by Shannon Fleming
Most of us at one point or another have played or participated in a sport, whether it is volleyball, tennis, karate or pole-vaulting. Have you ever sat back and wondered why you chose that particular sport to play besides the simple fact that you love participating in it? Recent studies have shown that the complex of multiple personality traits that composes each individual may be a significant factor in which sport you prefer to play. Traits can be described as people’s characteristic behaviors and conscious motives. The broadest category of personality traits involves extraversion and introversion. People reflecting traits of extraversion tend to be excitable, outgoing, lively, sociable and impulsive. They love the lime-light, work well in groups, and tend to dislike being alone for long periods of time. People reflecting traits of introversion tend to be reserved, reclusive, thoughtful, calm, and rational. They are more interested in their own mental self, work better alone, and are controlled in social situations, preferring closer, more personal relationship. Although traits of introversion and extroversion are reflective of personality, that doesn’t mean that everyone is classified as one or the other, many people have traits associated with both extraversion and introversion (Myers, 2007).
In a study done by Urska Dobersek and Cart Bartling (2007), athletes from four different sports, three individual sports and one team sport, and non-athletes were given standard personality tests including the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire which measured emotionality and tough-mindedness and the Global 5 survey, which measured extraversion, introversion, emotional stability, orderliness, accommodations and intellect. Each subject’s personality traits were viewed in association with the sport they preferred and conclusions were drawn between personality traits and were linked to the type of sport preferred. The study showed significant differences in individuals who played team sports, like volleyball, and people who played individual sports, like tennis, track and golf. Participants on the volleyball team, a team sport, tended to display more traits associated with introversion such as being reliable and thoughtful. Learning to cooperate with other players and sharing the recognition for a win with other people tend to require being less bold and outgoing, and instead, being calmer, rational, and aware of surroundings. Participants of individual sports, where the pressure is all on you to perform reflected traits of extraversion such as being outgoing, energetic, spontaneous and to some extent egotistical.
These findings were interesting because many researchers and scientists would say the opposite is true. Many would agree that individual sports athletes would show traits of introversion versus team sports participants who would display traits of extraversion. They argue this view because individual sports require a high level of thinking and being aware of self, which are characteristic traits of introversion, and team sports require sociability, and therefore openness, skills which are characteristic traits of extroversion. In a study using the Eysenck Personality Inventory done by Eagleton and his colleagues (2007), the researchers studied 90 undergraduate team sport participants, individual sport participants and nonparticipants. They found that team sport participants scored higher on traits associated with extraversion, like liveliness, responsiveness and being outgoing, compared to individual sport participants and nonparticipants, who displayed traits of introversion, such as being reserved, passive and controlled.
The book “Sport Psychology,” by Matt Jarvis (1999), he upholds this view that team sport players are more extroverted than individual sport players who exert telic dominance, a motivational mode where individuals become cautious and serious-minded and form well thought out plans which are characteristics of introverts. A study does by Schurr and her colleagues (1997, cited in Jarvis, 1999) studied team and individual sport athletes versus non-athletes. It revealed that team players were more anxious, aggressive and excitable, all traits of extraversion, as compared to individual sports athletes, who were more submissive and controlled. The book “Angles on Applied Psychology,” by Julia Russell (2003), also agrees with this theory. Her book mentions one study (Francis et al, 1998) that compared the personalities of Irish female students who participated on the university hockey club to students who were on the tennis team using the Eysenck personality Questionnaire. Participants on the hockey team reflected more traits of extroversion than did the participants on the tennis team.
These studies reveal some of the difficulties in predicting behaviors based on personality traits. There is no one perfect personality mold that fits each individual sport, but it is possible that research on links between personality traits and sport preference in the future could reveal the secret as to why one person chooses soccer over badminton and possibly determine success rates of individuals in certain sports.
Dobersek, U., Bartling, C. (2008). Connection Between Personality Type and Sport. American Journal of Psychological Research, Volume 4 (Issue 1), 21-28.
Eagleton et al. (2007). Extraversion and neuroticism in team sport participants, individual sport participants, and nonparticipants. Perpetual and Motor Skills, Volume 105 (Issue 1), 265-275.
Jarvis, M. (1999). Sport Psychology. Great Britain: Routledge.
Myers, D. (2007). Psychology: Eighth Edition in Modules. New York: Worth Publishers.
Russell, J. (2003). Angles on Applied Psychology. New York: Nelson Thornes.