Sports Psychology: Personality Theories Explained

Updated on January 14, 2020


The aim of this article is develop people's understanding of how psychology can be applied to sports performance and exercise environments. It will also provide information on sports and exercise psychology and how they can influence the performance of individuals and teams. I am going to talk through three different theories and analyse and explain each one.

What Is Personality?

Personality is who you are. It consists of everything you believe in, the way you act, and your friends and family.

There are many different opinions on what personality actually is. One definition of personality is: "The complex of all the attributes, behavioral, temperamental, emotional, and mental that characterizes a unique individual." [1]

Another definition of what personality is general: "Relatively stable, consistent, and distinctive set of mental and emotional characteristics a person exhibits when alone, or when interacting with people and his or her external environment." [2]

Other people have other opinions on what personality is, but my opinion is that personality is what you make it. Your beliefs, family, background, friends, interests, religion, and environment make you who you are, whether that is shy or outgoing, big or small.

The Three Theories

There are three main theories on how a person gets their traits. For example, if one is lazy or energetic, or if one is fast or slow.

1. Trait Theory

The trait theory suggests that individuals have certain characteristics that will determine how they behave and perform in non-sport situations and in a sporting situation.
The trait theory also suggests that there are two types of people: introverts and extroverts.


  • Introverts tend to be shy, quiet, and don’t really share opinions. The trait theory tells us that introverts do not actively seek excitement. They prefer calm/quiet environments; they prefer tasks which consist of great concentration; and they also dislike the unexpected. Introverts regularly play sports which don’t consist of teamwork and competitive situations. Instead, introverts play individual sports or activities.
  • The sports which introverts may play or take part in are games like golf, which needs a fair bit of concentration and is an individual sport. Another example is snooker, which again takes high concentration and time to line up your shot and is not a team game. Athletics (track and field) is another popular place to see introverts. They like to take part in marathons and 100m sprints because it is an individual sport.
  • BUT, not all introverts play individual sports. Paul Scholes is an example of someone who I would class as an introvert but plays football, which is a game that includes a lot of teamwork. He is quiet, but when it comes down to playing football, he is one of the best footballers around.


  • Extroverts are the complete opposite. Extroverts are the type of people who are outgoing and loud. They also tend to be more confident and like to show off. The trait theory also tells us that extroverts get bored quickly; are poor at tasks that require a lot of concentration; seek excitement and change; are less responsive to pain; and are more successful in sporting situations.
  • Extroverts prefer sports like football and rugby because they involve teamwork and hard work. They prefer sports that are fast-paced and exciting, and those that sometimes include aggression.
  • An example of someone who plays these sports is Steven Gerrard, Liverpool’s captain. As captain, he has to be confident to lead his team to victories. He is loud, aggressive, and demanding, which is what is needed.
  • But, an example of an extrovert who played an individual sport is Mohamed Ali. He was very confident, loud, and aggressive, but played an individual sport.

Early theorists, such as Eysench and Cattell, argued that traits are merely inherited and are stable aspects of a person’s personality. Inherited traits are traits that you gain from your parents. Some of the traits you may gain from your parents include your body type (big or small, lots of fat or little fat, etc.), and if you are an outgoing person or a shy and quiet person. The trait theory suggests that the environmental situation has a minimal role on people's personality, so the trait theory fails to identify the possibility of being able to shape your own personality.

Type A and Type B

Personality traits can be grouped into two headings: Type A and Type B.

  • Type A lacks patience, has a strong urge for competition, and has a high desire to achieve goals. This type always rushes to complete activities, happily multitasks, and has high levels of anxiety. These people are most likely to play sports like football and rugby.
  • Type B is the opposite. They are more tolerant towards others and more relaxed than type A. They experience low levels of anxiety, and have high levels of imagination and creativity.

Environment is one of the things that can change the personality of an individual.
Environment is one of the things that can change the personality of an individual.

2. Social Learning Theory

This theory suggests that our personality is not a stable characteristic and that it can constantly change due to variations in social situations. This includes the people we are around and socialize with.

It also makes the point that we are highly unlikely to behave in the same way when we are in a sporting situation and in a non-sporting situation. Furthermore, it suggests that in sporting situations we learn through two different ways: modeling and reinforcement.

  • Modeling means that an individual is likely to model him/herself on people he/she can relate to, such as those in the same sport or are the same gender. It basically says that when we look up to someone, we copy their actions.
  • Reinforcement is important because if an individual's behavior is reinforced or rewarded, it is likely that the behavior will be repeated. You have to have high attention to retain the skill. Motor responses and motivation skills have to be high, too.

The difference between trait theory and social theory is that the former suggests that your personality is stable and nothing can change it, whereas the latter suggests that your personality is not stable and can change due to many things.

3. Marten's Schematic View and the Interactional Approach

This theory is the only theory that is widely accepted by most sport psychologists. It tells us that if we are going to accurately predict behavior in a sports setting, it's important that we consider the situation the individual is in and the individual’s characteristics. This theory is basically a mix between the social learning theory and Marten's schematic view.

Marten's schematics view says there are three different levels that relate to each other: the physiological core, typical responses, and role-related behavior.

  • The psychological core is often referred to as the real you: what you believe in, what your interests are, and your attitude towards work and play.
  • Typical responses are the usual ways you respond to any given situation and are also a good indicator of your psychological core.
  • Role-related behavior determines the circumstances you are in. Circumstances are ever-changing, especially within a sporting environment. For example, in football you won't be the same all the way through the game because you may get frustrated at some points. Role-related behavior is seen as the changeable aspect of one's personality.

Marten's schematic view and the interactional approach are very similar in that they both agree that your personality can change due to the situations you face in sports and non-sporting environments.

My Opinion

I agree with the social learning theory. Your personality can change in any situation, and I agree that when in a sporting environment, you can change from a calm person into someone who is aggressive or passionate, going all-out to win.

I also agree with some aspects of the Marten’s schematic view, especially the theories on psychological core and typical responses. I think everyone has typical responses that they would use in different situations. I concur with the type A and type B categories, as well, but I don’t agree with the introvert and extrovert labels because it tells us that introverts should play individual games and extroverts should play team games. As part of the trait theory, these labels purport that your personality is stable and cannot change, but everyone knows that your personality does change when you are with different people or when you are playing sports. So, my opinion is that your personality isn’t stable and that it can change due to many factors and in different situations.


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      5 months ago


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      7 months ago

      your posts are really helpful and I topped the course

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      Matt Chris 

      18 months ago

      helped me pass my college course

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      Peter File 

      21 months ago

      found it really useful for the kids!!!

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      22 months ago

      this helped me alot

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      8 years ago

      Never knew about the martens schematic viewpoint. I agree with that one, the ever changing physiological, seems about right. Thanks for the info!


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