Extracted from Rushall, B. S. (1996). Some practical applications of psychology in physical activity settings. In K-W Kim (Ed.), The pursuit of sport excellence Vol. 2 (pp. 638-656). Seoul, Korea: Korean Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

In the early days of sport psychology assessment, athletes were analyzed using trait tests, such as the 16PF Test (Cattell, 1962) and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (Dahlstrom & Walsh, 1960). It became evident that the illogical prediction of specific behaviors from general personality traits was an insurmountable barrier for practitioners (Carron, 1975; Fisher, 1976). A movement started, but only recently has gained momentum, to develop sport-specific tests, a tact which increases the predictive validity of sport psychology analyses (Vallerand, 1983; Van Schoyck & Grasha, 1981). Tests that require responses only associated with a particular sporting environment are more valid and have better predictive ability than "general" assessment tools. There is a substantial number of tests available (Ostrow, 1991).

I would like to demonstrate a form of assessment with which I am familiar and that is particularly appropriate for practitioners.

To make correct coaching decisions, the accuracy of information must be the highest possible. Traditional, relatively inaccurate psychological measures do not provide the precision necessary to be of maximal assistance. In the late 1960s a variety of attempts were made to provide alternative forms for "situation-specific" measurement. Several types of assessment fell short of their promise primarily because they contained largely trait-oriented questions about a particular situation. Test interpreters were still unable to indicate specific behaviors for individuals in restricted environments.

Rushall (1975) reported the development of the first sport-specific behavior inventory (swimming). Its structure was based on the assumption that by defining a behavior in a particular setting, an athlete could report accurately whether or not he/she consistently, sporadically, or never acted that way in that set of circumstances. It became the task of the assessment tool developer to cover the scope of valid sport behaviors that could be answered accurately and reliably. Acceptable procedures were described by Rushall (1978), and refined by more recently developed sport-specific behavior inventories (e.g., Ackerly, 1991; Henderson, 1990). This alternate technology was recognized in general psychology by Franks (1979).

Behavior inventories are intended to indicate the behaviors that do or do not occur consistently in sport settings. Their predictive validity should be higher than any other form of pencil-and-paper assessment. In sports, these inventories have been integrated with computer technologies. A computer analysis takes the answers, interprets them, indicates coaching actions, and communicates this information directly to the athlete and/or coach. The common problem of inconsistent, although expert, interpretations by psychologists is alleviated. Since inventory questions are so specific, their need for expert interpretation does not exist. For all important question alternatives in an inventory, validated expert interpretations have been established and stored. Also, experienced coaching panels have described the appropriate coaching actions for the content of the interpretations. Behavior inventories indicate what athletes do in all sport-specific situations that can be assessed reliably and accurately.

Computer analyses of behavior inventories list each description and coaching prescription separately. Athletes are able to read these and determine if they are true or untrue for them. When an athlete says of an interpreted item, "That is an accurate description of me and the coaching recommendation would be an acceptable procedure," it can be assumed that a coach is being provided with accurate information. It is normal practice to periodically evaluate the accuracy of the various behavior inventories by asking athletes to indicate the items, supplied by the computer, that are correct or incorrect. This yields a measure of accuracy for interpretation and communication. Table 1 lists some of the values obtained in this way by a class of graduate students at San Diego State University. Generally this form of testing, analysis, and interpretation, yields accuracy levels in the vicinity of 97% which is exceptionally high.

The benefits of behavior inventory reports are several. Some of the ways they can be used to increase coaching effectiveness are as follows.

  1. Individualized coaching. Strengths and weaknesses of individuals are provided at a level that has previously not been possible. Accommodating personal interactions, program requirements, and understanding peculiarities should reduce the number of inappropriate experiences for an athlete. Figure 1 is a page of a behavior inventory analysis that demonstrates the precision of content.
  2. Pre-screening athletes. The usual procedure for getting acquainted with an athlete is based on trial-and-error interactions. Coaches now can obtain detailed information about an athlete prior to meeting him/her, and predetermine "handling" based on accurate information. Coach-athlete interactions should be enhanced because of a reduction in errors that normally would occur in the traditional process.
  3. Morale and motivation. Increased morale results from using correct handling procedures. The description of the goals and reinforcing events for an individual allows situations to be developed that will be maximally reinforcing for the athlete which, in turn, should result in heightened motivation.
  4. Coordinated control. It is possible to use behavior inventory information to coordinate a coaching staff's manner of interacting with individual athletes. This will prevent divided loyalties and coach favoritism.
  5. Player development. Repeated testing can be used to indicate longitudinal changes in athletes. The same analysis can be used to compare athletes. Figure 2 illustrates a section of an analysis indicating the similarity of features between five international volleyball players.

Behavior inventories are a way to derive psychological information that could be used to enhance the quality of coaching decisions and behaviors. In elite athlete settings, where this technology is used most prominently, it has proven to be of substantial value. Behavior inventories have the potential to be used in more levels of sport participation. Perhaps that holds for the future.


  1. Ackerly, D. H. (1991). A behavior inventory specific to the tennis environment. Unpublished master's thesis, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA.
  2. Carron, A. V. (1975). Personality and athletics: A review. In B. S. Rushall (Ed.), The status of psychomotor learning and sport psychology research (pp. 5.1-5.12). Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada: Sport Science Associates.
  3. Cattell, R. B. (1962). The 16PF Test. Champaign, IL: Institute of Personality and Ability Testing.
  4. Dahlstrom, W. G., & Walsh, G. W. (1960). A Minnesota multiphasic personality inventory. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  5. Fisher, A. C. (1976). In search of the albatross. In A. C. Fisher (Ed.), Psychology of sport: Issues and insights (pp. 400-407). Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield.
  6. Franks, C. M. (1979). Annual review of behavior therapy (Vol. 3). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  7. Henderson, G. (1990). A psychological inventory for the competitive baseball environment. Unpublished master's thesis, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA.
  8. Ostrow, A. C. (1991). Directory of psychological tests in the sport and exercise sciences. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
  9. Rushall, B. S. (1975). Alternative dependent variables for the study of behavior in sport. In D. Landers (Ed.), Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity. College Station, PA: Pennsylvania State University.
  10. Rushall, B. S. (1978). Environment specific behavior inventories: Developmental procedures. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 9, 97-110.
  11. Sport Psychology Consultation System. (1985). 4225 Orchard Drive, Spring Valley, CA: Sports Science Associates.
  12. Vallerand, R. J. (1983). Attention and decision making: A test of the predictive validity of the Test of Attention and Interpersonal style (TAIS) in a sport setting. Journal of Sport Psychology, 5, 449-459.
  13. Van Schoyck, S. R., & Grasha, A. F. (1981). Attentional style variations and athletic ability: The advantages of the sports specific test. Journal of Sport Psychology, 2, 245-257.

Table 1. Sample Assessments of the Accuracy of Computer Analyses of Several Behavior Inventory Sets Available with the Sport Psychology Consultation System.

Behavioral Inventories for Tennis Players
Mount Miguel HS (M = 6)
99.2%    99.6%    99.2%    99.6%    99.2%    99.6%
Average = 99.4

Behavioral Inventories for Athletes
Mount Miguel HS - Softball (F = 4)
100%     100%    96.0%     100%
Average = 99.0%

Behavioral Inventories for Athletes
SDSU - track (M = 3; F = 2)
97.6%    96.6%    95.8%    95.4%    97.8%
Average = 96.5%

Psychological Inventories for Competitive Swimmers
UCSD (M = 4; F = 2)
99.3%    97.7%    94.4%    95.6%    98.8%    98.1%
Average = 97.4%

Psychological Inventories for Volleyball Players
San Diego Club Volleyball (F = 8)
98.2%    97.5%    96.4%    97.5%    99.0%    99.3%    97.5%
Average = 97.9%

Psychological Inventories for Baseball Players
Hemet HS (M = 6)
100%     100%     100%     100%     98.6%    95.1%
Average = 99.0%

Athletes tested: M = 17; F = 18

Score distributions
High N = 7 (100%)
Low  N = 1 (94.4%)
Mean   = 98.2%

Note: M = males, F = females; values are the percentage of computer-generated
diagnostics that were deemed correct and accurate for each subject.

Figure 1. A sample section of an individual rower computer analysis provided by the Sport Psychology Consultation System for Rowing Inventory 2.


A. Sample


This individual will criticize coaches and other rowers. It most probably will be necessary to teach this person how to criticize constructively. When he/she makes a criticism it should contain a suggestion for removing the source of the comment.

This person cannot tolerate loud conceited rowers. When devising training and activity groups do not pair this rower with someone exhibiting those characteristics.

This rower makes decisions concerning his/her rowing based on well-thought-out reasons. If the resultant behavior is not appropriate then the mistake must be explained clearly. Reasons for asserting another mood or behavior need to be clearly justified.

This rower considers him/herself to be an amusing person.

This rower likes to join his/her fellow athletes for social gatherings.

This individual wants other athletes to do exactly as he/she says if put in charge of them. This gives some indication of the expectations for others when he/she is placed in a position of responsibility.

When working on a task or project this rower would rather lead the group and try to improve the functioning. If this person has other desirable attributes he/she could be considered for leadership responsibilities.

When this rower is criticized in front of other athletes he/she is adversely affected. When criticisms are to be made of this person they should be given in private. Constructive criticisms will diminish the negative effects that could occur.

This rower is able to perceive when the coach attempts to put-something-over on the rest of the athletes that is not based on sound reasons. The coach will have to maintain credibility with this person by being able to soundly justify the procedures for training and competition. If this is not done then the rower's response to coaching will be diminished.

This rower organizes his/her rowing equipment well. It is always ready for immediate use.

This individual considers that he/she has features that are superior to those of most performers in his/her sport.


Figure 2. A sample section of a team computer analysis for five international volleyball players by the Sport Psychology Consultation System for Volleyball Inventory 1. All behavior inventory analyses for groups are similar to this example.



When this person believes that other players and/or the coach have poor opinions about his/her work it upsets his/her attitude. The coach should watch for changes in mood and then ask what is troubling him/her. Attempts should be made to dispel any unfounded impressions. A short period of positive encouragement and attention by the coach could alter the mood.

Player 1, Player 2, Player 4

Before arguing on volleyball matters this player will wait until he/she is sure that what will be said is correct.

Player 2, Player 3, Player 4, Player 5

This player has a moderate degree of anxiety with regard to his/her volleyball. A state of tension often develops as he/she thinks about recent volleyball experiences and future goals. This anxiety can be alleviated by frequently providing small performance improvements as goals and by giving advanced warnings of program changes and emphases.

Player 2, Player 3, Player 5

When other players show excessive friendship towards this individual they are viewed suspiciously.

Player 4

This person is able to handle unusual circumstances that happen at volleyball games and tournaments.

Player 1, Player 2, Player 3, Player 4, Player 5

This individual's manner and voice at tournaments is usually a good indication of his/her excitement.

Player 2, Player 3, Player 4

Feelings of ill-health (vague pains and stomach upsets) do not occur in this individual.

Player 2, Player 3, Player 4, Player 5

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