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LONDON: “Malevolent” characteristics such as being self-centered, ruthless and manipulative may help elite athletes achieve glory, according to research published just weeks before the Paris Olympics.

But athlete-coach relationships could suffer when coaches have those traits, sports scientists at Britain’s Nottingham Trent University have found.

Lead author Joseph Stanford, a researcher at NTU’s School of Science and Technology, said: “Specific characteristics considered malevolent in social settings are highly relevant in performance sport.”

“High-performance environments can often attract people who feel superior, are ruthless in the pursuit of winning and have a heightened belief they can influence others for their own success,” he added.

Stanford said it was important to forge positive coach-athlete relationships.

“To win, athletes and coaches must perform together under high pressure, often in demanding and stressful situations,” he said.

“Our findings suggest we need to consider how personalities are likely to interact together in the sporting arena.

“Additional support for coaches would also allow them to understand how to create effective high-performance relationships.”

Researchers investigated the personalities and relationship quality of more than 300 elite athletes — swimmers, triathletes, and cyclists — and their coaches using a series of established measures.

They looked specifically at a group of personality types known as the Dark Triad: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism (strategic exploitation and deceit).

Although these traits are perceived negatively in the general population, they may offer advantages within high-performance settings such as elite sport.

NTU’s Laura Healy, senior author on the study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, said: “Our research shows why some coaches and athletes may struggle to work together — their unique personality traits make it hard to build a positive coach-athlete relationship.

“Helping coaches and athletes to understand who their partner is and how to work with them could lead to better quality coach-athlete relationships within elite sport contexts, ultimately benefiting performance and sporting experience.”

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