We recently released a whitepaper on mental toughness and how it differentiates top NCAA Division 1 and professional athletes. To read the full whitepaper, click here. Otherwise, we’ve got a short and sweet recap summary for you below.

Athletic Ability Isn’t Enough

The chances of athletes making it to the “big leagues” is slim to none. In fact, a high school football player’s chances of playing Division 1 is only 2.7%, baseball is at 2.1%, men’s soccer is at 1.3%, and similarly 1.0% for basketball. Those numbers are lower when looking at the number of athletes drafted to a professional team. With numbers being so low, athletic ability can’t be the only factor that scouts look for.

Scouts historically have analyzed prospects’ athletic potential in such physical areas as “explosiveness” (vertical jump, lateral quickness, dribbling speed), shooting, blocking shots, and court versatility. Now, these are important to the success of the team but aren’t the only factors that they consider. Scouts are also looking for non-physical aspects of a player’s game like instincts, court awareness, work ethic, coachability, leadership, and other psychological factors believed to contribute to success. Scouts refer to these as “intangibles.”

How Do you Measure Intangibles like Mental Toughness?

Intangibles, like mental toughness, have received a lot of attention from the scientific community, although they struggle with conceptualizing it. There are a variety of studies that have worked on testing, proving, and providing a guide or outline of how to measure these non-physical aspects.

Personality Research Findings About Athletes

  1. Kaiseler, Polman, and Nicholls (2012) found that athletes higher in neuroticism reacted more intensely to on-the-field stress factors while showing signs of lower control over them. They also found that higher neuroticism was associated with greater avoidance when it came to coping with the stress factors, instead of problem-focused coping.
  2. Yeatts and Lochbaum (2013) found that temperament or disposition predicts the preferred coping strategy.
  3. Jones, Hanton, and Connaughton (2002) brought together 10 world-class athletes in a series of focus groups and interviews to define the nature of mental toughness. By working with these athletes, they were able to describe what mental toughness allows athletes to do:

“Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sports places on a performer. And be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, confident, and in control under pressure.”

Mental Toughness is Not a Single Trait

Our research concluded that mental toughness is not a single trait, but is a combination of the following personality traits:

  • Level-headedness
  • Stress tolerance
  • Resiliency/ Ego-strength
  • Energy/ Persistence
  • Self-structure
  • Thoroughness

These personality traits have been used extensively in assessing an individuals’ potential for success across a wide range of professional, academic, and athletic contexts. These traits are proven to be related to performance measures such as shooting percentage, rebounds, turnovers, 3-point percentage, and more.

Summary of Caliper’s Research Study

Caliper’s hypothesis is that that athletes with at least one year of professional experience will score higher than NCAA Division 1 athletes in mental toughness. We define mental toughness as a combination of scales from the Caliper Profile Personality Assessment including: level-headedness, stress-tolerance, resiliency/ego-strength, self-structure, and energy/persistence. We conducted our study with 2 samples, one being NCAA Division 1 athletes and the other professional athletes. Both groups of athletes were measured against each other using data analysis.

Download the entire whitepaper to see how mental toughness differentiates top NCAA Division 1 and professional athletes.