What are the Traits of Successful Athletes?

Athletes impress the world with their physical characteristics, but their psychological strength can be even more impressive.
What are the Traits of Successful Athletes?

Last update: 14 November, 2020

Knowing the defining traits of successful athletes is useful when it comes to improving your performance. Sports professionals study exactly what it is that distinguishes a successful athlete from other people. They also analyze how to strengthen those qualities and traits.

Normally, in the world of sports, people tend to notice physical characteristics more than psychological ones. Of course, it’s impressive to watch an athlete’s performance, note their strength, or perceive their flexibility. However, it can be even more so to discover their mental strength.

Successful athletes are characterized by having an ironlike mentality. The key to progress and to obtaining results is to work as hard on the mind as on the body. Committed athletes work on their mental health and on building up their resilience.

Following, we’ll discover what the personality traits of a successful athlete are from a psychological point of view.

Resilience: the key to keep going

Throughout their journey, athletes have to face different obstacles that will put their mental strength to the test. That’s why only those who are capable of resisting and growing in the face of adversity will succeed.

This quality of being able to keep giving the best of yourself even in difficult situations is called resilience. Athletes, especially professionals, need to be particularly resilient. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an innate quality. Rather, anyone can improve and become more resilient.

How can you become more resilient? Through small daily actions of taking care of yourself. For instance: doing something you enjoy, being in contact with your family, or expressing your emotions in a controlled way.

A woman feeling tired after a training session.

Responsible and committed people

To reach victory, athletes have to show a strong sense of commitment to their training program and to reach their goals. Without this sense of commitment, it may be difficult to even identify your objectives, much less reach them. It’s also more likely that the person will give up when troubles appear.

Responsibility and commitment are also related to internal motivation. That is, the efforts you make to increase your internal motivation will also positively influence your sense of commitment, and the effort you go to so you can get the results you want.

On the other hand, when you aren’t motivated internally, it’ll be more difficult for you to make sacrifices to reach your goals.

They constantly look for ways to change and improve

The sporting environment is very changeable. Athletes must keep adapting to change and keep improving their abilities if they want to stay successful and not get left behind.

One of the personality traits of successful athletes is that they are non-conformists by nature and are always looking for new paths and options to explore. When they don’t get results, they ask themselves why and think of other ways to make progress.

On the contrary, athletes that don’t take the initiative or that don’t worry about advances in training methods or the technology in their sport are condemned to getting left behind.

Successful athletes have a high tolerance for pain

Being an athlete means taking your body to the extreme level of its physical abilities. This superhuman effort athletes must make to win a competition can be very painful. However, they endure the pain in a different way than most.

A woman experiencing back pain while training.

After a huge physical effort, the body releases hormones that influence your perception of pain, as a study by researcher Guillem Turro (2004) explains. One type of hormone is endorphins. They have an analgesic effect and reduce inflammation. Another is dopamine, which gives a sense of well-being and happiness.

This doesn’t mean that athletes don’t feel pain. Rather, they interpret it differently from other people. For them, pain is a necessary means to the desired end: victory.

The traits of successful athletes

It can be difficult to exactly define the traits of successful athletes. Why? Above all, each athlete has their own personality and physique, which makes each one unique. However, there are some common traits that the majority of successful athletes have, and thanks to these qualities they can make progress faster.

Lastly, here’s an interesting side issue. Researchers are studying to see whether elite athletes gain success due to these psychological traits, or if the requirements of their elite sport mold their mentality. The debate is on!

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  • Turró, G. (2004). Algunas consideraciones en torno al deporte, el placer y el dolor. Ars Brevis, (10), 256-265.