Psychometric tests: a case study focusing on rugby league side Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants and their search for a new coach

The role of sports psychology in sport

Paul Morgan, the director of Rugby League club Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants, evaluates the usage of psychometric testing when selecting a new manager.

Although it has been used for decades by big business to screen prospective employees, psychometric testing has only really taken off in the last few years. Recent surveys have shown more than 50% of employers use psychometric measures as part of their selection procedure. These include the Civil Service, most large banks, retail chains and employers in information technology. But psychometric testing remains highly controversial. People are afraid that it will reveal their dark side: it still has the reputation of being a voodoo science - and some critics could not reconcile it to the macho world of rugby league. These included two of five British candidates applying to the Giants who ruled themselves out of the running by refusing the tests.

Personality and aptitude tests

The two main types of psychometric tests used are personality questionnaires and aptitude tests. Although personality questionnaires are often called 'tests', they do not usually have pass or fail scores. They are designed to evaluate attitudes and values. A typical personality questionnaire may ask you to indicate whether statement 'A' or 'B' is more indicative of the way you do things. For example, when working in a team:

A. I try to develop a co-operative approach.

B. I promote competition to keep performance high.

Aptitude tests are designed to provide an objective assessment of a candidate's diagram-matic reasoning skills, logical thought, verbal understanding and numeracy. In contrast to the personality section, these tests do lead to a 'pass' or 'fail' score.

Our test comprised a 32-page psychometric test with 73 questions and a practical coaching scenario. There were six 'psychometric indicators', each one of which was tested and scored out of 100. These were.

  1. Success.
  2. Attitudes.
  3. Drive and motivation.
  4. Fear of failure.
  5. Fear of success or the social consequences of success.
  6.  Internal versus external terms of control (how they explain their performance and accept that the buck stops with them).

Fear of success, or its consequences, would have been a major obstacle for an ambitious club. An excessive score might have indicated excessive caution. On the internal versus external, we were looking for a strong internal indicator of 60% plus. This ruled out one of the domestic candidates: his technical knowledge was probably as good as it gets, but he had an extreme fear of the social consequences of success. This meant that he would be happy with success on the field, but uneasy with publicity, praise and the demands that come with it.

The selection process consisted of four phases:

Stage One. We received 18 applications, 10 domestic and eight from Australia. All had initial interviews, either face to face or by telephone.

Stage Two. A shortlist of eight was drawn up.

Stage Three. The short-listed candidates completed the test and coaching scenario - with the exception of the two British candidates who ruled themselves out by refusing the test. All applicants commented that they had never taken part in such a rigorous selection process. Two of the Australians also dropped out at the same stage after falling behind both on the psychometric testing and the coaching scenario. The remaining British candidates were asked to replace five players in the existing squad with five new players within a budget of £180,000, while the Australians were allocated £280,000 for overseas players. This was where the winning candidate, the Australian Tony Smith, scored so decisively. Although he was at the time in the middle of a play-off series in Australia, he contacted the players he wanted to get a ballpark figure about what they would cost. He went on to describe their key strengths and weaknesses, and how they would fit in within our existing squad - all within 48 hours. We were really impressed!

Stage Four. We gave the remaining four candidates - three from Britain - a two-hour second interview. The questions for each interviewee were divided between those specifically relating to the analysis of the psychometric evaluation; and those covering technical issues. We obtained five technical questions from David Waite, the Australian recently appointed as international coaching coordinator to the Rugby Football League.

We faxed the answers to David who concluded that one candidate stood out above the rest. The same man had scored virtually perfect scores on five of the six psychometric indicators, with an excellent score on the sixth. No prizes for guessing who!

We now had a man who had the right personality profile, who could work creatively within budgets, who had proven technical knowledge and who interviewed well. I felt this more than vindicated our method.

Looking forward to success
Since joining the club Tony Smith has had an enormous impact. Within a month, one of our star international players, Dale Laughton, said that he had learned more from Tony in four weeks than he had learned in the previous four years. Indeed, quality players who had intended to leave the club at the end of the season now want to stay. Tony has also been successful in attracting highly-skilled support staff and new players. This is always difficult for the bottom-placed team. Perhaps the best example is Paul Rowley, the England hooker, who had the option to join several higher-placed clubs. Tony's professionalism and performance more than justify the - to some - controversial steps the Giants took to hire him.

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