Competitive Styles: How DISC Plays out on the Volleyball Court


By Heather Hafner

Our series on the DISC behavioral styles has examined the traits of the styles and how they can be useful in understanding individuals and building teams. In Merrick Rosenberg’s book, The Chameleon, he paired the four DISC letters with four birds to make them easy to remember.

Eagles/Dominants are high flying, they like the big picture and are assertive, confident and results-oriented.  You might hear them ask, “what’s the point”?  Parrots/Interactives like to talk, enjoy large groups of people and are enthusiastic and optimistic. Parrots are the life of every party. Doves/Supportives often put their own needs behind the needs of others and are caring, helpful and calming.  Last, but not least, are our Conscientious Owls.  Logical, accurate and questioning, Owls like structure and rules.

The power of understanding the styles comes from applying them in real-life situations. It is common, and natural, to make assumptions about the styles after reading their descriptions. But, an important aspect of the styles is that anyone, regardless of their style, can perform any task. However, they will approach it differently. Let’s use sales as an example. An Eagle will be more direct and assertive when attempting to close a sale. A Parrot is an outgoing and friendly style and will focus on the relationship and creating a win-win. Doves are particularly good when one-on-one and listen with empathy. And Owls focus on providing the details when explaining their product or service.

But, what about athletes? We might stereotypically believe that they are all Eagles because they are competitive. The reality is that all styles can be competitive. Today’s example is Betsi Flint – a professional beach volleyball player on the Association of Volleyball Professionals Tour (AVP).

Flint is a 26-year-old graduate of Loyola Marymount University (LMU), where she was a four-year starter on the women’s indoor team. She is LMU’s all-time leader in aces and digs and was three-times named the conference Defensive Player of the Year. She then transitioned to the beach where she earned All-American honors twice. At 5-foot-10, Flint plays defense full-time behind the blocker on the two-person team. In only her fifth season on the AVP Tour, Flint has won 4 professional tournaments and has three international titles to her name.

And she is a DOVE!

Flint is quiet and unassuming. She has been described as humble and sweet and methodically goes about her business on the court with a steadiness that masks her inner fire. Eagles and Parrots are easily identified on the AVP tour by their on-court antics, point-ending celebrations and emphatic encouragement of their partners. Flint is demure and positive. She almost never takes the lead in post-game interviews and literally plays in the background behind Day – who patrols the net. As a Dove, she seemingly avoids the limelight and her easygoing style makes her very approachable.

How can a Dove thrive in such a stress-packed competitive environment? Doves strive for harmony in relationships and can defuse drama and conflict. They are natural mediators and seek to help others. These are all great traits in an AVP partnership, where players travel nationally and internationally for at least 6 months of the year.

While Doves do not clamor to be the center of attention, it is still important to acknowledge their accomplishments with sincere appreciation. Avoid the “I love you man!” Parrot energy and the specifics of the Owl. Instead, honor ability to work so collaboratively with her partner. As a Dove, she will appreciate that!

Doves are very loyal. While partnership on the AVP can change from week to week, Flint has a committed partnership with 6-foot-1 blocker, Emily Day, who earned a degree in Applied Mathematics from Loyola Marymount University with a minor in Business Administration. After a busy tournament weekend, Day hosts Math Monday on her Instagram account. She also leaves clues, like a puzzle that needs to be solved, on Instagram for people to solve and find tickets. Sound like an Owl?

Day displays many traits of the Owl. Her playing style seems very reserved and business-like. Post-match interviews reveal her high standards, analytical thinking and systematic approach to the game. In an interview for The Post Game on YouTube, Day talks about how “every tournament is important. Every finish counts.” Day have a vocal group of family and supporters that follow her to tournaments. Known as Em’s Entourage, they are easily found in the stands by their Em’s Entourage t-shirts. Flint has a growing group of support referred to as, Betsi’s Bunch. Said Day: “It’s not only just my dream and my partner’s dream. I have this base and community. They want me to go (to the Olympics) just as bad and I do. There is a huge team behind the team.”

While Flint and Day have not yet taken the Taking Flight with DISC assessment, we can observe their playing style and interviews to gather information about where they fall on the DISC scale.  It is important to remember that we are all a combination of all four styles – we just use some of them more often and they are more apparent to the people we interact with.

Use the styles to build bridges, not boxes. And try flexing your style to meet the needs of others in times of stress and conflict. And if you are not clear about how someone would like to be treated – ask!


Heather Hafner is a Dove/Owl, a three-time All-American indoor player at Cal State University Northridge and a 12-year veteran of professional beach volleyball.



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