5 Traits of the Best Athletes

One of the cool things about working in the field of strength and conditioning is the opportunity to work with some great athletes. Over the years we’ve coached a number of Olympians. Some of them have reached the podium and won medals. And we’ve worked with athletes that have won championships at the highest levels of their sport.

With enough time you recognize enough traits that the great ones all share. In particular there are 5 traits the best athletes all have in common. And spoiler alert! I t has nothing to do with talent!

Below are the 5 Traits of the Best Athletes.

1. They are Competitive

The best athletes always give their best. They aren’t satisfied with mediocrity. They don’t hold back. If you nudge them they push back a little harder.

Now I don’t mean to say these individuals go all out, all the time. They are smarter than that. They use their talents as weapons and only display them when the payoff is maximal.

For example, I remember a few years a player for the Kelowna Rockets. Everytime he hit the ice he would fly around at top speed. Half of his hits would miss the mark. And even though he was going top-end all the time he seemed to be a step behind the play.

Contrast this with another former Rocket, Jamie Benn, who almost appeared to be floating at times only to spot an opportunity and separate himself for a scoring chance.

Another example that comes to mind is playing pick-up football with friends. If someone gets beat on defense the competitiveness shows up with what they do next. Do they quit  on the play? Or do they dig in, sprint and recover to prevent the opponent from scoring? In one moment I can tell if that player can become great or not based on how they react to getting beat.

2. The Do It Day In Day Out

Habits are formed over time. We brush our teeth every day. We drink water every day. We go to sleep every night. We don’t go the gym once in a while and expect a routine to form. We understand that’s about doing the small things on a regular basis over time. It’s the example of the penny that doubles over time.

Great athletes eat breakfast every day. They do some kind of activity daily. They invest in recovery strategies whether it be cryocare, massage, floating or something else. They don’t wait until things get bad in order to seek our a solution. They do these things pro-actively and prevent many issues from developing in the first place.

3. They Want The Truth

We seem to an age of being excessively PC. We can’t be honest with anyone anymore. Someone’s feelings might get hurt. We’ve moved away from competition to a situation where everyone is a winner. Everyone gets a participation ribbon, or worse a trophy, just for showing up. In school we’re doing away with report cards and no student gets left behind.

This is not the real world. We’re not all equals. We all have equal value but we don’t have equal ability. And the best athletes get this. And they want the truth and they want to know how to get better.

The best athletes want the truth.

The best athletes want the truth.

4. They Know How to Apply Coaching

Not only do great athletes want the truth they also are better at understanding and applying the solution. This may be due to better body awareness. In some cases could be that they are more intelligent. And it could be their focus is higher and they are more committed to getting better.

The 4 levels of learning. The great ones progress to level 4 more quickly.

The 4 levels of learning. The great ones progress to level 4 more quickly.

I’ve written previously about the 4 Levels of Learning which are A. unconscious incompetence B. conscious incompetence C. conscious competence and D. unconscious competence. Great athletes move through these levels more quickly than good athletes. And part of this is due to the attributes above such as establishing positive daily habits and being more receptive to a coaching corrective.

5. They Have Confidence

In sports you’ll hear the term swagger. This is not to be confused with cockiness. Swagger implies a level of self-assuredness and ease. The great ones have swagger. Modesty can be a form of swagger as well and implies the athlete has been there before and doesn’t get overly excited when they succeed.

Consider for a moment Gretzky celebrating a goal. He would raise an arm, maybe both if it was an OT winner, celebrate briefly with his team-mates before skating back to the bench. I don’t ever recall him throwing himself into the glass, scooping snow off the ice in a deep knee drag or any other kind of ridiculous celebration.

You can pick any of the greats from almost any sport and the celebration would be the same. GSP does’t trash talk and is respectful in post fight interviews. Tom Brady doesn’t organize an end-zone dance after scoring a TD.


How many of these traits do you possess? Or if you coach or work with athletes, do your best athletes have these traits? The good news is that even you don’t high the highest level of talent you can still be great. And a good place to start would be applying the 5 traits of the best athletes.








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