Can any athlete play a position or fill a role regardless of their DISC Profile, if that is where their passion and skills lie? If the answer is yes, then this begs the question, how do we as coaches empower our athletes to carry out a role authentically, whilst meeting the needs that position demands?,
To help us understand the psychology behind enabling athletes to be themselves whilst adapting to the non-technical role they play within their team, we called on the extensive experience of Sport Psychologist, Dr. Becky Ahlgren Bedics, Vice President of Mental Health and Wellness for the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). Passionate about athlete development and mentality, Becky has spent her career helping athletes develop as people off the court, so they can also achieve more on the court.
She opened our discussion with,
“It is really exciting to help somebody understand what their potential could be and help them find strategies they already have within themselves, but need reconfigured or mirrored back to them in a different way. It’s important to remember, athletes are more than just bodies in motion.”
Becky highlighted that as individuals, athletes will do things in certain ways such as how they practice, communicate with the people around them, deal with challenges, have fun, and handle stress.
The combination of those ‘ways’, or natural behaviors is unique. Through Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiling, the athlete can evaluate what they bring to the table, unravelling why certain situations make them comfortable and others, uncomfortable. Understanding the factors that create optimal performance for an athlete is incredibly useful for the individual and is the crucial first step in creating effective and authentic combinations within teams.
Becky explained when athletes better understand themselves, they can harness their strengths and use their natural behaviors to their advantage, improving their on-court performance and capacity to enjoy what they do. Moreover, self-awareness invites critical reflection, whereby an athlete or individual can build more effective relationships with their teammates and coaches.
Currently, Becky manages her teams and the WTA’s programs and initiatives remotely from Florida. To assist her in that role, Becky uses Athlete Assessments’ suite of DISC Profiles to facilitate a deeper understanding and awareness of behavior within the minds of her athletes and staff. Through sharing their profiles and learning about teammates and staff, the athletes Becky works with unveil key relational insights they can put into action.
“DISC is not about labeling or putting people in boxes, that’s certainly not what we’re talking about. However, in my current role I have to communicate across time zone and cultures, and I need to figure out how a person prefers their information, so knowing their style is key.”
Refresher on DISC styles used in Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles
While every individual’s DISC Profile is unique, the four-quadrant model breaks down behavior by measuring the degree of four styles: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientious.
An individual who measures high in Dominance, is direct and faster-paced; guarded and goal-focused. In contrast, someone who has a high level of Steadiness, is indirect and slower-paced; open and relationship--orientated.
We’ve written an article further explaining Athlete Assessments’ DISC methodology, access it here.
Becky shared an exercise she does with athletes, clients, and her own team of sports professionals, which allows groups to discover that their way of doing things is not the only way. To begin the activity, Becky separates the group into their DISC styles, where they fill out what their needs are, how they work best, and what challenges them. Sparking lots of ‘a-ha’ moments, the teams soon realize others with the same style as them will approach tasks in similar ways. When the teams regroup, they discuss their answers and reflect on the way each style prefers to behave and do things. Delighting in the predictability of the process and how revealing it is, Becky reflected with the following,
“The D’s think that everyone wants the bullet points, and nobody wants a five-paragraph email. And I say, ‘Okay, talk to a C who wants all the information and as much research and background as you can provide.’ Then that moment of realization hits and we start to hear people say, ‘Not everyone wants their information the way I want it, there are other ways. It can be done, and we can still get to the same place.’”
Ultimately, the purpose of the exercise is to collectively bring a group to a point where they understand each other, appreciate each other, and value what each member contributes to the team. Becky illustrates how holding an intricate understanding of your style is an essential first step in fulfilling a role authentically.
Alongside her work with the WTA, Becky is the founder of Ahlgren Bedics Consulting, LLC which works with athletes, coaches, and sports administrators to develop to their greatest potential. Delving into her consulting experience to provide another DISC example, Becky recalled a situation when the coach of a US women’s collegiate golf team called her to say,
“Hey Becky, can you do something? There’s a lot of discord on our team. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Can you come in and fix it?”
Although golf is often viewed as an individual performance sport, collegiate players are part of a team, where they travel, practice, and play together. In Becky’s example, the 10-player team was predominately made up of freshmen and sophomores, with one senior, and no juniors. Because of the seniority hierarchy, the senior player held the leadership position and since no profiling had been done, she was leading in a way she thought her role required. Her teammates felt she was being bossy and telling them what to do because she thought she was better than them. Over time the discord grew into division and conflict.
Becky explained how when she went to work with the senior player, they began by having her take an AthleteDISC Profile which identified that her natural style was Influence (‘I’). This meant that in contrast to the behavior she was portraying in her leadership role, the athlete valued people, prioritized relationships, and liked being a part of the team. However, her role was requiring her to constantly adapt from being relational to task-focussed, which was becoming uncomfortable and stressful for her.
Becky unpacked further,
“Everyone assumed that she was going to be a leader because there were no juniors and no other seniors. She was bearing the brunt, the weight, and the stress of having to adapt all the time. When we started looking into the team styles, we had some Dominance (D’s) and Conscientious (C’s) who really liked that task orientation, structure, and rule following, but felt they couldn’t lead because she was a senior and they weren’t. It was a great opportunity for us to just scrap the hierarchy that had been assumed and start fresh asking, ‘What do we each bring to the table, what are our team’s strengths, and how can we help manage what we have to do for the team and play to our strengths?’.”
Becky started by profiling the rest of the team to develop an understanding of the natural behavioral that existed amongst the group. After debriefing their individual AthleteDISC Profile results and looking at the overall team dynamic, the team then intentionally identified and matched non-technical roles to suit each player’s natural strengths. When a behavior is in an individual’s natural, preferred style, it is going to be easier for them to apply it consistently and comfortably.
Becky also touched on the importance of performing tasks our roles require in our own unique way, particularly when it comes to leadership. In any role, no matter how closely aligned to our natural preferences, there may still be some areas that require some adaptation. Becky related the situation to when she worked with a women’s lacrosse team, specifically with one of their main captains,
“She kept telling me, ‘They want me to be a vocal leader and that’s not who I want to be. That’s not comfortable for me.’ So, we did a lot of deconstructing over what being vocal meant and what the expectations really were. In her mind and I think in most people’s mind, vocal equals volume. If you’re a vocal leader, you’re a loud leader, but that doesn’t have to be the case.”
Becky explained to the player that she could choose to be a vocal leader by being the one on the sideline who pulls a teammate aside saying,
“Oh my gosh, that was a rough one. How are you doing?”, or “The coach was really all over you today, chin up, we got this,” and similarly, “You know what, I know you can push a little bit harder on this because I’ve seen you do it before.”
Evidently, the athlete’s interpretation of the word ‘vocal’ and the expectations she felt were being placed on her didn’t align with what she was comfortable with. Reflecting on the circumstance, Becky detailed the importance of encouraging athletes to unpack their roles, chosen or given, and evaluate what they bring to the table so they can maximize their input.
This is particularly important for those in leadership roles, as there are different ways to lead, and no way is better than the other. High ‘I’ and high ‘D’ leaders are loud and direct, bringing visibility to their leadership, but his doesn’t mean that an ‘S’ or ‘C’ can’t be extraordinary leaders too, just that they will approach the role differently.
To conclude Becky shared,
“We want everyone to lead in their own way using their strengths because they will be more authentic and efficient. The very nature of leadership groups allows us to harness the diversity of different styles. If we were to only have one style in our leadership group, we would be missing a lot of opportunities, we wouldn’t have voices from different perspectives in the room, and that’s important.”
Biography for Dr. Becky Ahlgren Bedics
As Vice President of Mental Health and Wellness for the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Becky has the privilege of leading a team of mental health professionals who travel the world, working with WTA athletes to help them optimize their mental performance skills, Tour life management skills, and overall mental health, both on and off the court. For the past decade, Becky has provided consultation services through her own company, Ahlgren Bedics Consulting, LLC, working with some of the top US colleges through customized workshops for student-athletes and administrators on topics relative to DISC such as skills, leadership, culture, and mental skills. Prior to her current role, Becky was the Director of Leadership Education at Janssen Sports Leadership Center and worked in the NCAA as Associate Director of Student-Athlete Affairs and Leadership Development for almost a decade. She holds a Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise Psychology from West Virginia University; a Masters in Social Psychology of Sport from Southern University at Carbondale; and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Dayton.
Where to from here?
At Athlete Assessments we are big believers that any athlete can play a position or fill a role regardless of their behavioral style if that is where their passion and skills lie. Careers in sport often see us applying our skills in new ways. What remains consistent however, is the value of reliable and tested tools that help people perform at their peak. Whether sport psychology, consulting, coaching, or sports managing is your niche, we invite you to browse our suite of DISC Profiling tools and performance services. If this article sparked an interest, or we can help you and your team perform at your best, please reach out and contact us!
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