Take a Lesson from Baseball: Mental Toughness Predicts Success

By Dori Meinert May 22, 2015
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Want to hit a home run in hiring?

Employers can take a lesson from a 12-year study that links certain personality traits of Major League Baseball players, such as mental toughness, to their success on the field.

Players with mental toughness have an ability to perform well under stress, keep their emotions in check and are able to bounce back quickly when things go badly. Those who have this personality trait performed better across the board in key performance statistics, such as on-base plus slugging (OPS), a statistic that reflects a player’s ability to get on base and advance base runners, and has been shown to be among the most predictive of team wins.

“We found that being coachable and self-disciplined were also related to success,” said Tom Schoenfelder, senior vice president of research at Caliper, a consulting company based in Princeton, N.J.

More successful players also tended to be better at decision-making and were more cautious players, said Schoenfelder, who presented the study’s findings in late April at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s annual conference.

The Caliper study looked at 150 Major League Baseball players who had accumulated at least 350 at bats between 2000 and 2012. The players took the Caliper Profile, a self-reported, work-focused personality assessment that measures 18 personality traits and abstract reasoning ability.

Caliper researchers plan to conduct further research on players in other team-dependent sports such as basketball.

The baseball study’s results provide takeaways for the business world, Schoenfelder said in an interview with SHRM Online.

“People who are able to keep control over their emotionality are going to be able to bounce back and are going to be successful,” he said. “We see that in baseball, and we see that in the business world as well.”

Of course, players must first have the physical talent to play well.

“We’re not suggesting that all you need is a good personality,” Schoenfelder cautioned.

But there are plenty of examples of baseball players who showed great potential only to crash and burn because of their psychological makeup, he noted.

Similarly, in the business world, there are many who have the required education, experience and background, “but the other intangibles such as personality will really give you much more predictive strength in determining, once they are there, who really is going to be successful,” he said.

He acknowledged that business performance isn’t as easily and clearly measured as are baseball statistics. That makes it even more important to choose the right criteria for developing the characteristics that define success for a specific organization, he said.

In selecting a personality assessment for employees or job applicants, Schoenfelder suggests asking the following questions:

  • Is there evidence that the traits measured by the assessment relate to the jobs for which the company is trying to hire?
  • Is there evidence that the assessment will predict how well job candidates would perform tasks that are most critical for success?
  • Can return on investment or the business impact related to using the assessment be measured?
  • Do the assessment results provide information to identify an individual’s professional development needs?
  • Are the assessment items designed to minimize the chance for faking responses?
  • Is there evidence that the assessment is compliant with guidelines for fair hiring practices as defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Americans with Disabilities Act?
  • Can reasonable accommodations be made for individuals with special needs who take the assessment?
  • Is there evidence that the assessment would provide consistent results over time?

Dori Meinert is a senior writer for HR Magazine.​​

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