MBTI Type and Sports: How professional athletes, coaches and more use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment
Drew Ginn, triple Olympic gold medalist, 5x world champion rower, and a former member of Australia’s ‘oarsome foursome’ rowing crew, didn’t start his athletic career in rowing. He started as a swimmer, and after he stopped swimming one of the rowing coaches saw his long arms and tall, lean stature and over the next few weeks persisted in asking if he wanted to try out rowing.
The first time he relented to the coach’s requests, he went down to the boat house near the Yarra River in Melbourne, Australia and was overwhelmed.
The coach soothed his worries and showed him the body motion of rowing. He told Drew if he got into trouble, just to grab each oar and bring them to the middle of your chest and hold them there. The coach told him everything he needed to know for a first time in a boat.
Or so he thought.
So, Drew gets in the boat and shoves off the shore. He starts rowing and gets to the middle of the river. But then the wind picks up and the boat starts to rock. To steady himself from the oncoming wind, he did what we all would do – grab the oar on the high side and lean into to balance himself.
Then Drew went overboard.
The thing is, the coach told Drew everything the coach thought Drew needed to know. But the coach didn’t tell Drew how to get back into the finnicky rowing boat if it capsized.
Drew swam the boat back to the shoreline, mouth held tightly shut against the foul-tasting river water.
And, of course, all the experienced rowers laughed at Drew. “Go back to swimming,” they shouted. “What do you think I’m doing right now?!” he responded.
The thing about this story is that it can apply to every athlete, team leader or coach. And a lot of communication scenarios in general.
As a coach or team leader, you give your team everything you think they’ll need to succeed. Or, given budget restrictions, you give as much as you can. But your team is not you.
And what you think they need may be slightly different from what they actually need. Because the instructions you’re giving them are coming from your perspective. Your filter. And unless you understand their perspective and their filter, you probably won’t give them what they need.
You might not know to tell them how to get back into the boat.
Though the Myers-Briggs® assessment is most often used in management training, leadership development and personal development, you’d be surprised at the number of ways the MBTI® tool is used in sports.
Athletic pursuits require motivation to train and improve. Sports put you in competition, which generates some level of stress. And if you’re on a team, you’re probably communicating with that team.
And these are just a few examples of where personality type comes into play in sports. Get it? Comes into play? Pun intended.
Also, here’s a fun fact about Drew. He found the MBTI tool so helpful he became an MBTI certified practitioner. Watch Drew Ginn’s full talk at the 2015 Myers-Briggs Company’s Australia Grow Conference.
Washington State Football Coach Using MBTI with Quarterbacks
Recently, Washington State coach Nick Rolovich talked to The Oregonian newspaper about the personalities of quarterbacks. And the personalities of coaches.
The interviewer asked, “Can you teach a quarterback to be a leader or does a guy have to have that? Or does a quarterback have to be a leader?”
Nick responded, “I think you can sharpen it, but I think there’s something to the personality type of the quarterback. Jim Jones and Dan Morrison who were my coaches in Hawaii were really into personality typing and quarterbacking. A lot of the great quarterbacks had similar Myers-Briggs test results.
In a normal year we do some of that (self-awareness and personal development training) with our quarterbacks. And our quarterback recruits to be honest with you.
It helps you learn how to coach them too. This guy learns this way, or this is his personality, and you have to be able to adjust as a coach.”
Olympic Judo Champion Uses MBTI for Personal Development
Another athlete who’s used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® to her advantage is Olympian judoka Edith Bosch. “In 2008 I had two Olympic medals, I was world champion and several times European champion, and it was still not good enough”, she says. “I always expected too much of myself, and of others too, which means you’ll always be disappointed.”
Physically, Edith Bosch could have continued as a professional athlete until 2016. Mentally, however, she was ready for a change much earlier. By 2009, aged 29, she no longer knew what she wanted – not as an athlete, not as a manager at Dutch railway company NS, nor in her private life. Her soul-searching led to tough decisions. A year later she resigned from NS and ended her relationship with her partner.
She had been living behind a ‘mask’ to excel in her sports career; but it had come at a high price. Despite reaching the top of her game, she was unable to find contentment. Martijn Smit, Edith’s life coach, explains that to succeed at the top level in judo Edith had adopted ESTJ preferences as a survival strategy.
In 2013 Edith made the decision to bring her judo career to an end and began to think of where to go next in her professional life. She decided to end her sports career and now has her own private coaching practice and feels more fulfilled than ever. It has been not only a change of profession, but a change in how she expresses her personality.
Edith now lives a life that fits her natural preferences – as an ENFP, according to the language of the MBTI assessment, a completely different type to the ESTJ persona she had adopted as a professional athlete.
Read Edith’s full story here.
Which MBTI Types play sports?
So, which MBTI types are more likely to be athletes?
There’s no one Myers-Briggs personality type that turns out as an athlete more often than others. Because a lot of the things that make people play sports – competitiveness, physical athleticism, upbringing, ethnicity and family culture, etc. – are traits that are separate from your Myers-Briggs personality preferences. However your personality type can tell you a lot about how you are motivated, how you act under stress, how you learn and how you communicate. All things involved with athletics.
In addition, we do have research around what types of exercise certain MBTI types are drawn to.
That said, our psychologists did have a fun time thinking about each personality type and their strengths and weaknesses, and their favorite functions, and then thinking about which sport might best align with each sport.
Betsy Kendall, former Head of Professional Services of The Myers-Briggs Company in the UK, said, “there is both a light-hearted and a more serious purpose to these fun type associations. Learning about MBTI type is enjoyable. There is comedy in the everyday misunderstandings between MBTI types.”
So, which sport best represents the essence of your MBTI personality type?
What type of sport is your MBTI type?
Table Tennis: This sport calls for focused concentration and serious contenders.
Diving: ISFJs perform tasks from memory with accuracy, grace, and great posture!
Road Cycling: Participants are organized, supportive, and they appreciate the benefits of synchronicity.
Shooting: Calls for a deep perspective and masterful technique. Professional marksmen are calm and determined, just like INTJs.
Triathlon. ISTPs are known for being adaptable, flexible, and efficient – all qualities needed to be a good triathlete!
Swimming. Swimmers enjoy the here-and now, and also like having their own space.
Bocce Ball. INFPs are known for their long-range vision and calm. And just like those who play competitive bocce ball or lawn bowling, they often strive for alignment and congruence.
Badminton. These athletes enjoy analyzing and using logic for precise moves during the game, much like INTPs.
Squash or racquetball. This game, like the ESTP, is spontaneous and calls for quick reactions.
Hockey. Hockey players are flexible, enjoy working with others and aren’t afraid of being at the center of the action.
Rhythmic gymnastics. ENFPs are creative, imaginative, and often enjoy improvisation, much like the dance and floor routines of professional gymnasts.
Martial Arts. ENTPs use resourcefulness to achieve superior position, just as martial arts such as Judo and Taekwondo require.
Rugby. ESTJs are usually ordered, logical and decisive. They’re also forceful in implementing plans, much like the aggressive game of rugby!
Soccer. ESFJs are harmonious in a team and value accuracy. They also want their contribution to be appreciated. All qualities that resonate on a good soccer team.
Basketball. ENFJs enjoy teamwork and are highly attuned to those around them. Just like basketball players, ENFJs are responsive and agile.
Boxing. Decisive, great at identifying inefficiencies and forceful in presenting ideas, boxing seems to best represent ENTJs.
Psychologist uses MBTI for youth sports coaching
One of our own psychologists shared his personal accounts of using MBTI type to coach his own potential future Olympic athletes (aka Melbourne youth basketball players).
“In terms of my own experience in using the MBTI tool in sports, I’ve coached youth basketball for many years. And my knowledge of the MBTI framework has been incredibly helpful in appreciating and understanding the different needs of the players,” says Cameron Nott, Managing Director & Psychologist at The Myers-Briggs Company in Australia. “It shows you how to best support and motivate them during training and in games. While I may not know or remember the MBTI type of each player, by being mindful of my own personality preferences I can be aware of both my natural strengths and potential biases as a coach.
“For instance, as an ENTJ I tend to approach training and games with a planned and structured approach and will adopt a more direct communication style. But this doesn’t work well in all situations and with all players. I need to balance this with an approach that can be more spontaneous and flexible while being personal and supportive. For what it’s worth, the teams have been very successful.”
Want to know your MBTI personality type? Get started here.