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Coaching the Introverted Athlete

Players Process Emotions Differently


Although human personality is quite varied, there are only two ways to process emotions. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung explained that emotions are driven in two distinct directions, inwardly or outwardly. Individuals that internalize emotions are introverts; those that externalize emotions are extroverts. People are hardwired to process their emotions one way or the other.


Competition, group dynamics, and player feedback profoundly affect players emotionally. Your coaching style will directly impact player and team functioning.


Traditional coaching approaches that rely on motivational speeches, group unity, and even personal disparagement cater to the extrovert. But half the population is said to be introverted, so it is important to incorporate interventions that fit both emotional styles to give all players an equal chance to learn and succeed.


Introverted Personality Traits

It is a mistake to assume the introvert is always quiet and shy—some are, but not all of them. There are also plenty of extroverts that struggle with social insecurities.

The introvert is empathic and is especially sensitive to disappointing others. In contrast, extroverts are more concerned about social status. You notice the personality of the extrovert walking into the room, not so much the introvert’s—unless embarrassingly knocking something over while trying to sneak through.

The introvert’s passive, even blasé expression can hide a depth of thoughts and feelings which stands in contrast to the expressive banter of the extrovert. The introvert is apt to turn their emotional stress into physical symptoms such as a headache or stomachache. In contrast, the extrovert gets angry to discharge stress.

Coaching Interventions for the Introverted Athlete


1) Treat Players with Respect Coach in a neutral tone. Do not use shame, anger, or guilt to motivate introverts, because introverts are sensitive to criticism. The extroverted players can sometimes get fired up by a little anger since it is a form of attention-seeking. Introverts are inherently conscientious, and when they appear lazy or indifferent, it is often due to insecurities about disappointing you.


You need to ensure that teammates treat each other with respect. There should be clear rules against bullying. If you just leave it up to players to resolve their differences, the introverts may become outcasts.

2) Stay Calm


Introverts can be as sensitive to sounds as they are to criticisms. Don’t raise your voice or use harsh whistling to get your players’ attention. Players will learn to listen better if you speak quietly.


Keep your instructions concise since players tune out ‘preaching.’ The more players ignore you, the more you might be inclined to raise your voice and overexplain—a cycle that quickly reinforces itself.

3) Listen


Ask questions and listen closely since the introverted player will likely have valuable thoughts to share. Introverts will become discouraged by brusque coaches that do not take into consideration the players’ own ideas.


4) Focus on Intrinsic Rewards

Winning is important, especially to the extrovert who chases social praise and prizes. Winning may not be enough to motivate the introvert who also has personal goals. Supporting players’ individual improvements will increase their sense of autonomy and team commitment.


5) Be Patient


Pushing an introvert to do an extroverted activity, like leading a group cheer, can result in the introvert becoming more insecure. Provide players a respectful and calm environment, and over time they will perform group activities that were initially too scary to try.


6) Probe Introverts are especially prone to hiding their emotions. As a coach, you are not the players’ parent or therapist. However, given the emotional intensity of sports, you should be willing to check in with players to see how they are doing. Providing an opportunity for players to identify and verbalize feelings could help them cope better in difficult situations. You can ask questions, such as, “What was it like to lose that last game?” or “How was it playing an older team?” Without having to ask directly about their feelings, players will often volunteer how they felt.


Summary

Player retention is a hot topic in youth sports. The conjunction of a decade-long decline in youth-sports participation with Covid19 protocols and fears have sports leaders concerned about the viability of their programs. In your control is your treatment of players. Despite challenges, sports remain a high-value experience for children. Expand your coaching approaches to be inclusive of both emotional styles and more players will return and remain committed to sports in the future.


Cain, Susan. 2012. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Random House. Jung, C. G. 1971. “General Description of the Types.” In Psychological Types Volume 6. 333-407. Princeton: Princeton University Press. First published in the Soccer Journal, Jan 2022.

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