Physical abilities, such as strength, endurance, and speed, are usually foremost in people's minds when they discuss athleticism, but they alone are not what determine greatness. Things like the ability to remain calm under pressure or to spot an opponent's weakness, or the stamina to stick with a training regimen are traits that come from within and are often defined by our personality.
Psychologists use two main models to categorize personality. For many years, trait-based assessments were the norm. These assessments categorized individuals based on where they fell along a bipolar scale ("Are you outgoing or shy?"). Recently, the 'five factor model' has gained more favor, and it's been used in studies linking personality with medal-winning performance. The five factors are:
In general, medal-winning athletes score higher on the factors of openness (specifically optimism), conscientiousness (self-determination), extraversion (being extroverted), and agreeableness than do non-medal winners. In contrast, medal winners score lower on neuroticism (impulsivity and anxiety). Also, extraverted athletes outperform introverted athletes when an audience is present. Studies also found that anger can have a positive effect on sport performance, but only for athletes with high levels of extraversion.
Sports competitions that involve communication and social interaction (like pickleball doubles) are well suited to extraverted individuals. Athletes are found to be more committed to their athletic partnership when they or their partners rate themselves as highly agreeable, conscientious, or open to new experiences. It's worth noting that participation in sports (specifically, having to communicate and cooperate with others) also develops personality characteristics that are desirable for sports excellence, such as extraversion. Interesting also is that athletes in team sports show higher levels of extraversion and lower levels of conscientiousness than do individual sport athletes.
So, as a pickleball player who wants to improve your game—what can you do with this information? You can try to change your personality. Take the five-factor personality profile test and discover which elements of your personality might be adversely affecting your game. Then you might follow in the footsteps of those in one study, where the participants successfully achieved change and improved their sporting abilities.
After taking the test, the participants decided how many traits they wanted to change. This included finding ways of achieving this change. Progress was measured weekly, at which time the participants also completed a writing task that asked, "what would it look like if you attained your desired changes?" The purpose of this step was to envision the specific changes they would like to make. These participants achieved notable success.
I found it interesting to learn that people's personalities do change in relatively predictable patterns over time. As people mature, they become generally more agreeable, conscientious, and emotionally stable. This is good news for those of you (and me) who are seniors. Of course, no amount of personality alteration can bridge the gap between the body of a 65-year-old and a 25-year-old playing against each other on the court, but every little bit helps.
I'm not suggesting you stop practicing and concentrate only on becoming more amiable. But if you work on being less anxious (more relaxed) and less impulsive (a better planner), and if you focus on success, think positively, and determine to achieve the gold, you've got a better chance of doing it. Any athlete, of any age, who wants to achieve in life and sport can benefit from this advice.
Allen, M. S., Greenlees, I., & Jones, M. V. (2013). Personality in sport: A comprehensive review. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 6, 184-208.
PsychologistWorld.com. Five-Factor Model of Personality: How the 'super traits' of the Five Factor Model explain differences in personality and the way people behave.