Identification of 'sleeping' talent in elite ice hockey using psychological characteristics


When selecting athletes in a draft, scouts seek to identify 'sleepers' who are drafted late but ultimately exceed expectations. In ice hockey, players' psychological characteristics are often overlooked by scouts and coaches and may hold promise to identify sleepers whose talent continues to develop following the draft. The aim of this study was to determine whether 'sleepers' could be retrospectively identified using psychological characteristics. A total of 95 Canadian junior elite ice hockey players (aged 15-16) were included in the study. Of these, 25 were drafted in the first two rounds by teams from a Major junior league, leaving 70 potential sleepers. All players were assessed prior to the draft on self-regulation (planning, self-monitoring, self-efficacy, effort, evaluation, and reflection) and decision-making skills (anticipation of temporally occluded video sequences, eye movements). Three years later, players' performances at 18-19 years old were collated (games played, goals, assists, "differential"). In addition, professional scouts identified 15/70 'sleepers' who they would now pick in their team. Stepwise logistic regression revealed that the self-regulation planning score, the number of areas of interests fixated and the number of fixations accurately predicted 84.3% of the players (de)identified by the scouts (R² = .40). Also, latent profile analysis revealed two psychological profiles, mainly differentiated by self-regulatory skills. The profile characterized by higher self-regulatory skills included 14/15 sleepers. The relative homogeneity regarding the psychological characteristics of the sleepers suggests that scouts could measure self-regulatory skills and eye movements to better inform their decisions in the late rounds of a draft.

Acknowledgments: We would like to thank the Quebec Remparts and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their support.