Despite the tendency of the media to portray champion athletes as superhumans, otherworldy beings bestowed with special genetic powers, the truth is that those who’ve reached the top of the sporting pyramid have developed a set of consistent, positive and effective habits which have formed their daily routines over a number of years.
Of course, genetics do have a part to play, especially in sports only requiring simple movement patterns, such as running and rowing, but inherited physical attributes become much less critical for skill-based activities requiring complex motions – football and tennis being two examples.
There are always outliers, but in the vast majority of cases, the critical difference that distinguishes the winners from the ‘also rans’ is simply the quality of their daily habits and behaviours over an extended period of time.
So what are these behaviours? Well here are six examples…
1. Mastery of the basics
Great athletes recognise the importance of continually practicing the basics of their particular sport, so that they can execute these skills instinctively, proficiently, and under pressure. The pace of sport invariably quickens as the quality of competition increases, so having a mastery of the basics enable athletes to cope with this increased pace. Remember, for the vast majority of time, great athletes perform these basics to a very high standard, and then occasionally produce a flash of genius…and not the other way round.
2. Attention to detail
The most successful athletes are constantly seeking ways to improve their game, in and out of the sports arena. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, they understand the value of getting the minor details right, from improving the quality of their diet and sleeping patterns, through to experimenting with the cutting-edge of training techniques and equipment design.
3. Big Hairy Audacious Goals
Athletes get to the top by aiming for the top. They dare to dream, setting themselves Big Hairy Audacious Goals (B.H.A.G’s). They don’t just want to win…they want to dominate, to set new records, to raise the bar and so on.
4. Priority setting
Elite athletes prioritise activities that help them to achieve their B.H.A.G.S, and this often means sacrificing activities in other areas of their life which negatively impact on these prime concerns. Once these priorities have been identified, their single-minded determination keeps them focused until their goals have been completed.
5. Elevated tolerance levels
Sport frequently induces high levels of distress, both physically and mentally, and mental toughness is often the characteristic which sets champion athletes apart from other contenders. Through using techniques such as mental rehearsal, performance routines and positive self talk, the best athletes are able to tolerate a higher threshold of discomfort by filtering out all irrelevant distractions and applying a lazer-like focus to the task at hand.
6. High Work Ethic
Simply put, superstar athletes work hard. Whatever their source of motivation, compared to other athletes, they tend to put more time and effort into their practice, possessing an insatiable hunger for developing their abilities. Examples of this include working on their individual skills before the start, or after the close, of official practice …or both. As my wife once said, the grass grows where you water it.
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