Personality approaches



According to Jarvis (2006, p.3), personality represents those characteristics of a person that account for consistent behavior patterns.  He adds that there are four broad factors that influence how we respond to any given situation. These include our genetic make-up, our past experiences, the nature of the situation that we find ourselves in, as well as our free will. There are a number of psychological approaches that have been studied over time, including trait, situational and interactional theories. Trait theory basically focuses on the role played by genetics in determining individuality, while situational and interactional views emphasize how particular situations determine the way individuals act. A number of psychologists believe that personality directly affects sports participation and even the performance of athletes, while others argue that there may not be a strong relationship between the two elements. A number of arguments have been put forward to examine the same. Thus, this essay provides an in-depth analysis of the three approaches to personality, as well as examples to explain the same theories in the context of sports psychology.

Trait Approach to Personality

According to Gadsdon (2001, p.2), the main belief brought forth by the trait theory is that individuals possess certain personality traits that are stable and endure over time. The author adds that if traits in an individual can be identified, then it is also possible to identify and even predict the individual’s behavior. Early trait theorists like Eysenck and Catell argued that traits in an individual were mainly inherited. Gledhill (2007, p.78) writes that Eysenck believed that there were two main dimensions to personality. The first dimension is the introversion-extroversion dimension, while the second dimension is the stable neurotic dimension. Introverted individuals do not actively seek excitement and prefer to be in calm environments. They therefore prefer tasks that require a great deal of concentration. Extroverted individuals are poor at tasks that require a great deal of concentration. They constantly seek change and excitement, unlike their introverted counterparts. Gledhill (2007, p.78) adds that stable individuals tend to be more even tempered and easy going, while neurotic or unstable individuals are more restless, and excitable that their stable counterparts.

A number of studies argue that in sporting situations, extroverts tend to excel more, compared to introverts. This is mostly because extroverts are more capable of coping with highly competitive situations compared to their introverted counterparts. Extroverts also perform better in sporting activities because they are more capable of handling external distractions such as audiences (Schultz & Schultz, 2005, p. 249). While analyzing the work carried out by psychologist Matt Jarvis, Gulhane(2014, p. 16) reveals that individuals can be grouped as ‘Type A and Type B’ Type A individuals are competitive, impatient, time conscious, outgoing, aggressive, forceful, focused, rushed and driven. Type B individuals on the other hand tend to be lazy, patient, relaxed, tolerant, easy going, calm, passive, stress free, and laid-back. Individuals that do not fit in either Type A or type B are classified as AB.

Gulhane (2014, p.17) writes that people tend to get involved in sporting activities that suit their personalities. He further gives an example and cites that a footballer like Wayne Rooney for instance is characterized by aggression, impatience and forcefulness. Such behavior is likely to get him into trouble sometimes on the pitch, but such behavior depicts that he is a Type ‘A’ individual. An example of a Type B sports person is Roger Federer. Roger is always composed and calm, and this is evident in almost all of his post-match interviews. Despite his zeal for sports and his drive to succeed, his personality is naturally laid-back and relaxed. Another type of individuals is the type AB that is those individuals who do not fit in either Type A or Type B group. Gulhane (2014) reveals that these individuals always have mixed traits from both Type A and Type B groups and such an example is the British heptathelete, Jessica Ennis. Jessica has a lot of determination, focus and drive and these have helped her excel in her career as an athlete. Apart from that, she is also calm, laid-back and relaxed and this is evident in her interviews. In fact, she often jokes that she switches from one personality to another when in sports and in her personal life out of sports. Jessica is therefore an example of an individual in group AB with the ability to combine the characteristics of each group and exhibit them when necessary.

In relation to the trait approach to personality, Gadsdon (2001, p.2) writes that trait theories to personality offer quite an appealing approach to personality, although the theory has also been criticized by a number of scholars who have cited that identified traits are poor predictors of actual behaviors because in most cases, people do not always behave in the same way. The theory is further criticized that it fails to take into account the experiences and knowledge that individuals have gained about themselves.

Situational Approach to Personality

According to Gulhane (2014, p. 17), the situational approach to personality is mostly based on the work of Albert Bandura. According to this approach, people’s personality cannot be placed in any category; instead, they are influenced by the situations in which people find themselve. This is to mean that the manner in which individuals behave is determined by their surroundings. In his study, Bandura identified two key concepts of feedback and modeling. In relation to modeling, he cited that individuals base their actions on other people’s actions through observing and copying them. Gulhane (2014) gives an example of this by citing that a footballer who admires David Beckham may watch him play and copy his playing techniques. Apart from modeling, Bandura also examined the concept of feedback, where he discovered that when people are appreciated or recognized based on their exemplary performance other individuals will always strive to emulate the good behavior or performance so they can equally receive the good feedback.

Gulhane (2014, p.18) presents another example of the concept of modeling in the situational approach to personalities by citing that a laid back individual caught up in the middle of football hooliganism steered by his friends may lose their temper and equally become aggressive based on the surrounding that they find themselves in. In relation to feedback, he cites that studies have revealed that the kind of feedback that athletes receive from their coaches, parents and teachers could go a long way towards affecting the future performances of the athletes. Positive comments for instance are likely to encourage athletes thus making them want to repeat their success. Negative comments on the other hand may make athletes feel inadequate and discouraged.

Interactional approach to Personality

The interactional approach to personality is the most preferred approach by sports psychologists. Gadsdon (2001, p.3) writes that the interactional approach examines the relationship between personality factors and situational factors and uses the same to explain behavior. Gledhill (2007, p.80) writes that when situational factors are particularly strong, they are more likely to predict behaviors than personality factors. For instance, an athlete who is normally quiet and shy is likely to run towards an ecstatic crowd screaming if he scored the winning penalty. The interactional theory is critical in explaining a change in a persons’ personality. This is mainly because as the situations where an individual finds himself changes, he or she may also be forced to change his behavior so as to gain advantage. In a game of basketball for instance, a generally calm player may decide to become assertive and spontaneous as the game is about to end because they have little time left to win the game. This may be steered by the high expectations of fans towards the team hence the athlete may not want to let the fans down.


In conclusion, it is not easy to define psychology especially in sports and exercise psychology, and this can be proven by a number of definitions put forward by different scholars. It is, however, widely accepted that personality refers to the sum of those characteristics that make a person unique. Three approaches to personality that have been constantly used to understand personality are the trait approach, the situational approach and the interactional approach. The trait approach focuses on an individual’s personal traits and concludes that if traits can be identified in an individual, then it is possible to predict the individual’s behavior. The situational approach to personalities is based on the premise that the manner in which individuals behave is largely dependent on the surroundings in which they find themselves. The third approach, the interactional approach is a combination of both the trait and situational approach. This approach predicts behavior by examining the relationship between trait factors and situational factors. In as much as an individual’s personality does not predict his excellence as a sportsman or woman, a number of psychologists still agree that most sports people exhibit a number of positive and desirable traits and characteristics.

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  1. Gadsdon, S 2001. Psychology and Sport. Oxford: Heinemann.
  2. Gledhill, A 2007. Sport & Exercise Sciences. Oxford: Heinemann.
  3. Gulhane, TF 2014. “Relation between Physical Personality and Sports” Journal of Sports and Physical Education, Vol.1, No 6, pp.16-18.
  4. Jarvis, M 2006. “Sport Psychology: A Students’ Handbook.” London: Routledge.
  5. Schultz, D P, & Sydney E. S 2005. Theories of Personality. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth.
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