Personnel Selection In Athletic Programs Personnel Selection in Athletic Programs ABSTRACT Whether it be at a collegiate or professional level, organizations have been faced with public pressure to be successful. The selection of appropriate personnel is one means for doing this. Although coaches are experts in identifying the physical characteristics needed for success in their field; they lack the skills necessary to asses the psychological factors that have been proven to have a significant impact on athletic performance. The identification, quantification and implementation of these psychological attributes in selection decisions can therefore have a significant impact on a program’s success. This paper reviews the factors that have been associated with athletic success, measures of these factors, and use of these factors in making selection decisions. Introduction Over the course of the past twenty years an increasing amount of attention has been devoted to the field of athletics.
Whether it be at a collegiate or professional level, organizations have been faced with public pressure to be successful. As a result, athletic directors and general managers have been faced with the question of how to improve their teams’ success. One obvious way of doing this is to select qualified personnel for the tasks at hand. The method by which athletes are selected for a team can have a significant impact on that team’s success. In the past, decisions have been made based largely on judgments of an individual’s physical characteristics with little attention given to the psychological factors that contribute to athletic success.
Coaches are experts in identifying the physical characteristics needed for success in their field; however, they lack the skills necessary to asses the psychological factors that have been proven to have a significant impact on athletic performance. Coaches have relied on informal judgments of constructs such as an athlete’s motivation and level of aggression to determine their potential to succeed. Everyone has heard stories of athletes that were told they lacked the physical skill to perform but due to the psychological resources of drive and determination, these individuals have overcome their physical limitations and gone on to be highly productive individuals. The identification, quantification and implementation of these psychological attributes in selection decisions can therefore have a significant impact on a program’s success. This paper will review the factors that have been associated with athletic success, measures of these factors, and use of these factors in making selection decisions.
For the most part, athletes can be characterized as being psychologically sound, effectively functioning people. However, some studies have shown that athletes have a tendency to be less anxious, more independent and aggressive, more extroverted, and more achievement oriented then the population in general (Peterson, Weber & Trousdale, 1967). A large proportion of the research that has been conducted in the field of sport psychology has been descriptive and is therefore well suited for the identification of the psychological skills necessary for success. Descriptive information involves comparisons of highly skilled athletes with lesser-skilled athletes for the purpose of identifying differences. This information is useful in the hypothesis generation phase of selection programs. By identifying the presence of certain characteristics that are uniquely associated with the success of certain groups, we are able to identify those factors that are most likely to be correlated with the success of future athletes. In many ways this descriptive research can be thought of as a job analysis.
That is to say, the knowledge, skills, and activities that are important to the job of an athlete are identified in this way. Knowledge, Skills and Abilities Related to Success Morris (1975) attempted to identify factors that were associated with selection for the Canadian National Field Hockey team by combining a psychological approach with biographical data. The instruments used were the Athletic Motivation Inventory (AMI) and a biographical questionnaire which was constructed specifically for this study. The AMI is self administered and consists of 190 questions written with a sports frame of reference such that the respondent is asked what actions they would take or how they would feel about situations that occur in the field of sports. It purports to measure the following constructs: drive, self-confidence, aggressiveness, coachability, emotional control, conscience development, trust, responsibility, leadership and mental toughness.
Validity scales are included that are used to determine faking or a pattern of random answering. Results indicated that athletes selected to the team showed a significantly higher level of aggression, were more desiring and had a greater capacity for leadership, and were more mentally tough (not easily upset by losing or criticism of their play). Analysis of the differences between offensive and defensive players only showed significant differences on the dimension of coachability such that offensive players were more coachable then defensive players. However, this may reflect the tendency of many coaches to be overly concerned with offensive production and thus to spend more time working with those players thereby facilitating their coachability. No statistical analysis was conducted for the biographical data however some important differences were noted.
Athletes selected to the team were older (Mean age = 32 years, 9 months) than those not selected (Mean age = 24 years, 1 month). Another interesting finding was that seventeen of the twenty players selected came from homes in which both parents were present. Morris states that perhaps opportunities for children to be involved in activities outside the home are more likely to occur in situations where home life has a more settled quality and that the drive to achieve is fostered by the reinforcement of both parents. Finally, of those selected to the team, only one was an only child. This suggests that high achievement in competitive situations is more likely to occur among girls who have siblings than those who don’t.
Morgan’s study of biographical data is the only instance in the literature. Although they were not examined statistically to see if significant differences existed, the results suggest that it may be an important component when developing a selection method for the field of athletics. One should note that this study was conducted with subjects who participated in a team sport. Because many athlete’s performances suffer as a result of a poor relationship with a coach or team member, it is important to consider this factor when making selection decisions. Athletes who possess non-conformist or non-affiliation tendencies may tend to exhibit the greatest turmoil with autocratic or inflexible coaches. The Test of Attentional and Interpersonal Style (TAIS) is a test that was formulated to predict athletic performance based on the constructs of affiliation and conformity (Nideffer & Sharpe, 1978).
The test was normed using a population of elite athletes and can provide valuable information about an individual’s coachability and role within the team dynamic. However, the psychological factors identified as being associated with success in individual sports are somewhat different. Researchers focusing on the psychological attributes of successful athletes whose sport is individual in nature have identified several characteristics not identified by researchers focusing on sport in a team frame of reference. For example, Mahoney and Avener (1977) focus on the field of gymnastics. They compared the psychological profiles of members selected for the 1972 United States Olympic gymnasts. Their results indicated that those selected to the team had a higher rate of positive self verbalizations and better methods for coping with competitive stress than those not selected. These findings were supported when comparisons were made between qualifiers and non-qualifiers for elite Canadian wrestling teams (Highlen & Bennett, 1979). Qualifiers had a significantly better ability to block anxiety 1 hour prior to competition and had fewer negative self-thoughts 1 hour prior to competition.
In addition, qualifiers were significantly higher on ratings of self-confidence and believing themselves closer to achieving their athletic potential. Most importantly for the purposes of selection, the researchers were able to correctly identify qualifiers based on their psychological profiles 85% of the time (Highlen & Bennett, 1979). Other researchers have attempted to use psychological data in conjunction with other information to predict individuals selection to athletic teams. Morgan (1980) makes use of the Profile of Mood States (POMS) and data about an individual’s prior performance and physiological characteristics to achieve a 90% success rate in the identification of who will make the team or who will be cut from the team. The POMS is a sixty-five item adjective checklist which measures six facets of emotion: tension, depression, fatigue, confusion, anger, and vigor.
Morgan has identified what he calls an Iceberg Profile which is typical of Olympic caliber distance runners, wrestlers and oars men. The Iceberg Profile is characterized by low ratings on tension, depression, fatigue, confusion, and anger and high scores on vigor. The POMS was developed originally for use in the clinical field and despite the adaptations made to utilize it in the sports arena, the sense of measuring psychological disturbance still prevails. This has a tendency to reduce its effectiveness as a selection instrument. Much of the research in the field has been anecdotal in nature, gathered primarily through the analysis of unstructured interviews. However, the information that has been acquired in this fashion is quite compelling and useful in identifying the psychological skills necessary for success in sport.
It can be thought of as asking subject matter experts the qualities that are most important for successful on the job performance. By analyzing the statements of present champions (SME’s) as to their psychological abilities, characteristics, opportunities and family role we can differentiate between successful and unsuccessful performers. Meyers, Cooke, Cullen, and Liles (1979) reported that successful athletes were self-confident and had thoughts of their sport throughout their daily thoughts and dreams. Garfield and Bennett’s (1984) study of anecdotal reports supported earlier research. They stated that elite athletes do have predictable feelings during peak performances including: confident and optimistic, in control, mentally relaxed, physically rel …