People often ask me, What are the common characteristics of the very best athletes?
Having observed, studied, taught, and even critiqued athletes for my entire life, I have deduced three traits other than talent - because talent is a pre-requisite.
1. Passion: The best possess an unquenchable thirst to see just how good that they can become. This passion translates into a willingness and desire to work hard.
Dale Earnhardt was once in an accident and could not finish his next race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He started the race, but they had to remove him from the car. Here was the greatest race car driver, basically crying, because they had to take him out of the car.
He said, “Nobody loves anything more than my driving a racecar.”
Competitiveness: The best athletes love to compete and put themselves in situations that test their skills. Their competitiveness is more than just a drive to beat others; it is the feeling that they get from testing themselves under pressure.
I often witness athletes, even outside of their own sport, remain so competitive to win regardless of the event. It could be checkers, sit-ups, darts, pogo-stick - whatever. They may fear losing, but they don’t succumb to that fear. Instead, they have an inner confidence and trust in their abilities.
As Jimmy Connors and Michael Phelps have said, “I hate to lose, more than I love to win.”
Having Another Gear: If you listen to quality sports announcers close enough, they mention how certain players can “change speeds.”
Emmitt Smith holds the NFL record for career rushing yardage, but few consider him the best ball-carrier of all time. Nonetheless, he was able to hit the gap successfully and turn downfield. He had another gear.
The best are able to muster up the inner fortitude and the “it” factor which allows them to finish strong. They simply have another gear.
These skills may be more instinctive with the best, but they can be learned and cultivated. Honestly assess your own mental game and answer which of these characteristics do you possess and where you need to strengthen.
As Michael Jordan said, “Sport is the one place that affirms and dispels grace under pressure.”
Dr. Rob Bell is the author of “Mental Toughness Training for Golf,” and an AASP-certified sport psychology consultant. He consults with golfers, athletes, and coaches at all levels helping build and enhance their own mental toughness.