In elite sports, it can often be difficult to find differences in top athletes that are visually apparent. The level of physical disparity is very small. So, what is it that separates the good from the great?
IMG Academy’s Director of Athletic and Personal Development, David Hesse, shares his insight on what differentiates the average athletes from the excellent ones. Hesse is an accredited Sport Scientist in Psychology who has helped a number of athletes in the United States and the United Kingdom gear up for major athletic events like the London 2012 Olympics and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
First and foremost, great athletes have a growth mindset. This idea, most associated with the research of Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck, argues that athletes who believe their talents can be developed, through consistent training, evaluation and practice, will be more successful than those who have a fixed mindset. Athletes with a fixed mindset tend to believe that their talent is the key determinant of success, and that their ability is fixed. These athletes end up not realizing their full potential.
The best athletes understand that in the process of developing their talents, there will be obstacles along the way. They embrace the challenge of trying to get better every day, and understand that failure is just another challenge that they need to overcome. “Rather than dwelling on defeats, outstanding athletes capitalize on the experience to learn and grow,” Hesse says.
Great athletes welcome feedback from their coaches, and use it to focus on areas of improvement. Less successful athletes tend to dismiss or ignore feedback and focus on the person providing it, rather than using it as an opportunity to reflect and grow.
Curiosity is an important trait in elite athletes. Where average athletes see the success of others as a threat, great athletes find inspiration and motivation. They try to learn from the success of others by modeling their behavior and habits.
The best athletes do not fear competition, but rather embrace it. They use it as motivation to push themselves to the next level and maximize their potential.
Finally, the path to success for an athlete is based on hard work, ownership, and application. The best athletes understand that they must apply themselves in every facet of their training if they want to be one of the ‘greats’. They take ownership of the process and know that they need to be the driving force along the journey. Effort is an essential trait here, and skills are the result of hard work and dedication. “Talent along won’t help you be successful in the long run,” Hesse says. “The best athletes work hard at seeking the small, yet consistent, gains in different areas of their development, rather than looking for the ‘magic bullet’ in one area of their training.”