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Athletic success is as much mental as it is physical

Posted by Deb Muoio

Apr 15, 2016 10:48:47 AM

blog_excellent_vs_1.jpgEvery athlete who steps onto the field, the ice, or the court carries a dark fear at the back of their mind – often several fears. “Will I score? Will I be the one who costs my team the game? Will I be injured? Will I be benched?”

Those who believe that athletic success is strictly a matter of physical prowess are not seeing the true picture. When that top-ranked or highest-paid athlete chokes at a key moment, goes on a dry streak, gets into trouble off the field, or doesn’t live up to expectations, chances are that he or she has hit a mental roadblock.

In order to succeed, research we conducted at PsychTests indicates that athletes need to be both a physical and a mental competitor.

On the physical side, athletes require key skills like agility, stamina, flexibility, and sheer physical toughness. They need to be able to strike that delicate balance between pushing their body to its fullest potential while avoiding injury. So too is the path the mind must take. Athletes need to push past chronic doubt, debilitating fears, and other psychological blocks in order to gain the motivation and determination to succeed. With the help of our Athlete Success Evaluation, one of twelve athletic assessments available in ARCH Profile, we collected data from 371 athletes who aspire to play professionally. When we divided our sample according to coach ratings, we discovered that “Excellent” athletes possess certain characteristics that all athletes must nurture if they hope to become a top competitor.

Here are the main ones:

Work Ethic

Note: Scores range from a scale from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the better.

  • Score for “Excellent” athletes: 81
  • Score for “Good” athletes: 77
  • Score for “Satisfactory” athletes: 72

Top athletes work hard and play hard. They are self-motivated and perseverant, and recognize the need for constant improvement. Athletes need to push themselves to be more and achieve more, because a team is only as strong as its weakest player.

  • Score for “Excellent” athletes: 81
  • Score for “Good” athletes: 76
  • Score for “Satisfactory” athletes: 74

Top athletes don’t just compete with others – they also compete with themselves (personal bests, challenges). They have a hunger to win and refuse to be satisfied with an average performance, whether on their part or on the part of the team as a whole. It’s not enough to do their best; top athletes want to be the best. “Losing” is simply not part of their vocabulary.

  • Score for “Excellent” athletes: 71
  • Score for “Good” athletes: 66
  • Score for “Satisfactory” athletes: 62

Faced with intimidation from competitors, pressure from fans and coaches, and other emotionally charged situations, top athletes understand that importance of maintaining their composure: One emotional outburst can have serious repercussions, whether it’s a penalty or game expulsion. They are able to stay calm and poised in even the most anger-inducing situations.

  • Score for “Excellent” athletes: 76
  • Score for “Good” athletes: 70
  • Score for “Satisfactory” athletes: 65

Top athletes approach every goal and challenge with a steadfast, “never-say-die” attitude. Once they set their mind to something, they will not stop until the achieve it - they refuse to allow failure to deter them. When life knocks them down, they get up again, their sight firmly locked on the goal.

  • Score for “Excellent” athletes: 72
  • Score for “Good” athletes: 66
  • Score for “Satisfactory” athletes: 63

In spite of the myriad of distractions top athletes face, from roaring fans to their own personal preoccupations, once they get themselves into a “zone” almost nothing can break their concentration. They are able to keep their mind on the game and their eyes “on the prize.”

Mental Strength
  • Score for “Excellent” athletes: 68
  • Score for “Good” athletes: 61
  • Score for “Satisfactory” athletes: 54

Even if they do find themselves plagued by self-doubt, top athletes will use mind tricks to prevent their doubts from affecting their performance. They are mentally tough and optimistic. While many athletes tend to fall victim to “head games” on the field, top performers welcome the challenge and thrive in high-pressure situations.

What our study has shown is that athletes possess a unique psychological make-up. The excellent athletes are not only more physically tough, they are also more mentally prepared for games, less injury/accident prone, and are more comfortable with the uncertainty of a sports career – after all, there is no guarantee that you will be drafted in your first year, or that you’ll stay with the same team for the rest of your career. The bottom line is that when it comes to athletic performance, athletes need to posses both physical and mental toughness – those who don’t will find themselves facing a battle not just with their competitors, but with themselves as well.

When athletes allow doubt to settle in their mind, they become their own worst enemy. This is why it’s so important for coaches to create a program that trains both the body and the mind. And that’s the reason why many professional sports teams hire sports psychologists. They understand that while a rookie athlete can look great on paper and put up amazing stats, it will be worth little if he or she crumbles under the pressure of moving up to a professional league.

If you’re interested in using Athlete Success Evaluation or other assessments, request a free trial for ARCH Profile here.

Want to learn more about using psychological tests for hiring, leadership development, career development or talent retention? Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes.

Request your free trial of ARCH Profile!

Topics: Mentoring, Personal Development, stress, Motivation, Coaching

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