Bo Hanson, 4x Olympian and Coaching Consultant. 27th February 2015.

A lot of coaches think about recruiting athletes with the X Factor in sport, do you think this is a healthy thing to do, or, is there something else coaches should be looking for?

Yeah I think it’s a really interesting this concept of trying to find that X Factor in your athletes. Obviously if we are able to do that consistently there’s a pretty good chance we’ll find a team that is more likely to be successful. But in reality, when you look at any research done on what the X Factor is – most coaches and most researchers struggle to even define what the qualities are. We seem to be able to identify it but we’re not able to actually identify exactly what those qualities that create that X Factor are and so therefore we end up trying to search for something that is indefinable in the first place.

From our perspective we’re far better off looking at well, what is the team dynamic? What does it look like in terms of the different types of personalities and behavioral styles that we have in the context of the team? What are the strengths? What are its limitations? We’re always interested in trying to find players that can fill those gaps.

Quite often if you end up with a team full of athletes who all have that ‘X Factor’ you end up with issues around the Star Player of the team contrasting and conflicting with other Star Players within the team. You end up with that old analogy of a ‘team full of champions but obviously not being a champion team’.

At Athlete Assessments we give coaches the tools to develop their athletes and develop their self-awareness. However other tools try to predict whether athletes will be successful. What are your thoughts on that?

I would agree that there are tools available that try to predict the likelihood of an athlete being successful in the context of their sport. From my perspective, the role of assessing behavior and even personality is really to try and find a fit within the context of you team. It’s trying to develop the awareness of the athlete/the player so that they can become a little bit more capable of developing their own skills and abilities and recognize strengths.

From what I’ve seen, I think it’s very easy to fill out a survey that’s aimed at, perhaps, understanding your level of mental toughness for example. It’s very easy to fill out a survey in a nice air conditioned room sitting at a computer when your heart rate’s around seventy or eighty beats per minute and say that you’re ‘mentally tough’ or other qualities that might be predictive of being successful on the team. Obviously the real test is not so much how you fill out a survey in those type of environments but it’s what happens on the field when your heart rate is 180 beats per minute and it’s been that way for a couple of minutes and you’re struggling for air and your strategies to keep on pushing yourself and working hard for the team. From my perspective that is not so much an inbuilt quality, it’s more something that someone has learnt.

Once again it comes full circle around to trying to give players and coaches the ability to understand themselves well enough so that they can see this as an area that needs to be developed. I think a lot of the work that we’re trying to do in the education of coaches is really to help coaches understand the context of their role as being the core at developing people.

The reality is that in this time, now more so than ever, in this younger generation and the environment that we’re all growing up in is vastly different to the environment that older athletes had to grow up in. The quality of life is better, the standards of living are much higher and the amount of struggle is not quite the same for most athletes on the whole. What tends to happen is that the people turning up in your programs typically may not be so well up skilled in communication, teamwork and leadership skills as well as mental toughness.

That doesn’t mean that they can’t develop it but certainly we’ve seen that, and we’ve spoken to literally thousands of coaches about this phenomenon at various sporting conferences around America and around Australia, most would agree that they’re not having these X Factor athletes turn up in their programs. These coaches are now at the point where they’re having to develop the skills and abilities themselves.

All of those things that I mentioned; whether it’s mental toughness, teamwork, leadership skills, communication skills, ability to prioritize, narrow and broaden focus, they’re all skills that can be learned. What we’re trying to help coaches to understand is that that is a critical part of their role more so today than ever.

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