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Original Issue


Professor Bruce Ogilvie (left) and his partner Thomas Tutko show teams how to avoid mental blocks by tackling psychological hang-ups

A couple of years ago the New Orleans Saints had an umpteenth-round draft choice from a college in Texas. This big stud, a lineman we'll call Stephen Austin, was doing surprisingly well and had impressed Coach Tom Fears and the staff with his behavior and attitude. Then, with the rest of the rookies in the Saints' training camp, he took a test devised by the club's two consulting psychologists, Drs. Bruce Ogilvie and Thomas Tutko of San Jose State College.

"The doctors told us we'd have the results within two weeks," says Fears. "Three days later we got a call at our San Diego camp. They said we were sitting on a keg of dynamite with Austin. They said he was the kind who might walk out of camp any moment. They were calling to give us early warning."

The young man's test scores, according to the psychologists, showed that his self-confidence was low, he was becoming moody and depressed, he could not adjust to harsh verbal criticism, he punished himself when things went wrong and he couldn't sustain effort when things were not breaking his way.

"After they had finished," says Fears, "I thanked them and said, 'Stephen Austin walked out yesterday.' "

In 1967 the Saints had a rookie from Xavier, an end we'll call Dan Abramowicz, whom the psychologists and most other people had never heard of. Abramowicz was a lowly 17th-round draft choice, but his test scores made him sound like a combination of Frank Merriwell and Attila the Hun. Ogilvie and Tutko concluded that if this guy had a shred of physical ability to go with what was inside him, he'd be an All-Pro. Abramowicz became the leading pass receiver in the NFL.

Ogilvie and Tutko—known to their athlete subjects as The Shrinks—are not infallible when it comes to picking out potential champions. A few seasons ago they sized up a rookie defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers as definite pro material.

"We watched him out on the field in a two-on-one drill," Ogilvie recalls. "He was alone against two big tough veterans who were just killing him. It got to the point where they had to prop him up on a three-point stance. The coach would give the signal and off he would go, and he'd get creamed. He'd get up on his knees and his head would be flopping to one side. But he wouldn't quit."

"He had all the traits. So you know what happened?" Tutko continues. "He didn't make it because he didn't have lateral mobility. Now what the hell do we know about lateral mobility?"

The Shrinks are not in the predicting business anyway, nor are they really headshrinkers. Their Institute for the Study of Athletic Motivation was set up to help coaches handle athletes. "The factors which motivate an individual to athletic competition are unique for each participant," they explain. '"We believe that improved individual performance will result if the coach and each athlete he works with are aware of these psychological drives."

"They can't tell you if a man's a football player," says Bob Shaw, assistant coach of the Chicago Bears. "The coach still has to do that. But they can tell you if he's tough, if he can take tough handling, if he has desire and leadership. They can even tell you if he'll choke in a tight situation. They can tell the coach how to motivate individuals and the whole squad. By studying the psychological profiles, the coach will know how he can get through to his team. They can even tell you whether a guy should be playing offense or defense and which guys should be on the suicide squads."

The professors' psychological scalpel is their test, officially named the Athletic Motivational Inventory but referred to by them as "the instrument." It contains 190 multiple-choice questions designed to measure the subject in 11 personality traits: drive, self-confidence, aggressiveness, coachability, determination, emotionality (handling feelings), conscience development, trust, responsibility, leadership and mental toughness. The instrument is in a constant state of flux, Tutko and Ogilvie constantly replacing and rewording questions like the one that goes, "People could say of me that I would beat my mother to win. (A) agree (B) in between (C) disagree." They can get almost as excited about statistics as they can about their beloved 49ers. (They had to get season tickets several rows apart in Kezar Stadium because in their rooters' zeal they had been pounding each other into putty.)

"We are sometimes shocked by items," said Tutko. "When we dream one up, we think, 'Oh, that's a terrific item. That's beautiful!' But it sometimes turns out to be a dud. Everybody answers it the same way or it loads on the wrong trait. For instance, 'I work hard at everything I do' is supposed to measure drive or ambition. Actually, it turns out to be a conscience question. 'I never back down in a face-to-face confrontation.' Supposed to determine aggression but turns out to be a key to coachability."

Questions that have stood the test of time and analysis include these (with The Shrinks' comments appended):

"If a fight broke out in a game, I would be inclined to want to participate. (A) true (B) in between (C) false." ("Individuals who are inclined to strongly affirm this attitude...tend to be self-assertive, direct and are not particularly guilty about instinctual aggression when they feel it is necessary.")

"When my team fails to live up to its pregame potential I feel depressed. (A) true (B) in between (C) false." ("Questions in this area of attitudes tend to predict ambition or drive to succeed in athletics. Individuals who measure high on the dimension set high goals for themselves and their teammates.")

To detect the jokers who don't bother to read the questions, there are some dummy items sprinkled in, e.g., "Professional athletes get paid for playing. (A) true (B) uncertain (C) false."

Theoretically, at least, the Tutko-Ogilvie instrument is subject to tinkering. A junior high school girl with the right insights might be able to exaggerate or fib her way through and come out looking like Dick Butkus. And certainly the temptation to cheat would be strong for a rookie tackle trying to avoid being cut. But Tutko and Ogilvie feel they have some built-in statistical guards, and they warn the coaches and athletes that bad information will hurt no one but the team.

Either the professors or the coaches can administer the test, which takes about an hour. Occasionally, as with the Detroit Lions, the professors know the athlete only by code number and psyche. The answer sheets are scored at San Jose State, and Tutko, Ogilvie or their chief assistant, Leland Lyon, writes a short advisory for the coach, who then may keep the results to himself or, the recommended way, talk them over with his men. The fee, now being revised, has been as low as $1.50 per athlete at the high school level.

The $1.50 was definitely worth it in the case of a pitcher at Buena High in Sierra Vista, Ariz. One season he was mediocre, barely good enough to get by. The test results showed he should be handled gently, so Coach Jerry Coppola eased up on the pressure, patted him on the head a few times and the kid ended up with a 10-2 record the next year.

"I remember my first practical application of their tests," says Stan Morrison, now an assistant basketball coach at USC. "I had a kid who was difficult. They suggested I ignore him, never tell him anything he did wrong, anything he did right. Just ignore him. I did that and finally one day he came to me and said, 'Coach, could you help me on a couple of moves?' Now he was ready for coaching. The wall was down."

Another time Morrison had a team with talent but no leadership, no aggression. Nothing he did motivated them. Ogilvie advised him to somehow force physical contact. Morrison tried that in practice all week without much luck.

"Ten minutes before the game Friday night," he said, "I took them off the floor and went upstairs to the wrestling room, where they had a medicine ball. The players looked at me like I had flipped my lid. I split them into two teams and told them they had one minute to get the ball to one end of the room or the other.

"There was a hell of a struggle, but one of them did. 'Now, we're ready,' I said. We went downstairs with bloody noses and scratches and whipped an undefeated team by 20 points."

Many times the test results only reinforce the coach's opinion, or tell him what he would eventually learn anyway. But, say The Shrinks, why lose games while learning a player's quirks? Why not learn the best way to motivate a man when he's a freshman or rookie and save some grief? For instance, Basketball Coach Dick Edwards of Pacific had a player whose scores showed he tended to be highly suspicious of other people.

"I had to try to show him I could be trusted," he said. "By winning his confidence, I believe I was able to release his overcautious self on the basketball court."

Ogilvie and Tutko themselves are as motivated as any of the athletes they've tested. Tutko, who could pass for a mad professor when he gets enthusiastic about something (which is often), has a full load of psychology classes at San Jose State, works on the side as a marriage counselor and consults with a computer-dating outfit. He is a coal miner's son from Gallitzin, Pa. and once coached basketball in the Marine Corps. Ogilvie, a husky ex-wrestler, teaches classes, counsels troubled students and helps a nearby town test prospective policemen. As if all that didn't give them enough to do, they are immersed in sports psychology: interviewing, testing, scoring, writing papers and, between the two of them, speaking at 100 clinics a year from Florida to Rome to Edmonton.

Before Tutko arrived at San Jose, Ogilvie was counseling athletes with problems: depression-prone football players, malingering high jumpers, distance runners afraid of success. He was ready to conclude that all jocks were "overcompensating, psychoneurotic kooks," but the two of them did some work on "personality variables in athletics" and discovered that Ogilvie had been seeing too homogeneous a group. Once he broadened his sampling, it turned out that most high-level athletes have personalities as solid as their muscles, especially when properly motivated. It was an easy step from there for the professors to found their institute.

They started their testing programs by giving a whole battery of tests, but coaches complained about time lost from practice. So Tutko and Ogilvie decided to make up their own items. They found out what traits "seemed to stand out" in top athletes and then waded through a great deal of technical test construction. Typical personality-test items like "I like to succeed, true or false," became "I have had dreams of succeeding in athletics. (A) all the time (B) most of the time (C) some of the time." They've been honing the instrument ever since.

Ogilvie and Tutko always ask that coaches themselves take the test, and most of the time, "They're not only willing, they're anxious. It's another challenge in their lives. They want to measure themselves up against other coaches." The results show that coaches at all levels have an "incredible desire for success." One winning football coach, Don Coryell of San Diego State, "falls above the 99th percentile with regard to his achievement needs; his [average] athlete falls slightly below the 40th."

Sometimes the professors advise bringing in an assistant coach who rates high in the particular traits lacking in the head man but in most cases the traits can be gradually changed. A punisher and driver in the Vince Lombardi mold can't change his methods overnight, however. They once counseled a hard-driving coach to ease up on his men. The coach agreed to try. There was no more screaming and stomping at practices, no lengthy public chew-outs. Everything was reasonable and calm. By the second game after the transformation, the team captain paid the coach a call at home. After some initial hemming and hawing, he finally blurted out, "Why have you given up on us? What's happened? You don't seem to really care anymore."

In a similar instance, the players waited until their coach wasn't home and asked his wife if he was sick.

"You can't shift from a punitive coach to a loving, concerned sort of coach in one day," says Ogilvie. "Your team will become paranoid waiting for the hatchet to fall."

The professors have become a trifle paranoid themselves over the reception they get from some coaches. At presentations they have had coaches literally turn their backs on them. Ogilvie almost got into a fistfight with a heckler at one clinic. At another a coach heard them talk about their test and how it can quickly determine personality traits. The man got depressed and muttered to the fellow next to him, "Damn, these guys are going to take all the fun out of it!"

"Traditionally, you're going to find in the coaching profession men who are socially and politically conservative," says Ogilvie. "Research by a sports sociologist at Wisconsin showed men and women who go into phys ed and coaching have conservative personality structures. They are more interested in power and manipulation and less interested in humanistic approaches. They prefer control, organization, unquestioned commitment to their philosophy and so on."

"If we had a nickel for every time we were laughed at, we could retire now," says Tutko. "I mean guys snickering and laughing in the audience. For example, in handling one NFL player we talked to the coaches about taking the guy aside, being friendly with him. They laughed out loud at us! He went to another club and was one of the best in the league."

Athletes can be derisive and suspicious, too. Tutko was once lured into an impromptu session among the black players on a team. They wanted to know how their answers to the questionnaire were going to be used, with the implied question, "Are you going to hurt us?" Tutko convinced them he wasn't.

One of The Shrinks' fondest dreams is to be psychology consultants to a U.S. Olympic team. But on the few occasions they have found some official to listen to them, they have been made fun of or told there is no money. They offer to pay their own way, and still they get turned down. "It's like fighting with a 700-ton marshmallow," says Tutko.

Before the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, they tried to get permission to test America's track and field athletes. Head Track Coach Bob Giegengack said no. But Swimming Coaches James Counsilman and George Haines gave them a try. Haines was mildly skeptical because four years earlier, before the Rome Olympics, a doctor who gave combined psychological and medical tests said Chris von Saltza should swim only in the sprints. She won three gold medals, each at 400 meters.

The swimmers had to give up their naps to take the tests, and some of them were grouchy about it. Ogilvie and Tutko administered the tests, flew back to San Jose, worked long hours scoring and writing advisories, and then hurried back to the training site. Among the handling suggestions, two cases were especially enlightening to the coaches.

"One swimmer on Doc Counsilman's own team was better suited to train under me," said Haines, "and another swimmer from another school was better suited to train under him. We exchanged these two and made everybody happier."

Don Schollander, who was to win four gold medals, "tested out very well," said the professors. He wasn't told, but his scores revealed high ambition, fierce independence, creativity, tough-minded-ness ("You could hit him with a hatchet and he'd come back"), high exhibitionistic needs and almost no anxiety.

Very few of the reports locked away in the file cabinets match Schollander's. Abramowicz of the Saints rates well, and so do Pitcher Jim Bunning, Shotputter Randy Matson, Matt Hazeltine of the Giants—formerly of the 49ers—Merlin Olsen of the Los Angeles Rams, Al Attles of the San Francisco Warriors, Don Perkins of the Dallas Cowboys and Terry Baker, formerly of the Rams. The Shrinks think Baker's case was a "tragedy." He won the Heisman Trophy at Oregon State but didn't get in much playing time in the NFL.

"They told us he couldn't throw the long ball," says Ogilvie. "That's no secret. It was known throughout the football world. But here's a guy who played three years of pro football on sheer character.... In terms of a psychological profile, he was the classic guy."

In addition to dividing the data into high school, state college, university and professional sections, the professors have also divided it by sport and found some interesting differences. Basketball players and track athletes carry around a load of aggression corked up inside them, whereas football players get rid of it on the field. Sprinters tend to be "extroverted, volatile people with problems of control," while distance runners are "enduring, introverted self-punishers."

The real surprises are race drivers. Some people might think they are grease monkeys who move their lips while they read hot-rod magazines. On the contrary, says Ogilvie, "Race drivers are the toughest-minded, brightest and most creative of all athletes. They are ambitious and very emotionally stable. Men who want to drive fast, for some reason, are really stamped out of the same psychological mold...."

The professors have done a university-level study of football players by positions. The sampling was small, but the results were indicative. Defensive linemen, sometimes depicted as big dumb oxen, were more emotionally mature, tough-minded and team-oriented than most other players.

"You have to look at it from the nature of the game," says Tutko. "Who has the greatest responsibility? The offensive line knows what's going to happen and so does the offensive backfield. The defensive backfield can wait until things occur, then get the general picture and react. The people who ask to be put behind the eight ball right off the bat are the defensive linemen. They have to be able to withstand an initial force.

"With a defensive back, you've got to look right away at two scores: emotional stability and mental toughness. If he is low in both, I'll tell you he better have all kinds of talent, because when he gets beaten the whole stadium sees it."

Engrossed as they are in their world of tackles, forwards and coaches, The Shrinks still have time occasionally to look at the total picture. Often they are disgusted or amused at the myths that have been built up around sports.

There is a common belief that a hardworking substitute on a team will come out of the experience with a stronger character. Nonsense, say the profs. They studied one college football team and found that a season on the bench left the subs psychologically depressed, less self-confident and less poised than the starters. The study didn't determine whether the subs were that way in the first place or became that way sitting on the bench.

Tutko and Ogilvie tend to scoff at the whole notion of character building in sports. They maintain that, to the contrary, sports do not build character, that when kids start in athletics—Little League, Pop Warner football, vacant-lot pickup games or whatever—"the youngsters who are tender-minded, a little less bright, a little less emotionally stable" are weeded out. The kids who stay are already emotionally stable, tough-minded, etc.

Ogilvie and Tutko agree that competition can bring out the best in people, but they point out that it also brings out the worst. Studies at Michigan, Columbia and San Jose State (by Tutko) show that in those intensely competitive classrooms as many as 80% of the students cheat if given the opportunity.

Neither prof believes in the term "friendly competitor."

"We have overemphasized achievement as a general ethic," Ogilvie says. "If people select this as a particular ethic, fine. We're all for people seeking to excel in whatever they seek to excel in, but this shouldn't be used as a recommendation, as a way of life or an important human value, because it just isn't true. There's not a bit of evidence that competition leads to happiness or love. In fact, in a loving relationship there can't be competitiveness. Can't be. It's the absence of competitiveness that's one of the fundamental ingredients of a loving relationship."

Still, the busy shrinks from San Jose stand ready to help those who choose to compete.

"It hurts us immensely to see a person who has talent not being handled in a way to bring out that talent," says Tutko. "To have that person handled correctly, that's our bag.... A winner, in our estimation, is a guy who works up to his potential even if he loses every goddamn game. But he does the best he possibly can."

(A) true (B) maybe (C) false.