The Coaching Connection: How to maximize the best of our players

23 Nov The Coaching Connection: How to maximize the best of our players

Guest Blogger: Kip Watson, CEO and Owner of NeuroSport

What is different about the best coaches and trainers? How do they consistently deliver champions—even in different locations, with different athletes, and against different competitors?

Certainly having a sharp eye for talent and knack for recruiting are important. Technical expertise and a gift for communication are also key factors. However, to see consistent results, much more is required.

The best coaches and trainers are masters at something leadership experts call “individualization.” This means they study each athlete in order to tailor their approach to the unique needs of the individual. They understand that “one size does NOT fit all.” This may be common sense, but it is not common practice. What’s more, the best coaches maintain a dual focus: They create consistency across the program while providing specificity to the individual athlete.

Championship-caliber coaches understand that every athlete is a complex bundle of BOTH physical and mental capabilities. Over the years, researchers in every sport have developed scientific and objective methods to evaluate an athlete’s physical abilities. We look at speed, strength, agility, sport-specific motion, flexibility, and stamina.

Physical abilities are only half, if that, of the performance picture. In our experience, elite-level coaches and trainers are able to uncover the unique mental make-up of each athlete. How are they motivated? How do they compensate for a weakness? How do they respond when they’re intimidated, in pain, or dealing with a tough opponent? The good news is that we now have an equally scientific and objective way to answer these questions about mental make-up and performance.

If you have yet to add the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™ (MBTI™) to your arsenal of training and coaching tools, you should give it serious consideration. Properly administered and interpreted, the MBTI can provide a more complete understanding of how to practice and train athletes given their innate physical and mental strengths and deficiencies. When you know how an athlete is “wired,” you can better motivate your athletes, teach them how to handle pressure, and ultimately, help them realize their full potential.

Elite tennis coach Duey Evans creates consistency across his tennis programs in Dallas yet addresses specific needs of his athletes by utilizing MBTI analysis. Credit: Kim Kurth

Explanation of the MBTI:

The MBTI is an assessment that has been around for decades. It’s the most widely used personality instrument in the world and holds key information on how your athletes are wired. It measures their consistency in four innate mental preferences or processes. There are eight preferences, two choices in four categories. Athletes each have all eight but innately prefer one mental process over the other in each of the four pairings.

The 4 preferences categories:

The first pairing identifies how your athletes prefer to direct their energy. Is it through the outer world of people, action, and things? More like an Extravert (E)? Or, is it more in the inner world of ideas, contemplation, and reflection? That athlete would be inclined towards Introversion (I).

Your Extraverted athletes prefer getting energized through talking, interaction, activities, and processing out loud their thoughts, emotions, and circumstances. Stimuli for an Extravert comes from outside themselves. Introverts, on the other hand, tend to get more stimuli from the inner world of contemplation, thinking about things first before speaking, and activities that involve being alone. Thus, they recharge their batteries alone after being around a lot of people and activity. It’s not surprise then, that Extraverted athletes consistently display more energy and aggressiveness than their introverted counterparts.

The second preference area focuses how your athletes take in the information around them. The preference for Sensing (S) is just what it sounds like, taking in information with the senses: what they see, taste, smell, touch, and hear. They are pragmatic, practical, and prefer the tangible. Sensing athletes live in the present, right here and now and more down to earth than visionary. iNtuitive (N) athletes take in information more through concepts, and possibilities. They use that 6th sense being informed via hunches, the figurative, and intangible. They are future focused and inspired by imagination. iNtuitives attach meaning and significance to information rather than interpreting in a more literally way.

The third pairing is how your athletes evaluate the information they are taking in. Decisions have to be made. Do they do it with their head or with their heart? Thinkers (T) make decisions based more on logic and impersonal reasoning. They are systematic when solving problems. They are more objective and rational, and tend to use policies, rules, and tradition. Feelers (F) are more circumstantial and relational. These athletes tend to make decisions by taking into consideration how the decision will impact the people and situation. It’s important to note that both Thinkers and Feelers may come to the same conclusion or decision, but they just go about it in a different way.

The final pairing between preferences assesses between Judging (J) and Perceiving (P). This mental process focuses on how athletes prefer to live their external life. Perceivers tend to orient live life with an adaptable and flexible lifestyle. ‘Laid back’ typically describes these athletes. They are spontaneous and like to keep their options open. Thus, their day may not necessarily be planned. They tend to dislike structure or routine and they really value their freedom. You always know when you have a Perceiver athlete on your hands because they tend to be late almost everywhere they go.

Judgers, on the other hand, believe to be early is to be on time. They orient life with a plan of action. They are self-disciplined and value a strong work ethic. Thus, they get up each morning and pretty much know what they are going to do throughout the day. They are organized and decisive. Similarly, a Judger tends to provide you with their opinion whether asked or not. Perceivers, however, generally do not offer up an opinion and you may wait a long time before you get their thoughts on a subject.

Each of your athletes is a combination of the four preferences. There are 16 different Types and no one Type is superior over another. Each of the different combinations of preferences is unique and gives a road map of sorts as to why they behave and perform they way they do.

The addition of Brain Typing™ to MBTI:

Basically, Brain Typing adds neuroscience to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. First developed by Jonathan Niednagel, neuroscience provides an understanding of which areas of the brain control which aspects of the body and mind. Thus, by combining these two sciences, we get a pretty clear picture of normal, innate physical and mental tendencies of an athlete, a coach, or whoever takes the assessment.

For example, the levels and regions of cerebral activity are different in Introverts than Extroverts. It also appears based on research of the two hemisphere of the brain, that the left brain specializes in the Judging function of the MBTI and the right brain specializes in Perceiving preferences. Furthermore, each of the 16 MBTI Types appears to be located in a specific brain location. This information is clearly helpful as it relates to athletic skills and performing under pressure.

How this science is used:

As a coach, you do not want to label or select based on a Type. But, Brain Typing/MBTI results certainly can help understand your athletes and what type of position he or she is best suited for and which players tend to perform better in a team situation versus a single situation. If you have tennis players that range in Type, you’ll see how to individualize their training within your program.

Case study: Comparing Two Athletes

Let’s take a look at two of our elite athletes who share two mental preferences, but differ in two mental preferences:

  • “Player A” is an ISTJ
  • “Player B” is an ISFP

You’ll notice that both athletes are the same in the first two letters—I and S. That means both players are Introverted and Sensors. They differ in the last two areas. As we’ll see, these differences have a profound affect on their approach to the game, on their physical strengths and limitations, and on how they are motivated.

Player A – “The Tactician”
Player A is a left-brained Introvert (ISTJ). That means he takes in information practically, like his ISFP counterpart, but he makes decisions about how to play the game quite differently. For example, Player A prefers to take an analytical approach to his tennis game. He often tells us he is especially proud of his ability to perform shots with proper form, technique, and control. It is no surprise that his ground strokes are deliberate, exacting, and deadly.

Like most ISTJ’s, Player A has excellent fine motor skills. Often his Type displays an innate ability to master hand-eye coordination and to easily manipulate a racket in a controlled fashion. As coaches, we usually enjoy this type of player because they’re disciplined, adept at drills and follow instructions in practice. They simply love to “do it right.”

Player A is a classic example of a “master technician” who tends to error on the side of being a perfectionist. We helped his coach understand that motivation for an ISTJ mainly comes in the form of tangible results. Whether in practice or in tournament play, Player A’s chief goal has some measurable result – usually perfecting a stroke, acing a serve, and winning. Understanding his desire for perfection, especially after making a mistake, his coach is careful to focus on what he needs to do, rather than dissecting what went wrong.

Given his left-brained Type, Player A has a number of challenges for Tennis. He lacks good peripheral vision, he approaches his game in a linear fashion, and he struggles to overcome feelings of frustration after an un-forced error. As a result, he often takes a conservative, defensive approach during tournament play. Only in a big tournament do we see a more aggressive and offensive side of him. His innate left brain preference also makes it difficult to respond in a spontaneous, split-second fashion.

With these key insights, however, his coach uses a variety of methods and drills to increase his ability to react “in the moment” and to maintain a relaxed, smooth tempo under pressure. And by simply making Player A more aware of his natural tendencies, he is better able to recognize the early warning signs of frustration during a match, and adopt the new mental techniques learned in training.

Player B – “The Troubleshooter”
Our ISFP player, on the other hand, is an introverted “feeler.” As a Feeler, he does not possess the logical and procedural abilities of Player A. There is less analysis involved in his practice and less methodical preparation for competitive play. Player B makes decisions based on experience and gut feel.

Much of Player B’s motivation comes from the sheer pleasure of getting out on the court and being physical. And as with any activity, Player B is primarily interested in “having fun” and grows impatient with drills that require extended periods of focus and attention.

Similar to Player A, Player B tends to not be as aggressive as a coach might like. While laid back in style and gentle natured, this ISFP can transform into a competitive beast, if provoked by a competitor or stimulated by his dream to reach the top level.

Physically, Player B is gross motor dominate, gifted in rhythm and agility, and has superior peripheral and spatial vision. As an ISFP, he can scan the court, troubleshoot, and make the necessary split second decision needed with grace and fluidity.

As with most ISFP’s, Player B lacks fine motor skills and proper technique. When combined with his natural tendency to lack confidence in his abilities, it is vital to encourage him to invest the necessary effort to develop specific skills and techniques. Given Player B’s innate physical power and core strength, he can actually build a powerful baseline game with spin and rotation on the ball.

Because Player B is Sensor-Feeler, he responds best to tactile, hands-on experiences and advice that is short, practical, tangible and encouraging. Once his coach understood these preference tendencies, he was better able to provide specific drills and training to develop proper stroke and serve technique.


In both cases, whether dealing with a player’s strength or deficiency, using the Brain Typing/MBTI information allows us to hone in on specific training and tournament preparation for the individual. If it’s a strength, we can build it into a competitive advantage. If it is a deficiency, we employ specific strategies to make it better. As a coach, it is our job to connect this kind of information to our athletes. It provides individualized guidance to help each athlete unlock and unleash their fullest athletic potential.

Anne ‘Kip’ Watson, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor & Certified Trainer

Founder & CEO of NeuroSport: athlete assessments & media relations

Visit her blog with the Dallas Morning News

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