The six-foot psychologist will never replace the seven-foot center, but Jack McCloskey, who coaches the University of Pennsylvania basketball team, doesn't have a seven-foot center—he does have the six-foot psychologist. Last year McCloskey's Quakers won 12 games while losing 14. This year all five of his starters graduated and his tallest man is a mere 6 foot 4. Then Dr. Howard Mitchell suited up, psychologically speaking. Dr. Mitchell is with the Department of Psychiatry at Penn's medical school and played basketball (and football) at Boston University.
Dr. Mitchell is something of an iconoclast. "It's poppycock that sports mold character," he says. "Character is molded in the family setting and in early influences." McCloskey is something of an iconoclast too. "I don't believe in pep talks," he says. "When you're playing a big game or a highly rated opponent, you need less stimulation."
Two iconoclasts ought to get along fine if their iconoclasms don't clash. Happily, they don't at Penn. Dr. Mitchell's job is to administer personality tests to the basketball team. McCloskey's job is to use the results of the tests to aid him in getting the most out of his players. "Some kids need praise from their teammates more than from me," McCloskey explains. "Some kids can be chewed out during practice in front of the squad. For others it's better to take them aside and talk to them individually."
"Sports," says Dr. Mitchell, "provide the best statistics on production of any unit of behavior. For example, we make studies of how marital conflict affects a man's productivity, but there are so many other factors. It's not the same as taking the percentage of shots a player hits."
Basically, the tests are designed to measure a correlation between the physiological readiness of a player and his mental readiness—to determine if he is "up" mentally at the same time he is "up" physically.
One test requires the basketball player to rate his performance during the week—how much skill he showed, how much of a contribution he made to the team effort, how fatigued he was. McCloskey, meanwhile, makes his own appraisals.
"You need basic personality information to account for the disparities that show up," says Dr. Mitchell.
Another test is team dart throwing. The players record their scores and then the scores they expect to make the next time—what Dr. Mitchell calls "an aspiration level." Then they record the score for their team and the score they expect their team to make the next time.
Some players score low but have great expectations as to how their team will score. "This is the sort of fellow who will put more dependence on the performance of others and not expect much of himself," says Dr. Mitchell. "We can look at his personality index, and he will show up as a dependent sort. Athletes differ from other groups in that they set goals beyond their fulfillment."
A profile chart is drawn up on each player listing 252 dimensions of personality under such large headings as conformity, aggression and dependence. One trait, for instance, is liability of affect and restlessness. "A boy showing strongly here," says Dr. Mitchell, "is the boy to exhibit for the team's good when he is on the upswing. It's no good to put him in when he's down in the dumps in an effort to shake him out of them. As for a strong superego, this sort of fellow may be an itch personally, but this trait can be helpful. He's the sort who will shrug off an injury to play. He wants to get back in.