The Role of Personality in Cycling Performance

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Professional cycling doesn't have the luxury of a draft. There is no annual combine to assess talent. Instead we speak of a riders threshold power or VO2 max as the keys to success.

Unfortunately, for cycling, there aren't a lot of great stats that can be referenced in making those selections. There is no "on-podium" percentage, or relative-finishing-position across races that has any real statistical merit, so we are left to a mix of physiological measures and perception as guides.

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This isn't the case in most other professional sports and perhaps that's part of the allure of cycling—it really doesn't operate like most other sports. Yet the quest to find top talent is terribly important to teams and coaches seeking the upper echelons. Teams cannot simply sign a rider on potential alone and invest years in developing that potential in the hopes that it may pay off eventually.

Certainly the physiological characteristics are essential, but there are a host of psychological and personality factors that come into play as well. While sports psychology is well recognized and oft discussed, the role of individual personality traits seems to be less considered at the outset. By and large personality traits, those intrinsic templates we use to view and interact with the world around us, are stable across ones lifetime. Let's look at a few of the indicators that teams might consider, and that you might want to have a look at for your own development.

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The Five Factor Model

Most research on personality references what are called the "Big Five Factors" of personality and their constituent traits:

Openness to experience: ranks the individual as inventive/ curious, appreciative of a variety of experiences versus being more consistent and cautious.

Conscientiousness: compares tendencies towards efficient/organized versus easy-going/careless. A tendency to show self discipline and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior.

Extraversion: looks at predispositions towards being outgoing and energetic versus solitary and reserved.

Agreeableness: Ones tendency to be friendly/compassionate and cooperative rather than cold/unkind, suspicious or antagonistic towards others.

Neuroticism: compares nervousness and sensitivity (a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions like anger, anxiety or depression easily) versus someone who is more secure and confident.

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By and large these traits are considered fixed and unchanging across time. Of these, conscientiousness is the trait most often affiliated with performance as it considers ones tendency towards self discipline and their drive for achievement against outside expectations and measures. Conscientious individuals are considered thorough, reliable, organized, industrious, and self-controlled, among other traits.

Conscientiousness is not without its limitations, however, namely that it relies on factor analysis of associated adjectives and in so doing eliminates those adjectives with few synonyms (and antonyms) from consideration. Another confound is that research has shown that the relative importance of the above qualities will likely vary depending on the type of achievement under consideration. Indeed it has been suggested, for example, that self-control, ones ability to resist temptation, is a poor predictor of very high level achievement, whereas achievement orientation was shown to better predict job proficiency and educational success than did dependability.

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