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Using personality analytics in college basketball

by Greg Roth

At a recent speaking gigk for the DC-area chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, I spoke about team collaboration and included a section on personality tests. I asked how many in the audience had taken a personality test like Myers-Briggs. Most hands went up. Then I asked how many folks had taken to time to read about all the other personalities besides the one that they are. Most hands did not go up.

This story on the subscription-based online sports magazine The Athletic caught my eye. It seems that Robert Morris University, in Pittsburgh PA, is using “personality testing” in its men’s basketball program to help head coach Andy Toole better understand and use his players.

Once the shock of losing almost a dozen players wore off, Toole reevaluated his coaching style. At first, he mollified his behavior, toning down the aggressive perfectionism that had defined his career. “One of my assistants said the difficult thing about how I coached was I would laugh and joke around with the players before practice and then flip a switch and jump down their throats once we blew the whistle,” says Toole. As a result, he became even more frank with recruits about what to expect as a Colonial, exposing players to how they’d be coach earlier on in the process. “Visits became like reality TV,” he says. “We want you to see exactly how we are and embrace that.”

Toole, 37, also began working with what he describes as a talent sorter. eRecruitFit combines behavioral science, 4 million-plus data sets and predictive analytics to better screen players with personality traits that fit within a program’s desired parameters. In the case of Robert Morris, that includes intensity, consciousness and resolve. Used by a handful of Division I programs, the two-year old eRecruitFit is the brainchild of Andy Hurley, a former senior associate athletic director at the University of Cincinnati, as a way to evaluate recruits. Each prospective player takes a standardized 300-question test to determine his cultural fit within the program; Toole uses those results—slotted into three color-coded tiers—to better evaluate whom to offer scholarships to and whether to roll the dice on a high-risk player who pairs well to his model.

“It’s not the end-all be-all,” Toole says, “but it is a litmus test, giving us insight on character, who some of the guys really are, and what are the best ways to coach and communicate with them. How well do they fit into my brain?”

Because of his background, the coach assumed McConnell, whose brother, T.J., plays for the Philadelphia 76ers, would score well, as his personality is akin to “the gym rat of all gym rats.” But it took some time for the 6-foot-2 guard to get acclimated to Toole’s system. Specifically, McConnell has always struggled to embrace leadership and mentorship roles, both of which were sorely needed on an inexperienced squad that starts as many as four newcomers. “Matty is more of a people pleaser,” says Tim McConnell, his father and a vaunted high school coach in western Pennsylvania. “He’ll do whatever a coach wants the right way, but in the sense that he wants to please him.”

As mentioned, eRecruitFit was launched less than 2 years ago, and had some buzz around it then but doesn’t seem to have much in the news in the past year. Here’s a trailer explaining their mission (less than 200 views?). It sounds like alot of workforce development material I’ve come across over the years,

In anycase, it IS interesting that basketball, which along with baseball has been very forward-thinking in terms of integrating analytics into its competitive strategies, would be pursuing this type of culture-based, team/role-focused data to help managers (coaches) do their jobs better.

Greg Roth
About Greg Roth
Founder, The Idea Enthusiast. Speaker, Trainer, Facilitator, and writer about all things creative consulting. DC-based consultant to individuals who want to be more creative, teams who want to collaborate without fear, and anyone who wants to deliver the best pitches and presentations.

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Using personality analytics in college basketball