Going for Gold: Athletic Performance and Personality Type
When we think of athleticism, physicality is the first quality that typically comes to mind – strength, speed, endurance – but physical gifts alone are never enough to achieve greatness in any sport. Analyzing an opponent’s weaknesses, remaining calm under pressure, possessing the willpower to follow a grueling training regimen, and many other skills come from within, shaping differences of character that go beyond simple metrics like muscle mass.
Does athletic ability have anything to do with personality type? To find out, we asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “You tend to do well in active, physical sports.”
Which personalities believe they have the greatest athletic talent? The results may surprise you. Let’s take a look.
While there was a marked disparity between Extraverts and Introverts (64% vs. 42% agreeing, respectively), and between Assertive and Turbulent personality types (64% vs. 46%), very little difference could be observed among the other traits. Analysts agreed that they do well in active, physical sports at a rate of 55%, Sentinels at 54%, and Diplomats and Explorers at 53% each. As such, Roles appeared to have a negligible impact on how talented respondents believed themselves to be at physically demanding sports, as compared to Strategies, which we discuss in detail below.
People Mastery (71% agreeing)
The same abilities that allow the Extraverted, Assertive types belonging to the People Mastery Strategy to easily dominate a room by sheer force of personality may make them well suited to dominate on the field as well. Whereas more Introverted types may be distracted by an unfamiliar opponent – much less a team of them, or a crowd of screaming fans – these Extraverts thrive in the presence of others. They’re constantly trying to figure out what makes other people tick, a compulsion that can be a major advantage for analyzing opponents’ strengths and weaknesses and adapting strategies for defeating them.
Moreover, while confidence alone can’t transform a novice into an expert, without it, even the most well-practiced plays can go awry. Therefore, People Masters – who tend to have an unbridled belief in their own powers – may be more likely to overlook their own mistakes and focus on their victories, giving them a clarity of mind even in high-pressure situations, such as when the last seconds of a tied game are ticking down to zero.
Serena Williams, one of the most dominant women’s tennis players (and female athletes) of all time and an Entertainer personality type, exemplified such single-minded focus and confidence when she said, “There’s one thing I’m really good at, and that’s hitting the ball over a net, in a box. I’m excellent.” Assertive Entertainers (ESFP-A) (67% agreeing) embody another aspect of sports: showmanship. The energy that these People Masters derive from putting on an outstanding performance further fuels their victories.
Of all the personality types, Assertive Executives (ESTJ-A) were the most likely to agree with the statement, “You tend to do well in active, physical sports” (76%). Executives are at their best when in pursuit of clear goals with set guidelines, and the same drive that often propels them to the upper echelons of the business world may serve them just as well in athletics. In team sports, Executives make effective leaders, although their absolute, unwavering commitment can be intimidating to teammates with a less tenacious approach.
Social Engagement (58%)
Whether team events or head-to-head competitions, sports are fundamentally a social undertaking as much as a physical one, which may give the Extraverted members of the Social Engagement Strategy an edge over their more Introverted peers. Success-driven and willing to work hard, Social Engagers are natural high achievers. As Turbulent personality types, however, they may find that the same fears of looking foolish that plague them in other social settings also arise during play. Such wavering self-confidence could even create a self-fulfilling prophecy, when, for instance, the image of dropping the ball looms so large in their heads that it forces its way into reality.
That may be particularly true of Turbulent Entertainers (ESFP-T), who were the Social Engagers least likely to agree with our research statement (53%). Given how much importance Entertainer personalities place on their own performance and ability to entertain others, it makes sense that the Turbulent variants were significantly less confident about how well they do in physical sports, agreeing at a rate 14% lower than their Assertive, People Master counterparts. Turbulent Commanders (ENTJ-T), on the other hand, were the Social Engagers most confident in their athletic abilities (65%). Driven to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, Commanders are natural competitors in all areas of their lives, including athletics.
Confident Individualism (53%)
Assertive but Introverted, personality types who follow the Confident Individualism Strategy often have faith in their own athleticism, but they may shy away from exercising it publicly. Generally preferring to do things alone, Confident Individualists may choose solo pursuits like running or cycling over competitive, team-based sports. They know what they’re good at, and they enjoy the opportunity to compete with themselves and hone their own abilities.
Assertive Virtuosos (ISTP-A) were the Confident Individualists most likely to agree that they do well in active, physical sports (59%). Versatile individuals who love to get hands-on experience and master as many skills as they can, these personality types have the confidence to foray into a variety of different sports. Michael Jordan, the legendary basketball player – who also tried his hand at minor league baseball – is an excellent example of an athletically dominant Virtuoso.
Constant Improvement (37%)
Ironically, although the Introverted, Turbulent personalities who comprise the Constant Improvement Strategy may be the most likely to spend extra hours in the gym and on the field training for a big game, their unrelenting perfectionism may have a deleterious effect on their actual performance when the day of reckoning finally arrives. Always thinking of how they can be better and rarely accepting how much they have grown, the self-doubt of Constant Improvers may cause them to “choke” at the most inopportune moments. These anxieties may cause many Constant Improvers to test themselves in more private situations, where their failures will at least not have an audience to exacerbate their insecurities.
Turbulent Defenders (ISFJ-T) were the least likely of all personality types to feel that they excel at sports (33%). While Defenders may enjoy the camaraderie that comes with team sports and work well in supporting roles, as conflict-averse types, they’re less comfortable with the highly competitive aspects of athleticism. For Defenders, the agony of defeat – even when it’s experienced by the opposing side – may prove too brutal for them to savor the joy of winning.
Sports are as much a social activity as a physical one. As such, the same personality traits that make social situations a breeze, rather than a chore, may also be the ones most conducive to athletic success.
Extraverts, for instance, may feel energized by the roar of a crowd or the shouts of their fellow teammates, even as Introverts become progressively drained by the noise of other people around them. By the same token, Assertive types may take glory in victory and accept defeat with aplomb, while their Turbulent counterparts dread losing so greatly that it interferes with their chances of winning.
When it comes to sports, are you a natural or a flop? Do you see your personality playing a role? Let us know in the comments!