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Castles by Ants – Episode 15: The Individual Athlete

An ongoing series about psychology in the world of sport.

This is the personality type that causes the biggest problems for sports professionals. We can safely say that the biggest team sport stars come from this personality type. But we also have to add that they are capable of causing the biggest setbacks and disappointments. We need to be able to live with that duality either as a sports professional or as an athlete. In the short run, they are capable of immense success and peak performance, but an Individual is not persistent, so their performance is streaky, and the difference between their good and bad performances is huge. They are able to play like an all-star and then fall back two days later to the level of an average player from a minor league team. In many cases, they can bring this change within a single match, which often results in an unsolvable task for the coach and the team. But this type is also responsible for unbelievable success. They produce the most unexpected, outstanding performances. If anything, it is true that they should be “consumed only in tiny amounts”, because they can be life-threatening in larger doses. Their performance is basically determined by the atmosphere. The atmosphere includes the weather, the team mood, the crowd, and any other external factor that can make an emotional impact because they are very emotional players. Usually they are the focal points of the team, the jocular teammate who can instantly apply their positive energy to the whole team. But what they give so easily, they also take away just as easily. If they are in a bad mood, they can become unmanageable. The challenges facing such athletes begin during training. That’s if they arrive on time or even show up, because they don’t really like to train. For them, a workout will be good when the mood is right, they feel the “party atmosphere”, and we don’t talk about things that are too boring.

Needless to say, tactical trainings and discussions can drive them crazy. They find it boring and therefore useless. If they are not in a good mood, they simply will not train and will find all the excuses in the world. That’s why they can be a coach’s nightmare, as they — unlike Rulers — can’t be reasoned with in these situations. With their sudden reactions, they can destroy the team’s emotional state. A familiar question arises: why is it worth fighting with this type of player when there are so many problems around them? Well, there are many good reasons. Their greatest advantage is creativity. In sport, it means the ability to create surprises at any moment, by which they can even decide matches. If an Individual player has a good day, there is simply no way to stop them, there is no antidote, and if the opponent prepares for this, the Individual will improvise another surprise. The most important thing for them is become a star in the strictest sense of the word. They don’t want to be the player with the most goals; the Individual wants to be the most memorable player! It doesn’t matter if the team’s performance was weak, so long as they are called in for an interview after the match and celebrated as a star. They surely do not take the responsibility for the defeat, and they are almost as pleased as if the team had won.

I know that I have described both the Ruler and Individual personality types rather harshly and without much sympathy. But I did not become a mentor by being overly gentle. My job is to present my partners with the black and white reality in order to make the most of their teams. And this does not work in any other way, only with brutal honesty! And with Individuals, we really need this candour. After all, with the right management, we have a star; with the wrong management, we have a ticking timebomb. Listening to and accepting unsympathetic thoughts is worth the difference! The Individual player tends to be selfish. It does not matter if they are playing poorly, they will take shots. They cannot play an entire match at a consistent level, but they refuse to notice this. Their “entrepreneurial” spirit does not diminish in the face of fatigue. In many cases, they are able to elevate the team, lead it, and soon afterwards, destroy what they have built. It is imperative that they are only used for specific periods. For example, they are not ideal for closing out matches! Their performance is unpredictable, so in all-deciding situation, their performance is a big question mark. They can’t concentrate consistently; they play how they feel. This is also important to know when sending them onto the pitch in a given situation. They don’t like the rules and they try to avoid them. In sport, this translates to a lack of tactical discipline. They are the ones who have a ridiculously tough time remembering and executing a certain play that has been practiced a thousand times. Practice is boring for them, so they don’t pay attention. Or, in a match with high stakes, they think they have to solve the situation on their own, so it is almost impossible to bring team tactics to life. But they are unbeatable in creative one-on-one games. They can improvise new things and impress their opponents. Many times, they impress their own teammates too, so the teammates should be chosen carefully. In many cases, they overthink the tactic by two or three steps, but they forget to inform their teammates about it. They are the masters of turnovers, as few can follow their mental speed. The Individual is a blessing and a curse because they make the team’s game unpredictable, which can lead to great embarrassment or success. If there is a national team that can be said to beat anyone in the world, but can also lose against anyone, we can be sure it is an Individual team!

I know this subject all too well. I have seen both the positive and negative sides of the Individual. There was a World Championships where a team consisting of 88% Individual players simply humiliated the host country, which was predicted to win the tournament, yet two days later, they found a way to lose against a far lesser team in a simple group match. Everyone was embarrassed by these events, although if they had seen the team’s personality map, no one would have been surprised. No one would have sworn at the coach because he did not have the chance to do anything about it! But why did he put together such a team? We will talk about selection, but by way of introduction, each country has its own youth team development strategy. In countries where junior coaches are expected to earn medals and lead the world rankings, the youth team coaches prefer Individuals because they quickly become stars. In this respect, the Supporter and Expert types become neglected because they progress more slowly — but more dependably — that is, as teenagers they are unable to reach peak performance. Therefore, these countries perform much better in the youth world competitions, and they are always wondering why fate prevents them from translating this success into adult success. It was this attitude and recruitment strategy that made the aforementioned national team captain fully aware of problems in the composition of the national team, but he simply could not involve players with other personality types, because they had already been passed over during youth team competitions and slowly gave up the sport. It was unbelievable to see a national captain try out nearly 50 players for a team of 20 and find only one Supporter on the scene. So, he started the World Championships hosted by the Scandinavian countries — where people could see the sun for two hours per day on average — with an 88% Individual team. Needless to say, the team’s state of mind was suboptimal, and so was the result.

All in all, I have to say that the most interesting athletes are in the Individual category. It is quite difficult to handle them, but they can be worthwhile partners. They have enormous potential that can be fully exploited by a skilled professional. We have to know that we can always count on selfishness and independence, such as nodding at tactical instructions on the sideline but then doing something entirely different on the court. We also need to know that if we want to surprise the opponent, if we want a really strong, dynamic start to the match, we need to put them on the court. Also, be aware that no matter how good of a streak they have in a match, they almost always bottom out at some point. But we don’t have to be scared! The coach simply has to rest them for a bit, and later they can move the whole team again with renewed dynamism! If a team’s energy dips, they should be subbed in. If, however, we find ourselves in a decisive situation, we should keep them on the bench. They are not capable of tactical discipline in tough situations. I saw this with my own eyes from the sideline, when three of our “girls” wanted to take the game-tying shot. The coach called the play, but once on the court they fought amongst each other and one of them, of course the player in the worst position, launched a low-percentage shot that did not come close to going in. Just like with the Ruler, we can say that we should only start a season or world competition with Individuals if we are fully aware of how to manage them. In that case, they will provide many positive surprises!


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Castles by Ants – Episode 16: A General Description of the Supporter Type

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Castles by Ants – Episode 14: The Private Life of the Individual Type