15 Personality Traits That Separate the World’s Greatest Athletes From the Rest of Us

Stephen Curry and LeBron James face off at 2017 NBA Finals
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LeBron James and Steph Curry. Usain Bolt and Galen Rupp. Cristiano Ronaldo and, well, Cristiano Ronaldo.

All of these athletes are at the top of their sports—and it’s not just because they’re physical specimens with extraordinary bodies. They also happen to share a slew of personality traits, according to research from the University of Portsmouth.

In the study, researchers queried athletes, coaches, and sports psychologists at the elite level to reveal what makes someone thrive in their sport. Overall, they illuminated 15 “internal and external” factors that help an athlete go from so-so to sensational. Here’s what it takes:

  1. Keeping an optimistic mindset
  2. Staying focused
  3. Being in control
  4. Knowing what needs improvement
  5. Having a strong sense of motivation
  6. Developing holistically as a person, not just as an athlete
  7. Seeing an upward progression
  8. Feeling like you belong
  9. Having a strong network of support from family and friends
  10. Believing in yourself
  11. Appreciating the journey
  12. Trusting and committing to the process of growth
  13. Stoking an inner desire to succeed
  14. Setting challenging goals
  15. Managing stress

“The results could also help explain why some individuals gifted at sport don’t thrive at elite level,” study author and sports scientist Daniel Brown said in a press release. “Increasingly in high-level sport we are hearing stories of those who achieve high-level performance, but at the expense of their well-being.”

What’s more, researchers aren’t clear on the hierarchy of personality traits—whether some weigh more heavily in an athlete’s success. Brown will soon conduct research to see if changing some of the above conditions (or “enablers”) can elicit a change in athlete performance. For example: Would Ronaldo be as successful if he weren’t so confident in his abilities? Concentration and focus can be just as powerful as an excellent training regimen.

“To concentrate on being a champion, your mind has to be developed to such an extent that you can really stay very tuned in to what you’re doing,” said one practitioner who was interviewed.

Some food for thought if you’ve got some anxiety before a race or competition.

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