UNLV Frosh Face A New Kind of Test

By Staff

Athletic Management, 15.2, February/March 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1502/wuunlvtest.htm

Every college coach is faced with it: the process of getting to know what makes their freshman student-athletes tick. At the same time, every freshman student-athlete is faced with his or her own quandary: What am I going to do with my career once I get out of here?

At the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the athletic department is tackling both issues through extensive personality profile testing. With the help of Caliper, a human resources consulting firm based in Princeton, N.J., UNLV is offering assessments and counseling services to incoming freshman student-athletes, as well as to all its coaches.

The program has two goals: to identify ways to help the athletes and their coaches maximize their athletic potential, and to provide athletes with advice on career goals. “This program is designed to give coaches early feedback on their players’ personalities, so they will have better insight into how to coach and motivate them,” said UNLV Athletic Director and Head Football Coach John Robinson. “At the same time, it enables student-athletes to take better advantage of the educational opportunity they have, and to discover another passion, which at least equals their love of their sport.”

The Caliper test is designed to find out “who you are as a human being,” explains Herb Greenberg, President and CEO of Caliper. “The odds are, the test will discover two or three qualities that will place you in the top two or three percent of human ability. You’re a genius in certain things, and a bum in others.”

The first part of the assessment is a 150-question test, which usually takes about two hours to complete. Questions involve word analogies, math problems, and the choice of which statements best and least reflect their viewpoint and describe their personality. For example, test takers rank their agreement or disagreement with a variety of statements, including things like “I follow a set routine every morning” and “Faith in ideas should be maintained, even in the face of contradictory facts.”

Caliper has previously worked with teams at several universities—including Tennessee, William and Mary, Rutgers, and Arizona State—but this is the first time the company has tested teams on an athletic department-wide basis. UNLV freshman student-athletes for fall sports took the Caliper profile on August 5, and Greenberg and two co-workers flew out to Las Vegas August 22 to review the results.

“We sat one-on-one and talked to them about their sport, strengths and weaknesses, and what they need to work on from a psychological perspective,” Greenberg explains. “Then we met with the coaches from each team, who also were assessed. We not only talked about how each player needs to be coached—with a pat on back or boot in the butt—but we also said, ‘Given your key strengths and weaknesses, here’s what you need to do to ensure you’re coaching this person in the best way possible to maximize his or her strengths.’

“In some instances,” Greenberg continues, “we said, ‘Given who you are and the needs of this player, maybe you’d better let another coach work more closely with this player—the chemistry would be better between those two.’ We’ve done it enough to know it works.”

Charlie Spoonhour, UNLV Head Men’s Basketball Coach, found the program to be helpful. “In some case, the main thing it did was confirm what we already thought, which made us feel pretty good,” he says. “In other cases, it made us question a few things we were doing, which I also think is good. Anytime you do an inventory on yourself, it’s helpful. I’ve changed my approach to some of my players a bit.”

UNLV Head Men’s Golf Coach Dwaine Knight especially liked the idea of using the test with incoming freshmen. “Instead of waiting to see how a person reacts, you can learn right off the bat where they’re coming from,” he says. “You’re going to work with them over four years, so if you can open up that line of communication sooner, it’s pretty valuable.”

Based on the results of his own evaluation, Knight says he’s changed his approach with some players. “Coaching is a two-way street, so you not only need to know how to say things, but also how they’re being received,” he says. “And sometimes that path of communication is blocked on one side or the other, and I think this process opens that up.”

Reactions among student-athletes have been mixed. Spoonhour says his players were somewhat skeptical about the test, mainly for practical reasons. “I don’t think they liked the time it took to take the test, but I think they all appreciated the idea and thought behind it,” he says.

On the other hand, Knight says his players especially liked the testing process. “In golf, the mental approach is such an important part of being successful, and even more so each level you go up,” he says. “They were pleased to take it and find out the results to see how to keep improving.”

The other goal of the test is to match student-athletes to requirements of specific careers. “We look at the core strengths of their personality, the core strengths required on the job they’re considering, and make sure they have no untrainable core weaknesses,” Greenberg says. “Most of these kids going into a career have no experience, so the opportunity is to find out what their raw talent is and help them develop it, so they won’t be trapped 15 years later in a miserable career.

“At UNLV, we tested a woman thinking about heading into pharmaceutical sales and based on the assessment, now she is going to re-gear her major in that direction,” he continues. “Another woman knows she wants to go into media and communications. They’re walking away with firm career goals on their mind where before they only had vague notions.”

Knight thinks his players will benefit from such career direction. “It provides well-constructed advice that gives them good insight into what they can do if pro golf doesn’t work out for them,” he says “It’s a wonderful opportunity for kids to find some things to go into that they’d really enjoy. Teaching the fundamentals of golf is easy. Teaching what makes people successful is very hard.”

Greenberg says that the ballpark cost to a typical college athletic department would range from $20,000 to $35,000, depending on the number of athletes tested. The cost includes ongoing consultation. “At the end of the interview each student is given our phone numbers, and over the next four years they can call us if they need us,” he says. “We’re not like a lawyer on retainer.”

Robinson feels the price tag is justified. “The first year in college is pivotal in a student’s progress,” he says. “I know this program will help us get a fast start both on and off the field.”