Assessing human behavior at work and in sport is a complex process with no single theory providing a complete understanding of the behavioral characteristics in these two performance areas. In order to better understand these characteristics, a thorough assessment must be utilized in order to enhance our ability to understand, predict, and improve these areas. To accomplish this objectively, relevant data must be accumulated. Generally, data that goes into this assessment process includes behavioral observations, interview information, and past history.

Even when there is an opportunity to observe individuals in their natural setting, the ways in which we collect the data is often biased. We all have our own way of looking at the world, and we often see very different things when observing someone’s performance. Typically, we think we can objectively assess someone’s behavior on our own, but experience tells us that is not always true. How many times have you been fooled by first impressions? For example, many athletes have been chosen high in the draft, but never reach their full potential. How many people do you know come across great in a job interview, but then fail to deliver?

Biases in Talent Evaluation

Bias is present, to a greater or lesser degree, in every decision a person makes. Two people can be given the same information but may draw very different conclusions from it. For example, when assessing an athlete, one coach may see the athlete as the most tenacious player on the field, whereas another coach may view the same athlete as impulsive and totally out of touch with his/her playing environment. The discrepancy in perception leads to interpersonal conflict and may lead to additional problems within the team.

Because human perception lacks objectivity, psychology consultants are moving into new areas of assessment and are using new techniques to make better decisions. Psychological inventories or tests are being used more frequently in fields such as sport than ever before, in order to reduce mistakes and to enhance the quality of services provided to others. A psychological test is a measurement device that is comprised of a set of items designed to measure characteristics of individuals that pertain to certain types of behavior (Kaplan and Saccuzzo, 2001). Tests used in the fields of sport and business measure complex constructs like arousal, intelligence, motivation, and concentration. These constructs are often seen as the building blocks of optimal performance in these fields.

Psychological Testing to Even the Playing Field

Psychology consultants believe psychological testing adds an element of fairness to the evaluation process because it provides an equal opportunity for those being tested to show evidence of certain behaviors and to perform in similar ways. When an individual responds to a psychological test, that person is describing himself/herself to you. The results from the test can then be compared with past performance history and with observations made by you and by others. In a 2001 study conducted by the American Psychological Association’s Assessment Work Group, researchers found that certain psychological tests predicted outcomes just as well as some medical tests (i.e., MRIs and electrocardiograms).

Before using a psychological inventory or test, it is important to identify the performance characteristics that are crucial to obtaining optimal performance. The goal here is to help people optimize their performance – to help them perform up to their potential. In order to help improve someone’s performance, you need to have a reasonable idea of what you should observe and measure.

For example, a high level executive comes to you and says that he is having trouble motivating his/her managers. He indicates to you that his managers have been under performing for the past year and he believes his inability to motivate is the most important issue in their under performance. In this case, there are so many possible reasons for his managers not performing up to par (e.g., long working hours, too much travel, not enough resources) outside of intrinsic motivation. Unless you can determine the most important barriers that are blocking performance, a psychological test will not be able to provide the appropriate interventions. Selecting the right behaviors to work on, and the correct testing instruments can dramatically shorten the length of time it takes to zero in on critical issues.

How To Use Psychological Tests Effectively When Assessing Performance

Selecting the appropriate psychological test to use in your assessment is extremely important and should be done with care and contentiousness. Below are five points that will help you in your evaluation of different inventories.

  1.     Identify the specific behaviors and environmental variables that affect the individual’s ability to perform.
  2.     Is the inventory you are considering using reliable? Does its test yield consistent scores when used on two or more separate occasions?
  3.     Is the inventory you are considering using valid? Does it measure the constructs it claims to measure, and are those constructs directly related to making performance-relevant decisions?
  4.     Does the test promise to provide information that can significantly speed up the decision making or to the accuracy of important decisions – decisions about selection, training, or the integration of an individual into a development program?
  5.     Choose tests that measure several different performance-relevant constructs, or choose several tests that measure different individual constructs. One construct (e.g., anxiety) can’t explain performance across different individuals and different situations.

In whatever context psychological tests are used – in business or athletics – they have a distinct advantage over other methods of gathering information about performance.

Remember to keep in mind that you should never rely on one set of data; whether that data comes from testing, an interview, or behavioral observations. Instead, gather information from a variety of sources and then compare the information in order to consensually validate your conclusions. While tests alone should not be used to make final decisions, they should be a part of the decision-making process.


Contact SEMI to learn more about our sports psychology services. We can set up an appointment or consultation with one of our top sports psychologists.


APA Assessment Work Group. (2001). American Psychologist, 56 (2), 128-165.

    Kaplan, R.M., & Saccuzzo, D.P. (2001). Psychological Testing: Principles, Applications, and Issues 5th Edition). Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, CA.
    Niedeffer, R.M. & SagalR. M. S. (2001). Assessment in Sport Psychology. Fitness Information Technology. Morgantown, WV.

    Urbina, S. (2004). Essentials of Psychological Testing. John Wiley & Son. New Jersey.

Peter Papadogiannis, PH. D.
Sport Psychology Consultant

Printed: June 2006
Copyright ©2006 SEMI