Five Traits of Successful Athletes

June 1, 2009

By Jack VanDyk, MKIN, CEP, NCCP 1
Jack is the ETS Coordinator at Talisman Centre

Part II

4. Knowledge

"Expertise, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject, (ii) what is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information or (iii) awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation." - Wikipedia

Successful athletes are students of what they do and amass as much understanding of the training they undertake, how nutrition impacts their health and performance, the equipment required to maximize their potential, the mental demands of training and competing, how rest and recovery impacts their body etc. The most rewarding clients I have worked with were those who asked a lot of questions to further their understanding of what I was prescribing to them which in turned pushed me to critically evaluate everything to ensure the correct decisions were being made. Once you understand the "why's" and "how's" of training, your level of commitment to your training and nutrition will increase since you will know what your return on your time investment will be. Swimming is a great example as one can see that the more time one puts towards understanding, learning and practicing good technique with a great coach, their confidence increases and swimming becomes much less daunting.

In addition to gaining knowledge, challenging one's self by learning and practicing disciplines that are often perceived as "weaknesses" presents an opportunity for self improvement and development. Immersing one's self in a new discipline can be unnerving and frustrating at first but we often learn more when we are confused and we make mistakes as it provides us focus, a new learning environment and fosters belief in our abilities – at least for those who persevere, never quit or give up who are the ones that often succeed.

5. Belief

"Confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof." –

The human body remains a marvelous mystery for science. We really only know a small amount of information on how the body works and how it reacts to various training stimuli and we each respond differently to a similar stimulus. Therefore it becomes hard to prescribe the same training or nutrition programs to athletes and say it works as there are so many variables that can affect the overall outcome. The athletes that I have worked with who never succeeded in achieving their goals simply did not believe in themselves or their training program. I have often stated to clients that I can craft the greatest training program on paper taking into consideration physiology, psychology, nutrition, recovery etc but if they do not believe in it and hence stop following it or deviate from it because they are uncomfortable doing something "new", they will rarely achieve their goals. Conversely, I have seen some athletes doing strange and seemingly counter-intuitive training but because they believe so much in what they are doing achieve success. In sport as in life many equate that the physical component in accomplishing a goal varies from 10-30% while the mental component can be 70-90% of the reason for success. As much as we can bring scientific principles into our training we must believe it can benefit us in some way and we must also apply that information in an effective manner which leads to fueling one's passion, commitment, consistency, knowledge and furthers ones beliefs. Often I have used fitness testing as a means to confirm improvements in performance and to show quantifiable changes in one's physiology which provides reassurance to my clients that the time they put into training under my guidance is paying off. Testing can also confirm when someone has not done the training and helps them to re-focus on what they are to do to get back on track. Making and actually seeing transformations is a powerful motivator for people that helps build self-confidence and instills that belief that they truly can do whatever they set their sights upon.


As I have already stated these are five traits or qualities that I have noted in those athletes I have worked with who achieved their goals. They are also the traits that I have not seen in those who have not achieved their goals. One can almost build a "star" or some form of a model where the interrelationship between each of these can be seen. Affecting one can have a chain reaction on the others in a positive or negative manner and we all go through phases of these in our daily lives. How we manage each depends on how in tune we are with ourselves and how we choose to deal with the circumstances surrounding and challenging us.

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