Tough Teams and Optimistic Individuals: The Intersecting Roles of Group and Individual Attributes in Helping to Predict Physical Performance

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Physical Education

Publication Date


Publication Title

The Journal of Psychology

Document Type



This study tested the effects of individual and group-level characteristics on performance during a mandatory and challenging physical education course at the United States Military Academy (USMA). We focused on attributes related to mental toughness, and examined both self-report and utilized an other-rating scale that measures mental toughness-related characteristics and is important to USMA generally. We examined course scores for 5,581 first-year students over five academic years, accounted for background physical fitness, and determined how mental toughness attributes at the group and individual-level contributed to overall course score and scores on constituent events (e.g. obstacle course, rope climbing). Self-reported optimism, self-reported resilience, and mental toughness items from a peer rating scale, but not self-reported grit, significantly improved course performance. The average score across class section on optimism or the peer rating scale also positively covaried with course score, over and above the individual-level impact of that attribute. Analyses of individual events demonstrated that “group-level character” was important for some events, whereas individual attributes were most important for others. Findings suggested an emergent group character capable of influencing individual physical performance scores. Being a member of a tough group may have comparable effects to individual mental toughness.

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