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Head games: NFL draft tests
iconWhat might industrial psychologist Robert Troutwine see if he looked into your head? Try yourself out on four questions from the Troutwine Athletic Profile and see what he says your answers might mean is under your helmet.

Head games:
NFL draft tests


In this story:

Jock TAP

Men's makeup

Getting into a head to get ahead


RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow


(CNN) -- Want the inside scoop on who may win the Super Bowl on January 28? Bet on whichever team has the most players who say they'd rather be dogs than cats.

It's a question that industrial psychologist Robert Troutwine has asked hundreds of collegiate gridiron stars before they were drafted by NFL teams.

"(Players who prefer) dogs do seem to be a little higher in what we call affiliation -- more team-oriented," says Troutwine, who's president of Troutwine and Associates Inc. in Liberty, Missouri. "Cats are more independent. Dogs tend to be a little more practical -- 'Give me the blocking rule. Let me memorize it. I don't need a big, long explanation.' Cats tend to be a little more motivated to understand the whole scheme."

  QUICK VOTE
graphic How much faith do you have in psychological testing when it comes to predicting career performance?

None. It's all hokum.
Depends on the case. An athlete's propensity for teamwork might be easier to test than other professional qualities.
Full faith. These tests are great.
View Results

 

In other words, your dog players likely will do whatever it takes to help the team win, while the cat boys may be more interested in personal statistics. The canine crew could be content to knock down the opponent, while the cat fanciers could end up analyzing why it happened.

graphic

Jock TAP

The dog vs. cat question is one of 75 that Troutwine poses to college football stars every year in a written psychological test he dubs TAP -- the Troutwine Athletic Profile. Most of the questions require a player to make a choice between two options. About 600 athletes agree to take the quiz every year, Troutwine says. He then provides the results to the 10 NFL teams with whom he has a contract.

"Athletic performance isn't all physical," Troutwine says. "There are emotional, mental, psychological elements. We're trying to help them get a lot of that information. In scouting, they call those the intangibles. If you could just go by physical attributes, players would turn out just as everyone projected."

Perhaps nobody better exemplifies this than San Diego Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf. When Leaf finished his collegiate career at Washington State University, he was widely considered one of the two top players at his high-profile position. The other was Peyton Manning from the University of Tennessee.

The Indianapolis Colts picked first in that 1998 draft and coveted a quarterback. There was rampant speculation over the selection. Both Manning and Leaf were 6-feet-5-inches and had turned in great college careers. Fifty-two days separated them in age. The Colts are one of Troutwine's clients, so they also had the results of the psychological test he administered to Manning and Leaf.

The San Diego Chargers' Ryan Leaf and the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning
The Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning and the San Diego Chargers' Ryan Leaf  

"There were things I liked about Ryan Leaf," Troutwine says. But from Leaf's responses in the test, Troutwine says he concluded that Leaf would have a good deal more trouble coping with early failures than Manning, and that he might not react well to intense public scrutiny.

The Colts drafted Manning, who after three seasons is one of the National Football League's star players.

Second to draft was the Chargers organization, another Troutwine client privy to his test results. The Chargers chose Leaf, whose first three seasons have found him embroiled in disputes with teammates, fans and media. He also has been widely considered a major disappointment on the field so far, although in fairness it must be noted that he's on a team that posted the worst record in the NFL this season.

A year after the Manning-Leaf draft, the Colts had the fourth selection in the first round of the NFL draft. The team surprised everybody by drafting running back Edgerrin James of the University of Miami over University of Texas running back and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams.

Like his teammate Manning, James was an immediate star. Williams has been brilliant at times, but has been slowed by injuries. Both players took Troutwine's psychological test.

  TEAM TROUTWINE
graphic So when draft rolls around, who's doing the testing? Here are the 10 NFL franchises that have Robert Troutwine on contract.
 

"I don't think anybody doubted that Ricky would be a great player," Troutwine says. But the psychological test seemed to indicate that the lesser-known James would mesh better with the Colts.

"Ricky Williams wanted to be the marquee player," Troutwine says. "Well, we had our marquee player. It was Peyton Manning. That's similar to a business context. You have three qualified candidates and you just want who fits the job best. I think that's why you see a player not succeed on one team, he gets traded and all of a sudden he blossoms."

graphic

Men's makeup

There aren't necessarily "right" answers to the TAP questionnaire, Troutwine says, because desired qualities in a player may vary from one team to another, one position to another.

"In a quarterback," he says, "overall intelligence is probably more of an issue, and their decision-making style. You might not want a quarterback to make snap decisions on a team that runs a disciplined offense. But on another team, like the Rams, a quarterback would need to be much more the mental, flexible type."

  QUARTET OF QUESTIONS
graphic How would you do on the Troutwine Athletic Profile, or TAP? When it comes to teamwork, do you feel doggy? Or catty? We won't put you through the whole thing, but check out four sample questions and some commentary from Troutwine on how the answers can be interpreted.
 

For, say, a defensive lineman, mental agility may not be as important. "If you have a defensive lineman in a three-point stance rushing the ball, you don't really want him thinking about anything," Troutwine says. "Just go.

"We're interested in each person's makeup. One player might function better in a highly structured program. Another player, you don't mind if he lives out of town in the off-season because you know he's going to go to the gym with his own personal trainer."

Regardless of position or team, there are four "impact factors" Troutwine says the greatest athletes possess.

•  Competitiveness or desire. "That's wanting to be successful, wanting to get better, wanting to win, wanting to do a good job."

•  Stability. "It translates on the field into consistency, performing under pressure. A deeper attribute that feeds stability is emotional control -- so you don't get hysterical at every little setback."

•  Good work habits. "It's not enough to just want to win or have high drive, you've got to have the commitment in work habits."

•  Focus or concentration. "The ability to drown out the distractions, but also the ability to adjust to new situations."

Troutwine estimates that 5 to 7 percent of players he tests show exceptional ability in all four of these areas. He mentions Manning, James and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dexter Coakley as examples.

Another roughly 25 percent of the players he tests score high, but not extraordinarily so, Troutwine says. "Most are average," he adds.

graphic

Getting into a head to get ahead

Troutwine was doing psychological testing for corporations before devoting most of his practice to sports. He starting developing the TAP test in the late 1970s, putting it into practice in 1984. He's made some periodic adjustments to the test since then.

Robert Troutwine
Robert Troutwine  

"Answering one question really doesn't tell you a whole lot," Troutwine says. "It's the pattern that I'm more interested in."

While the test isn't foolproof, Troutwine says he doubts players can make a concerted effort to answer questions in a way that will result in a specific profile they want. "We do have some built-in honesty or validity scales to trip the person up who's not being himself on the test. We do have things built in where we can detect deception."

Troutwine's player profiles are only one element his clients consider on draft day, but clearly they don't ensure success. Only two of the 10 teams who have hired him made it to the playoffs, and none advanced to their conference title games, much less the Super Bowl.

"In the NFL draft, in the business world, we're looking to improve our decisions," Troutwine says. "Even if the test is not 100-percent right, if it increases our accuracy by 10 or 12 or 50 percent, we're ahead."

graphic

 

RELATED STORIES:
Riley says Leaf's four-interception game wasn't awful
December 4, 2000
Overcoming Peyton
November 1, 2000
Hiring screens take hold
June 6, 1999

RELATED SITES:
NFL Internet Network
The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Troutwine & Associates, Inc.

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