Big 5 and Athletic Performance

Written by Rob Taylor and Dr. Charlie Todaro

When athletes participate in competitive sports, their underlying personality characteristics inevitably impact their actions (Allen et al., 2011).

A body of research has focused on identifying whether personality can successfully predict athletic success (e.g., Egloff & Gruhn, 1996; Evans & Quarterman, 1983; Gee, Marshall, & King, 2010; Morgan & Johnson, 1978; Morgan, O’Connor, Ellickson, & Bradley, 1988; Piedmont, Hill, & Blanco, 1999). What has emerged from research is that personality’s impact on performance is nuanced. Research in other performance-related domains, such as academia and organizational settings, has highlighted conscientiousness as consistently correlated with success (see, for example, Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006; Poropat, 2009).

To better understand the processes connecting personality traits to athletic success, researchers have begun exploring associations between personality traits and discrete athletic behaviors. As the aim in assessment is to be objective, we must acknowledge the dynamic performance spectrum – positive and negative outcomes – when considering personality traits’ impact on performance and team cohesion. Putting a price on relationships is undeniable when it comes to player-coach as well as player-player relationships. Sustaining a culture and environment that breeds respect and fosters a genuine love and appreciation toward one another can only accelerate team successes on and off the field.

Let’s look closer at the spectrum of positive and negative outcomes as it relates to personality traits.

It has been found that sport participants with high levels of conscientiousness use better preparation strategies (Woodman, Zourbanos, Hardy, Beattie, & McQuillan, 2010), take fewer reckless risks (Merritt & Tharp, 2013), and use more effective coping strategies (Kaiseler, Polman, & Nicholls, 2012) before and during athletic competitions. These findings suggest that high levels of conscientiousness can increase self-control, minimize impulsive tendencies, while optimizing individual preparation and performance. We can also look at the other end of the spectrum with conscientiousness where lower levels of this trait may indicate qualities such as spontaneity or impulsiveness, difficulty with organization or structure, or struggles when trying to stay on or complete tasks.



From a teams’ lens, coaches who account for high levels of conscientiousness could observe an environment of enhanced focus, self-discipline and strong-willed behaviors, that could nurture a positive team culture. Similarly, research has shown sports participants with traits of agreeableness or conscientiousness – again speaking to the nuances of personality assessment – may report more favorable relationships with their teammates (Jackson, Dimmock, Gucciardi, & Grove, 2010) and coaches (Jackson, Dimmock, Gucciardi, & Grove, 2011).

Neuroticism has been shown to interlink with low tolerance for stress or stimuli. This is an important factor to consider when it comes to high performance environments that require mental toughness, handling pressure, and managing external stimuli. Athletes who had high scores of neuroticism may be emotionally reactive. They may be more likely to interpret situations others find as ordinary to be threatening, as well as perceive minor frustrations as difficult. Consequently, their negative emotional reactions may persist for longer periods of time (Kaiseler, Polman, & Nicholls, 2012).

When considering personality data and how it relates to athletic performance, deriving rich, contextual data from a holistic lens that considers team cultures and values should be considered. These nuances within personality research help us understand that data-driven metrics, with measurable objective data points, can enhance overall team effectiveness and individual optimization within team sports when applied with expertise and intent. Blu Chip Analytics takes these nuances into account in considering the intricacies and dynamics that exist at an organizational level. With trained psychologists on staff, we strive to meet your organizational needs and provide objective data points through personality attributes using our FitInsights portal.