God given athleticism certainly ranks near the top of the list of answers. Athletes who are the most physically gifted usually have greater early success in sports and success is one of the best motivators. However, with the athletic training available today, greater athleticism, speed, strength and endurance can be developed so that is not the whole answer. Additionally, some of the best athletes of all time were not all that physically gifted. Just think of Larry Bird as an example. What often separates those that make it to the top and those that do not is the mental make-up of the professional athlete.
What are these mental make-up traits needed to become a professional athlete?
First of all, it is important that players develop a “Love of the Game.” This may not happen when an athlete first begins playing but develops somewhere along the way. Many young athletes enjoy a variety of sports at a young age, only to develop a love for a particular sport when greater success comes in a particular sport. Love of the game, like love of anything, is difficult to describe, of course. When the passion for playing becomes an intricate part of a person’s identity, love is present. Love of the game often leads to the next ingredient, which is also necessary to become a professional – a never give up attitude.
If all the current professional players quit playing when they were told, at sometime in their life, that they were not good enough, there would be a whole set of different professional athletes. This never-give-up attitude is usually present in every aspect of life for those who make it to the top. To become a professional athlete, athletes must have that extra dimension of not allowing others to stop them from their goals.
Another ingredient that is necessary to reach the top is concentration. The ability to maintain concentration, when others in the same situations cannot, is what separates those that reach the top. Many talented players play to prove something, whereas the great players play with the idea of constantly “improving.” This concentration on improvement is the edge that professional players have over those who do not get to the top level.
All of the afore-mentioned ingredients provide the motivation for players to have a solid work ethic. Along with good mental make-up, great fundamentals are absolutely necessary to reach the top. Success in sports requires fundamentals that need to be repeated over and over. Often, these fundamentals take years to perfect. Successful athletes use their dedication and motivation to out-work their competition. Professional players are usually the ones who are working at their craft when others have gone home for the day.
The next quality necessary to become a professional athlete is similar to concentration but is a little different. Professional athletes have the ability to get “in the zone,” which allows them to reach peak performance more than the average player. Many players have talent and qualities to be good but lack the ability to get in the zone that leads to consistent play. Distractions that come either during games or in their everyday lives get in the way of some athletes quest for the top. Many a great athlete had their career come to an end because of off-the-field distractions that didn’t allow them to keep a clear mind during play. Sports’ success requires intense mental concentration to excel under game pressure and athletes, who tune out the distractions, are more inclined to have success.
All of the above characteristics lead to a confidence that is not found in the non-professional athlete. Professional athletes have the mindset that neither the intense pressure-packed game moments nor the professional atmosphere will overwhelm them. Most professional athletes admit that any loss of confidence is very detrimental to peak performance.
Finally, it bears repeating that getting to the professional level is not guaranteed even for great athletes who have the best mental make-up characteristics. The ability to perform the fundamentals of the sport in a consistent manner, day in and day out is paramount to becoming a professional athlete. Even the most determined, focused, confident and hard-working athletes are not going to become professionals without adhering to the fundamentals of the sport.