimulation, where an athlete is simply seeking the 'adrenaline rush' produced from playing under pressure.

The final form of intrinsic motivation is accomplishments, this is when an athlete wants to increase their quality of performance so they can feel a sense of accomplishment.


Extrinsic motivation is when someone is driven by external rewards which are either physical or non-physical. The physical rewards can consist of things like medals and money while non-physical rewards are things such as praise and encouragement from a coach or fans. For extrinsic motivation to be effective, the athlete must be correctly. If the athlete is given extrinsic rewards too frequently they will be less effective at motivating the athlete. A top quality coach will be able to understand what motivates their players and how to use them to motivate them effectively.

Motivational Theories

Need Achievement Motivation Theory

The achievement motivation theory was created by a psychologist named Atkinson in 1964, his theory argues that the motivation for each individual is different and unique. He also states in his theory that motivation is what makes an athlete carry on going, even if there are obstacles in their way or if they have failed. Atkinson separated athletes into two groups; need to achieve (nach) and need to avoid failure (naf). Following from this he declared that athletes have aspects of both 'nach' and 'naf', but these different levels of motivation is what makes somebodies achievement motivation.

Need to achieve: Need to achieve is an athletes motivation to be a success and motivation to do their very best and not settle for second best. This can be seen in a team sport situation also with a small team like Blackburn Rovers coming up against Manchester United in an FA cup game. Blackburn would have a high need to achieve for motivation because they aren't expected to get anything from the match anyway, which can result in them actually succeeding at beating Manchester United.

Atkinson also stated that people with high levels of nach will have characteristics such as:

  • Accept challenges
  • Be persistent in tasks
  • Be quick and efficient
  • Take risks
  • Welcome feedback
  • Take personal responsibility for actions
  • Try harder if they fail

Need to avoid failure: This is an athletes motivation through fear of failing, the same teams used in the previous example can be applied to this again. Manchester United would have a high level of need to avoid failure as they are the favourites so anything but a win against Blackburn Rovers wouldn't be good enough. This need to avoid failure can make players hesitant and can actually have a detrimental effect to performance as players worry more about conceding than actually trying to score themselves.

Atkinson stated that personalities with high levels of need to avoid failure would have these characteristics:

  • Avoid responsibility
  • Take an easy option
  • Give up after failure
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Atkinson also stated that an athlete with a 'high need to achieve' and a 'low need to avoid failure' would be the most effective and motivated in a sporting situation.

Attribution theory

Attribution theory is how an athlete perceives their successes or failures, this theory can be used as a way of assessing an athletes actions and motivations. An example of this can be a coach asking his team why they lost in a game, the answers and excuses will most likely be a variety ranging from the referee was awful, the other team were better or one player may accuse others of giving up after the first goal was conceded. The answers players provide can be a good understanding of their self confidence and their relationship with other team mates.

The reasons for successes and failures can also be split into three different categories, these categories are stability, causality and control.

Stability: Stability is when an athlete argues that this is a permanent problem or not.

An example of a stable response from players that have won are 'We were better than our opposition' or unstable 'We were lucky today'. The opposite of these answers can also be seen in a losing example by changing the it from 'We' to 'They'.

Causality: Causality is when an athlete tries to justify there actions with reason , this can be split into internal or external, an internal answer is when a player puts the praise or blame on himself by saying 'I tried my best to beat him' or saying 'The opposition were easy to beat' this can also be seen in losing answers too where the player or team will blame themselves by saying 'I didn't try my hardest' or externally by arguing that the opposition was 'Impossible to defeat'.

Control: Controlled attribution is when an athlete argues their reasons for succeeding or failing are under or out of their control. An athlete who is and believes they are in control of why they are a success will state that they trained very hard to get where they are. If an athlete isn't very confident or they are modest they might say that the opposition wasn't as fit as they were which would be a winning example of something not under an athletes control.

Achievement goal theory

The achievement goal theory states that players can be motivated in different ways such as task-orientated goals or ego orientated goals. The task orientated goals have been linked to intrinsically motivated players who desire personal improvement and developing skills, an example of this is a player in a training session practicing more and solely focusing on what they are doing to improve and get better at a skill without caring on how other team mates do.

Extrinsically motivated players, on the other hand are more inclined to be motivated by ego-orientated goals because they want to be better than somebody else, this can make them desire to score the most goals or simply win other a rival opposition.

Whether a player chooses a task or ego goal in a situation is related to two things: the individual and their environment. Many individuals naturally lean towards ego or task orientated goals and a manager who understands their players can use these goals to keep their players motivated which will help maintain a high standard of performance consistently.

Motivational climate

A motivation climate is an environment created by a coach or club as a whole. There are two main types of motivational climate; task orientated and ego orientated. The task orientated is when players know that success is defined in terms of effort and improvement, players will have some choice in training activities, new strategies in game are encouraged and mistakes are seen as part of learning. This climate has been linked with positive feelings of motivation and enjoyment.

The ego orientated climate is otherwise known as the performance climate, this is where interpersonal comparison between athletes is encouraged, being a success is defined by how good you are compared to your team mates and not about the best you can get from yourself. This climate has been linked with players worrying about mistakes and the coach focusing on their best athletes, also this climate creates negative feelings, low enjoyment and higher anxiety in athletes which can badly effect performance.

These theories can all be combined and used to try and understand an athlete or a group of them, although because of individual difference a coach must take care and use variety in the way communicate with their players, as what motivates some players may destroy others confidence. Also keeping players motivated is a key part of performance as an athlete who isn't motivated will always be beaten by one who is.


Aggression is behaviour that involves the goal of harming or injuring another person who's goal is to avoid being harmed. This can be a player going in for a late challenge with the intent of doing damage to the opposition in a football match. Aggression can be caused by many things within a match such as being fouled, referee decisions not going the teams way and if they are putting in a bad performance which can lead to frustration and or aggression.

The psychologist Gill devised a criteria for aggressive behaviour in the 1980s. The criteria consists of four points.

  1. It is a form of either physical or verbal behaviour.
  2. It involves causing harm or injury as aggression is created to cause physical or psychological harm.
  3. The injury or harm must be directed towards another person.
  4. The aggression must be intentional: an accident will not be classed as aggression.

This means behaviour such as a tennis player being angry and smashing up their racket, would not be defined as aggressive behaviour because it is not directed at another human being.

In psychology there is said to be two types of aggression instrumental and hostile, then there is being assertive.

Instrumental - this is displaying aggressive behaviour in the pursuit of a non-aggressive goal, this is sometimes referred to as channelled aggression. The majority of aggression in sport falls into this category. Instrumental aggression regularly occurs in contact sports such as rugby. Instrumental aggression can be seen as strategic in rugby, as a player will make an intentionally tough tackle to injure an opposing player or to discourage them from running with the ball as this might increase their chances of winning.

Hostile - this is when a player intentionally inflicts harm physically or psychologically in an opposing player, this aggression can often be accompanied by anger. An example of this can be a player intentionally two footing someone in football to try and break their legs, like Roy Keane.

Assertive - This behaviour is unique compared to the hostile and instrumental aggression as it is playing with an emotional state within the rules of the game. Assertive behaviour also has four main criteria:

  1. Must be goal directed.
  2. It mustn't intend to injure or harm.
  3. It must use only legitimate force, even if this force could be classed as aggression in a non-sporting or game setting.
  4. It doesn't break any rules of the game.

An example of this is a rugby player putting a large amount of force into a tackle just to intimidate the opposition without breaking any rules.

Roy Keane Ends Håland's Career In Manchester Derby

Aggression Theories

Instinct theory

The instinct theory suggests that we have a natural instinct to be aggressive that builds up until we can release the aggression in some way. This aggression can be released upon other beings or released in socially acceptable means like contact sports such as rugby or American football. This release is known as catharsis, this release has two bits of criteria, it must be done in a safe manner and it will reduce the athlete to a calmer state. This theory also suggests that after 'catharsis' the athlete will be the calmest and least aggressive off the pitch or field.

Frustration-aggression theory

The frustration-aggression theory says that aggression comes from a person not being frustrated by not achieving their goals or having progress towards them being blocked. Psychologists found it easy to link frustration as aggression because more often than not they go hand in hand. Although this theory suggests that frustration will always result in aggression. This theory split many psychologists opinions as it can be seen in sports such as rugby aggressive behaviour such as strong tackles aren't necessarily due to frustration. This meant that a revised version of the theory was created.

Revised frustration-aggression theory

The revised frustration-aggression theory combines elements of the social learning theory and the frustration-aggression theory by suggesting that aggression occurs in situations where you become frustrated, as when you are frustrated you experience anger and arousal. Also if you are unable to control these theories of arousal and anger you are more likely to become aggressive. This theory states that the chance of becoming aggressive increases if these aggressive acts are justified or supported.

Social Learning theory

Bandura's social learning theory suggests that aggression is a behaviour that can be learned by observing the interactions and reactions of others to aggressive behaviour. If a child is watching a football match with their parents and a player fouls or attacks another player and the parents cheer this behaviour, the child will find this behaviour acceptable and is likely to imitate this in a game situation.

From these theories you can understand that aggression definitely has a place in sport, but if a player is too aggressive this behaviour is punishable and can be detrimental to a teams performance and chances of winning. This is why a healthy balance is required because a team that lacks aggression will be dominated by a team that has more.


  • Daniel J. Garland, John R. Barry. (1990). Personality and leader behaviours in collegiate football: A multidimensional approach to performance . Journal of Research in Personality. 24 (1), p355-370.
  • Jim Golby, Michael Sheard. (2004). Mental toughness and hardiness at different levels of rugby league. Personality and Individual Differences. 37 (1), p933-942.
  • Mark Adams et al. (2010). Sport and Exercise Sciences Level 3. England: Pearson Education Limited. p62-63.