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Castles by Ants – Episode 12: The Ruler Athlete

An ongoing series about psychology in the world of sport.

How do these personality traits manifest when a Ruler happens to be an athlete? They are often difficult to see, as professional athletes spend little free time for reflection/observation. But Ruler athletes certainly exist, and they all display the features I discussed in previous sections. In addition, it is difficult to define an “athlete” in general, since there are drastic differences in how personality traits are exhibited between individual and team sports. If this is true in general, it is doubly true for the Ruler. In an individual sport, the Ruler can take advantage of most of their personality type’s inherently good qualities while dealing with less of the fallout from their bad ones. Whether a quality is good or bad depends heavily on context, but the Ruler athlete typically struggles with human relationships. Clearly, that is not ideal for team sports. If they work alone, the Ruler athlete has to accept at most their coach, and if they look up to the coach, this human relationship is easy to manage. The real challenges come when joining a team, that is, Ruler athletes in the team sports. After all, team members enter the scene, and then there are the fans, so human relationships play a key role in success. Whatever the case, let’s not accidentally conclude that Ruler should avoid team sports and stick to individual ones!

What are the most prominent features of Ruler athletes? They are true performance-oriented athletes. For them, the result is the most important thing, so they try to take direct paths to success. They are the ones who have their lifetime best performances in critical situations. They do not tremble before a high-pressure shot. When the stakes are high, they are full of motivation, not fear. Victory is paramount and they are able to summon all their energy to attain it. Of course, they are not interested in the team’s victory alone, but in their desire to become a star. The victory of the team is important because they can then be members of an elite group and thus obtain a heightened status, which is especially important to them. In addition, in sport, once you achieve a certain status via reliable results, the player’s value increases. With increased value comes increased income, and thus, the most important motivations of the Ruler type have been fulfilled. So, the Ruler can really contribute to a team’s success by bringing in tremendous energy, but you cannot fault them for doing it for selfish reasons. Thus, clever coaches realise that the goals of the team and the Ruler player must coincide, and if they do, they will be rewarded with an energetic player who not only wants to increase their own performance but does not tolerate an unproductive teammate, either!

Rulers do not like to train. They need a competitive environment in order to perform well, so a Ruler’s performance at practices and warm-up matches can totally mislead an inexperienced coach. They don’t give it their all, and never dig deep during practice. Their solutions are dull, and they lack that extra gear that they use during matches. In many cases, people underestimate their talent, as their performances during training or the preseason do not, to put it mildly, impress the coaching team. The laziness of the Ruler is even more visible in a team where there happen to be several Supporter players, who can “fight for their lives” in a normal training session. In addition, they look down on the “cowardly” team members who work hard during practice but get scared in action during real matches. This, in addition to being lazy, makes the Ruler even less sympathetic to people, so there are huge questions surrounding them. Thus, it is essential to look beyond the training and towards the big picture. While it is important to create basic rules that all personality types must follow, whether you like it or not, the coach must treat a Ruler player differently. That’s why it’s worth considering how many Rulers we want to see on a team. We don’t recommend having too many, because it takes energy and time that should be devoted to the rest of the team. But, of course, the question arises by having a Ruler who is so difficult to handle, why are they needed on the team at all? Everyone’s life is much easier if we have players who are constantly trying to perform, right?

Well, here we must consider the most important and inimitable feature of the Ruler type: they perform well in high-pressure situations! And no other personality type can match the Ruler in this respect. Without a Ruler, winning anything at the club level can be next to impossible! In national teams, people often try to keep Rulers out of the squad, and over the past 10 years, the only teams that were able to achieve remarkable success and then sustain it were the ones who had patience during this process. Via conscious, long-term work at the team level, it is possible to dispense with difficult-to-handle Rulers, but this solution requires that the individual skills of the rest of the players are exceptional, so that there would be no need for astonishing breakout performances. Because Rulers are the best at these! They can temporarily elevate an average team to great heights. Yet it is also true that they can also ruin the results of a top team. Importantly, whether a Ruler player fits into the picture often depends heavily on the personality of the coach. Rulers are not team players, and if they played well in the match but their team lost, they will not be affected in the short term as long as their status is not affected by being among “losers”!

I have first-hand experiences with each personality type, but the people that made the biggest impacts and provided the most surprises in my life were Rulers. During my first sports projects, I was not directly involved in the management of the players; I didn’t even meet them. In most cases, management contacted me, and I had a direct connection only with the head coach, which was known at most only by the manager who brought us together. This cooperation was always confidential, and we agreed at the beginning of the development programmes that come success or failure, we would not disclose the fact that the national team was using a psychological system. This need came from both sides, as exposing the national team to public attacks regarding the application of a completely new system would not seem too prudent. For me, as successful businessperson, leading another country’s national team to success has always been a major risk. So, the cooperation consisted of the analysis of all the players on the team as well as the head coach, and based on the results, we provided input regarding motivational structures, as well as strategy and selection. We had used this system for years, but I had not personally seen their effects in action. Of course, when I saw the team’s results, I gained far more confidence in the quality of my work. I have had assignments in Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, Benelux, and Scandinavia, but apart from having been thanked in many languages for our involvement in successful projects, we could not gather much direct information. Then came the first development where I was personally involved, and from that time, we always found a way to directly participate in the work while maintaining safety for both sides. Of course, that time has passed, and it is no longer a matter of secrecy; rather, it is now a modern and desirable thing to use these systems as effective tools for mental preparation, but 15 years ago this was not the case.

So, during the first development in which I was personally involved, I immediately got a question about managing a real Ruler player. The player was already a huge star at the age of 18 and showed extreme promise. Even then, she was pursued by the most successful clubs, and she landed a contract with one of them, which was quite exceptional for someone from her country at the time. She was able to win matches almost on her own, and in her sport, handball, this is a truly remarkable. Then came a completely “blind spot” in her career. She stopped caring about her position, money, and better deals; she burned out and started avoiding training altogether. Then, not much later, she had a baby, and it seemed like the end of her career. But after giving birth, she returned to a weaker club and helped them win an international cup within two years, much to everybody’s surprise. She was one of the most successful players in the team, and of course, expectations for her had gone up again. She was selected for the national team, which had two upcoming international competitions. She missed the first, but because of her phenomenal performance during the following club season, almost everyone was confident that she would be a star during the second competition, the World Championships. But it didn’t work out like that. Her family was her focus, and since her Supporter factor was very weak, she prioritised them instead of the “extremely important” world competition, which she thought of as “just work”. The captain could not influence her and, to put it gently, she performed an average level throughout the world competition. Many times, I have stressed that such a player should not be placed in matches without stakes and, in particular, should not be scolded if she plays poorly in such a match. She needed real stakes to perform well. But because she was scolded, she lost her faith in the head coach, and the team’s fate was sealed.

Since then, I have had many opportunities to meet Ruler players on national teams, and just this year, I encountered a player with some Supporter factor — which means she was more of a team player, but still a Ruler overall — who was handled perfectly by the head coach. She returned to the national team for the sake of the national team coach, so there was mutual trust and respect. There was also a baby in the picture, whom the family cared for in her absence. I lost count of the critical moments in which her extraordinary performance contributed heavily to the team’s ultimate success. Was she the odd one out on her Supporter-heavy team? Hardly! I remember the conversation where we made it clear to her not to act like yet another Supporter player, because the coach brought her there exactly because of her Ruler values and features. So, she didn’t waste any energy trying to play “perfect teammate” and instead motivated the entire team to perform better! Thus, we have two athletes with similar personalities that ended up with vastly different results because of how they were treated by their coaches. That’s the personality-based approach!

It is a good idea to start a match with Rulers. While the other personality types are busy working themselves into a match, Rulers already go through this process during the warm-up, and can give their maximum from the first minute. However, one should be careful, because the Ruler cannot play at the same level throughout the match. It is therefore the responsibility of the coach to keep the Ruler on the court for certain periods, if the sport allows it. Take basketball, water polo, and handball — the Ruler team member can be managed very well. When they experience a loss of concentration resulting in their first mistakes, then the Ruler needs to rest. But we also need to know that after a sufficient break, we can get them back on the court and they will perform the same high standard as before. Of course, it is imperative that the Ruler player both understands and accepts this situation! They want to control the match and think that they need a constant presence on the court. The clever coach plays with this need and forces the Ruler player to perform well for longer. They are able to mobilise their reserves to protect their status. No matter what happens during the match, most of time they can play a leading role during the last few minutes. If the team needs to protect a lead during the final minutes, then do not let Ruler play on the field because they will want to win the match outright. To this end, the selfish and self-interested personality will grow stronger and the Ruler will not care if they make several mistakes, but instead will fancy their own chances, and will not cooperate with teammates! However, if our team is losing and needs to complete a comeback, it’s Ruler time! It is precisely their features that allow them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory that also allow them to turn a negative result into a positive one. Maybe they will not succeed, but at least Ruler has the potential to achieve victory in an otherwise hopeless situation. If they fail, the team will lose nothing, but if they succeed, the team can win everything. In any case, I would emphasise one rule above all others: the most important penalties (from 4, 7, or 11 meters depending on the sport), should be taken by a Ruler player! They are the ones who can mute all distractions in such situations. This is also a great lesson for coaches who expect successful penalty shots from players who normally execute them well in less stressful situations; most of the time, those who can score penalties during peacetime situations cannot do so in a crisis.

As with all personality types, the Ruler has its advantages and disadvantages in sport. But perhaps I have to say that they have the biggest disadvantage in team sports and the most personality traits that can negatively impact a team’s performance. They work together as long as the goals of the team, club, or national team match their individual interests. If these goals do not match, then the Ruler will no longer be a loyal character. It is no coincidence that they play the smallest role in modern national teambuilding strategies, and their exclusion is now a trend in team sports.


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Castles by Ants – Episode 11: General Description of Ruler Type

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Castles by Ants – Episode 13: A General Description of the Individual Type