Fifteen Eighty Four

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A New Approach to Sports Psychology

Steven Reiss

Writing for Psychology Today, psychologist Steven Reiss explores how applying the 16 human needs discussed in The Normal Personality allows for different approaches in sports psychology.

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normal-personalityPeter Boltersdorf, a sports and business consultant in Germany, applied the 16 human needs to competitive athletics. Peter’s first consult was with the minor league professional soccer team in Mainz, which was struggling in mid-season, largely because of poor performance from a star player. Peter determined that the player had a “high need for acceptance” and further noticed that the Mainz coach constantly berated the player during games, yelling, “Kick it right! Kick it right!”

Since a player with a high need for acceptance will only be discouraged by criticism, Peter advised the coach not to yell at the player while a game was in progress. Instead, the coach should provide calm, constructive criticism after the game. The player’s performance improved dramatically and the team went on to win a division title and move up to a higher league.

When Peter told me of his consult, I gained new insights into how to apply the 16 human needs to sports. By relating each of the human needs to specific athletic tendencies, I could see that a player with a low need for honor, for example, might have a tendency to commit penalties. A player with a high need for status might perform best against a high status opponent.

In total, I deduced scores of sports-specific implications from my knowledge of the 16 needs. I later evaluated the needs of each player on an NCAA Division I baseball team, NCAA Division I golf team, and a soccer and a tennis team playing in NCAA Division III. The results showed dramatic differences in what motivated the various teams. The Division I players were primarily motivated by competition and achievement, whereas the Division III players – i.e., those from smaller schools – were primarily motivated by social experiences. In other words, Division I athletes wanted to win, but those playing in Division III wanted to make friends.

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About The Author

Steven Reiss

Steven Reiss is is Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University, the author of The Normal Personality: A New Way of Thinking about People (2009), and creator of The Reiss Profi...

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