By Alison Mitchell
High performance sports teams are always looking for a way to get ‘the edge’; that elusive bit of insight or improvement that could give them an advantage over the opposition.
Gaining the edge isn’t always based on statistical analysis, honing technique or improving physical conditioning, though. All these elements play a part, but in order to get the best out of a team, the individuals need to know how to get the best out of themselves.
In addition, a team coach needs to know how to get the best out of his individual players. This comes through gaining a deeper understanding of the character traits of players, how they process information and how they respond both to ideas and each other. It reinforces the idea that sports coaching is as much about personal management as it is about hands-on ‘technical’ coaching.
Personality testing is not a new concept. The Myers Briggs Test was devised in the Sixties and Andy Flower was an advocate of personality testing when he was in charge of the England men’s team. A growing number of County sides are now also tapping into the tool. A common approach is to take a questionnaire that produces a colour coded result, which helps people to learn more about who they are, heightening their awareness of both self, and other.
The idea is that by increasing their understanding of themselves, players can better interact with team mates and support staff, acknowledging that individuals have very different personality types and needs, and appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Consequently, communication and empathy can improve, plus performance. Used effectively, personality testing can help both coaches and players better understand why they behave the way they do. Management can use the information gained to tailor coaching methods to those that will be best received, according to the majority of personalities under his or her charge.
Former Essex batsman Will Jefferson works with a number of professions, helping individuals and groups gain a better understanding of each other in the workplace.
He is working with an increasing number of clients in cricket, both in the UK, but also in Australia, where the Victorian men’s and women’s teams and coaching staff are the latest to employ the psychometric tool Insights Discovery which Jefferson uses through the management consultancy company, Footdown.
“If I had this information when I was a player, it would have helped me so much,” says Jefferson. “Not just for my own performance but understanding why other people are like they are.”
Insights is based on the psychology of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist who differentiated between two types of people according to personality type; introverted and extroverted. He later differentiated four functions of the mind; thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition, determining that any one may be more dominant in an individual than another.
When cricketers take the Insights test, they answer a set of 25 online questions about the way they believe they behave or respond in their professional capacity. The answers are fed into a model, which is based on four colours according to groups of personality traits.
The colours are Cool Blue (traits such as cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal), Earth Green (caring, encouraging, sharing, patient, relaxed), Fiery Red (competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed, purposeful) and Sunshine Yellow (sociable, dynamic, demonstrative, enthusiastic, persuasive).
Every individual will possess a unique mix of these four colours as a group of energies, but one colour is usually dominant.
The result of the personality profile can be used to determine how a coach prefers to manage, how a player prefers to be managed, what a player’s ideal learning environment is, what motivates them, what a coach’s best method of communication is, and how a player prefers to be communicated to.
Ultimately, the aim is to facilitate high achievement and peak performance by increasing awareness.
When a squad undertakes the Insights test, each individual receives a personalised profile report. I did the test myself and found the report to be amazingly detailed and scarily accurate.
It was like holding a mirror up to myself, forcing some honest assessment as to whether I am happy with the way I approach certain aspects of personal and professional relationships. It encourages you to assess how you interact with others and to appreciate every individual views the world through their own lens. We each have a different map of the world.
In the context of a sports team, a coach can ask for the group results to be anonymously translated onto a colour wheel, giving a visual image as to the spread of personality types under his charge.
The colour wheel is split into eight segments, or slices of pie. Fiery Red personalities are broadly described as ‘Directors’ and these types sit opposite on the wheel to Earth Green, described as ‘Supporters’.
Cool Blue types are deemed ‘Observers’ and they sit opposite Sunshine Yellow, who are the ‘Inspirers’. The varying degrees between these types, are ‘Reformers (purple), ‘Motivators’ (orange), ‘Helpers’ (lime green) and ‘Coordinators’ (turquoise).
If a coach sees he has a particularly large cluster of players in the red zone, he or she may decide to tailor their coaching method in a way that is best received by this personality type.
A coach may be a born ‘people person’, intuitively understanding who responds best to an arm around the shoulder as opposed to an analytical breakdown of what went wrong. Ironically, it is often these coaches, with an innate sense of empathy, who are the most eager to gain a deeper under-standing of the characters in their squad, using a psychology-based method.
Leicestershire head coach Paul Nixon has seen the benefits of Insights with his squad – a team who couldn’t win a single Championship match last season. They did the test in March and Nixon believes the whole group is benefitting from what can be seen as a ‘performance catalyst’.
“We’ve got to know each other on a deeper level,” he says. “Will (Jefferson) has a presence in presenting, with his humility, honesty and integrity. I knew he’d be brilliant with our group.
“In a dressing room it lays it all bare. I’m predominantly green and yellow, so I’m caring and slightly more easy going. When I get to work, I sort of zip up slightly more. At work, my weak area is my blue, my organisational skills. As a general person I’m quite go-with-the-flow, I’m more yellow. Then in my cricket world I’ve got to be more blue, more organised, more structured.”
Armed with that knowledge, Nixon has learned to delegate more of the organisational duties to those in his coaching team who have stronger blue tendencies, and so making the most out of others’ strengths. His players, he believes, have benefited from better understanding why each other react in the way that they do, in certain situations.
“A really clear message,” explains Jefferson, “has to be that we are all a mixture of all four colours. There’s no right or wrong, or good or bad. It’s a preference-based tool. It’s what you do with it, that’s the most important.”