Great athletes born or made?

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Are elite athletes born or made?  That’s the question CBS Sunday morning tackled, providing viewers with a glimpse of the variables that impact sport success.  This is a question I have also thought about for many years, and have developed my own sport psychology theory that outlines the variables most influencing sport success:

1. Great genetics.  The CBS Sunday morning segment illustrated how important it is to have great genetics, whether it’s Michel Phelps and his long body suited for swimming or LeBron James and his huge wingspan that helps him with various aspects pertaining to basketball success.  While having great genetics is not aguarantee to future athletic success, it does provide benefactors a huge built-in advantage over the competition.

2. Interest.  Even with natural talent and great genetics, you still need to have an interest in pursuing a skill in order to master it.  In the case of sport success, I have personally worked with many athletes who, while talented, had little interest in developing those talents.  Actually, not only do you need an interest, you need a passion and conviction if you want to fully develop the natural skills you were lucky to inherit.

3. Mental toughness.  So lets assume you have natural abilities and a passion toward becoming the best athlete you can be — you still need to develop mental toughness if you want to maximize your potential.  What this means is that things like focus, motivation, and resiliency are regularly worked on, similar to how athletes work on physical strength, speed, and stamina.

4. Luck.  The X-Factor to all of this, of course, is luck.  There are thousands of athletes each year who have physical talents, passion, and even mental toughness, but have not had that break or opportunity needed for things like a college athletic scholarship or professional sports opportunity.  This last factor also largely explains why so few athletes become professionals, as most are weeded out through injuries, other interests, financial challenges, or the new responsibilities of having a family.

While many parents have tried to create elite-level athletes, most experts would agree that it takes a lot more than simply pushing a kid to be a better athlete.  Of course, the real benefits from playing sports have less to do with becoming a professional athlete and all to do with learning life skills, and in that pursuit every kid has a fair shot at having a terrific sport experience.

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Dr. Chris Stankovich is a graduate of The Ohio State University and the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems, an athletic counseling and human performance enhancement center. 

For more information visit his website: www.drstankovich.com

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