How Do Elite Athletes Differ from the General Population
David Laughlin, Ph.D. and Rainer Meisterjahn, Ph.D. of Courtex Performance (www.CourtexPerformance.com) used
the Reiss Motivation Profile® for Sports to assess 152 elite basketball
players. These players included professional athletes from
National Basketball Association (NBA) teams as well as college and
international players likely to be drafted by NBA teams. Based on a
comparison of these players’ RMP scores with those from IDS’s database
of 79,888 individuals from all walks of life, we were able to identify
how elite athletes differ motivationally from the general population.
We compared the scores of the 152 elite players to those of 152 randomly
selected individuals from IDS’s database – not once, not twice, but
500,000 times! In particular, we looked for possible differences
in the means and standard deviations between the players’ scores on each
of the 16 basic desires and those of the randomly selected
Table 1 shows the differences in means between the elite players and the
general population for each of the 16 basic desires. For the
desires listed in uppercase letters, the means were found to be
statistically significant to a .05 level based on a distribution-free
rank sum test (Wilcoxon, Mann, and Whitney).
Not surprisingly, Physical Activity was the motive that most strongly
discriminated the elite basketball players from the general
population. The players’ average score for Physical Activity
was 12.95 points higher than the average score for the general
population, thus indicating that the athletes enjoy and value muscle
exercise much more than does a typical individual.
The motive of Acceptance also strongly discriminated the two groups.
Compared to the general population, on average the athletes scored
7.99 points lower for Acceptance, which suggests that the elite players
are much more self-confident than is a typical individual.
Compared to the general population, the elite players had significantly
higher average scores on Idealism, Family, Honor, and Curiosity as well
as significantly lower average scores for Independence and Social
Contact. Given that basketball is a team sport, it makes sense
that elite basketball players express a weak need for the motive of
Independence. Rather than seeking a high level of
self-reliance, these players value being able to depend on
others. In basketball jargon, they are comfortable passing
the ball to the open player, trusting him to make the shot.
Table 2 shows how the elite players compare to the general population in
terms of variability of scores for the eight motives that discriminated
the two groups. For example, the players’ standard deviation
for the Acceptance motive differed significantly from that of the
general population, thus indicating much less variability in their
scores for this motive.
The greater uniformity in scores among elite players was true for all of
the motives that discriminated the athletes from the general population
with the exception of Social Contact. In other words, for
all but one of the motives that discriminated the two groups, the
players’ scores were tightly bunched around the mean. The
importance of this finding is that a player whose score does not fall
within the narrow distribution of scores for a given motive will be much
more of an outlier. For example, if a player scores as
having a weak need for Family, that player will be viewed as different
by most of the other players on the team.
Coaches of professional and college basketball teams may want to use the
RMP for Sports to assess their players’ motives for the purpose of
determining the culture of their team. Knowing who is an
outlier with regard to what most players value can be helpful in
identifying, understanding, and resolving possible conflicts that may
arise with an athlete whose motivational profile is considerably
different from the majority of his teammates.
Maggi M. Reiss, President
IDS Publishing Corporation