Are introverts underdogs in the sports world?

Are you one of the introverted athletes who feel like you should be louder or chattier in sports? But you just don’t like the loud environment? Do you think shyness and introversion is just the same? Did you know that extroverted athletes can also be shy? Let’s dig in to personality in sports and today especially in introverts. (And next week we change turns!)

This game starts with a warm up about the myths and assumptions about introverts, the actual game is about understanding the strengths, behavior and qualities of introverts and the cool down is the science perspective about successful personalities in sports. So yeah, you better stick around until the end 😉

INTROVERTS – DEFINITIONS AND EXAMPLES

First we can start with the myth that if anyone still thinks that introverts don’t need human connections, ditch that craziness fellow human! The very big, fat majority of human beings are yearning for human connections to feel that they belong. Introvert personality does not mean that they would not want to have a connection with other people too.

It most often means instead that it consumes more energy for them to be social in new social settings and they need to rest after those situations to recover whereas the extrovert personality gains more energy from the same situations and they find non-stimulating environment boring and even stressful.

Secondly, introversion is not the same as shyness. Yes many introverts are also shy, but even extroverts can be shy. Shyness definition is “the fear of negative judgement” and introversion is “a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environment” (Susan Cain, https://www.quietrev.com/are-you-shy-introverted-both-or-neither-and-why-does-it-matter/). So let’s get to know the people first before assuming them to be something. Knowledge beats the assumptions anyways and always.

Thirdly, ambivert is a mix of introvert and extrovert so life is not black and white. Nor is this. You can have traits of both, you can be mostly introvert or mostly extrovert with pieces of the other. But today, we celebrate introverts!

Naisten lentopallomaajoukkue

If you recognize yourself as an introvert, and have felt that you are not as worthy or valued in the sports world because you are more quiet, listen to this. And maybe write it in your forehead. Or in your hand so you can actually see it. These two points are coming at you and fast, you better catch them!

  1. Your opinion matters and it is equally important as anyone else’s even if other people are more vocal about their opinions.
  2. Being worthy has nothing to do with the amount of words coming out of your mouth. Your existence in this world makes you worthy.

If you need more proof on those, keep reading.

TASK- AND PEOPLEORIENTED INTROVERT

Let’s go through a sports season from a shy introvert’s perspective.

So you are more quiet or shy than the rest and you already have recognized that. So the first practice in a new club, maybe new teammates if you’re a team sport athlete, and just new situation overall might make you anxious.. “What if they ask me to talk in front of everyone? I don’t even know anyone. I don’t want to, everything is so new right now.”

You are taking time to monitor the environment when you arrive, making notes in your mind about how things are looking, how people are behaving but you are not likely to start the discussions with a new teammate or coach right away. You rather wait that someone comes up and talk with you.

If no one asks you anything, you might think that a) “Phew, made it without talking to anyone, what a relief!” or b) “Well, I wonder what’s wrong with me, why no one was talking to me?”.

There are many other scenarios for sure as well but let’s play with these two. The first one (a) tells that talking is not your favorite thing to do. You might enjoy silence and listening to others much more. You might want to be left alone to do things and you feel like that is when you are at your strongest. You might be one of those lonely wolves who enjoy tasks and facts more than people.

The second scenario (b) might indicate that you wish you would be talking to people more but find it hard to go up to someone and start a discussion even if you would like to have one. So you wait and wish for others to take the first step towards you. You like people, you are just not a chatterbox.

Ok so what is the difference between these introverts?

If you are ms./mr. A and truly just enjoy much more doing things alone and not talking to people unless that is necessary – you might come across a little cold or rude sometimes if you look like you are just avoiding all human contacts. If that is what you wish to do, keep going mate and don’t let this destroy your vibe 😉 Just keep in mind that in sports and life you might need other people to succeed as well and/or maybe you wish to find that true connection with someone. You don’t need 124 friends, but you might need one. If being analytical is your thing, analyze who could be your pillars in this environment and reach out to them.

If you are introvert ms./mr. B and you want to find more connections and friends, you care about people a lot but rather not initiate the discussions. You don’t have to be the first one to talk or connecting with everyone. If nobody came to talk to you but you wished to have a chatting buddy though, maybe you can monitor the environment at first but then take action and talk to someone who looks like a “safe choice” to you?

Think about it this way too, the very first people to talk and connect are often the ones who are just so excited to meet all these new people so they might first just talk with people who are in the same (extroverted) wave length. Nothing to be worried about. You will find those people that you feel more comfortable connecting with later.

Just keep in mind that by reaching out to some people you are closer in making those connections and getting faster to a little more comfortable place than staying silent and feeling isolated for longer (Here is my story of the internal battle whether to open my mouth or not). It helps you to integrate to the team or environment little faster which will most likely also help your performance. For example, maybe you will actually tell some feedback to your setter in volleyball about the set rather than stay quiet and keep struggling with the timing ;).

Personality in sports emails

So as an introvert, you can still be a so called people person, people-oriented. Or, maybe people are not your cup of tea and you are likely to be more task-oriented person. Or something in between. But those two will also make a difference in where you find your power and strength.

If you are a people-oriented person, you care about people and that might be one of the reasons you do sports. You should not feel like you need fancy words or the loudest personality or the best jokes in the room to feel more valuable or appreciated. Your way of caring about the people and supporting them is valuable. Actions vs. words. Your actions can speak for you.

Also, you don’t need the spotlight. You are more likely to be at your best in calmer environments where you can focus. You are craving the feelings of belonging and unity more than the spotlight and fame. If you would be put into the spotlight to perform, you would ask if you could do it in pairs and bring your best friend with you.

If you are more task-oriented person who loves details, facts and tasks to do rather than people because people are just more unpredictable, so messy, your strengths are in the tasks naturally. Your performance is top notch when you can focus on the best tactics and techniques you have proven to work, and you can work by yourself.

You probably would hate if the spotlight would be turned to you and you would have to perform your best right now, impromptu. Your question would be simply “why?”. What is the point in this? You might enjoy the recognition of a good performance but being on the speaker podium, let’s say you have to hold a speech after a winning match, um, well, not your favorite thing to do.

Introvertti vai ekstrovertti

(Psst. Whether you are task- or people-oriented person but you feel like the spotlight is harming your performance, I have good news, you can train your mind and focus so you can focus better and perform despite the spotlight. It is trainable).

If we continue our season and we are somewhere halfway through, the task-oriented introvert would be still working alone and enjoying their peace. People stopped bugging you and you find it nice. Some people still try to have a chat with you but most of them have noticed that you like to work alone.

The people-oriented introvert athlete has found some connections in the team or environment. In the second half of the season, you have started to talk more and have been more open with your friends but still might find it hard to speak up in front of other team members. You have found your friends but sometimes it bugs you that you are not friends with everyone or you wonder if some people like you at all.

At the end of the season, the task-oriented introverted athlete is ok with season being over. You are not super emotional in the first place so ending a season is just an end of another season and you are busier anyways to analyze the statistics from the season and make fact-based analysis what can you do better for the next season. You say bye to people but you might not miss them, maybe one of them who showed similar enthusiasm towards data as you or who understood you as a person, but other than that… Phew, it feels pretty good to have a little time off from all the noisy, emotional people… 😉

If you are the people-oriented introverted athlete, you are not that happy about the season coming to an end. You know that means that there are gonna be changes again and you might lose your inner circle and have to make new connections all over again. You rather want to continue with this group now that you feel more comfortable with. You might have even talked in one or two meetings at the end of the season and raised your opinion. You made a few more friends at the second half of the season and started to feel more comfortable of being yourself and expressing yourself.

INTROVERTS IN SPORTS

Let’s end this introverted season with three nuggets from the research…

  • What comes to coach-athlete relationship and personalities, there are no scientific evidence that some certain personality types in athletes or coaches could predict the depth of the relationship. The most interesting takeaway for me about that article was that the personality traits of an athlete may be important in the quality of the coach-athlete relationship. The research does not say however, that some traits would be better than others. So, it seems to come down to how you use your personality traits to connect and create the athlete-coach relationship.
  • In terms of sport selection, yes some of the research suggest that long distance runners and similar sports where you spend a lot of time training by yourself, are more often introverts. But in general, there are more extroverts in the sports. So, both of those factors seem to support the assumption that there are more extroverted people in the team sports.

Many of these matters around sports, personality, performance, success etc. boil down to the optimal mix of support and challenge to create optimal results where you are growing but not pushed too hard all the time.

Same with this introversion topic, you want to challenge yourself as an introverted athlete when there are matters that you stand for and you know your opinion matters too. That becomes easier when you define your values and hold yourself accountable on standing behind those. But you also want to understand that you can’t be standing in podiums holding speeches all day long or you are going to be drained sooner than later. You need to support your wellbeing by finding time and place to recharge your batteries in environments that has less stimulations.

Lastly, the good news are that according to research:

  • Different personality traits might suit certain sports but there is not just a general, ”sporty” personality that would always be successful or predict success.

CONCLUSION

So no, I would not say that introverts are the underdogs in sports. Performance matters more and understanding and utilizing their strengths. Extroverts’ opinions might be heard more but introverts have a voice too if we listen. You can find some ways to utilize your personality traits inside the sport even if you are not matching with the pretty general assumptions that sports is for super competitive alpha males or females. There is room for others too.

If you wanna know more about yourself and your behavioral characteristics, I have an idea. Sports Capacity Assessment is created to increase your understanding of your unique strengths and how to better utilize them. If you want to know more, hop on to this site or email me at saanamkoljonen@gmail.com  

Thank you for reading<3

Saana

Ps. I also have an awesome email gang that I share a mix of informational and inspirational content about once a week. And you can affect on the content too! You can join HERE.

Sources and more information about the topic of the post:

Sports and Personality: Extraversion and Introversion

The role of personality characteristics of athletics in coach-athlete relationships. Sport Psychologist. Jun2019, Vol. 33 Issue 2, p119-128).

 Aşçi, F. H., Kelecek, S., & Altintaş, A. (2015). The Role of Personality Characteristics of Athletes in Coach–Athlete Relationships. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 121(2), 399–411. https://doi.org/10.2466/30.PMS.121c17x9

Ruchi Singh. Personality, spiritual exercise and cognitive-behavioural interventions in enhancing sports performance, Indian Journal of Positive Psychology 2014, 5(3), 301-309 http://www.iahrw.com/index.php/home/journal_detail/19#list

Managing introverts and introverts managing: https://www.extendeddisc.org/managing-introverts-extrovert-world/

Extended DISC training material and DISC theory.


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