A big part of my work is helping athletes reach their full athletic potential.r This is accomplished by focusing on three inter-related aspects of training, including physical, technical, and mental development. On average, athletes who discipline themselves to train in these areas maximize their abilities, even if they don't all advance to college/professional sports. But what about athletes who seem to have an abundance of natural talent, but don't live up to expectations? Why do some athletes fail to live up to their full potential, often frustrating their coaches, parents, and most importantly, themselves? From my professional experience there are many reasons why some athletes struggle maximizing their potential, but the following 5 reasons are the most common.
Don't let these things hold you back
Naturally gifted athletes can only rely on their raw abilities for so long. For many young athletes, sports are easy when they have natural advantages against the competition - being bigger, faster, and stronger is often enough. But what happens as kids grow older and natural abilities level out? It is in these moments where the following issues and concerns play a vital role in future success.
Poor focus -- Focus can be broken down into two areas: How an athlete focuses on his or her career with goal setting, and how an athlete focuses before and during competition. I have found that athletes who don't set goals usually fail to push themselves enough to reach their full potential, while athletes who set specific, measurable, controllable goals often do. During competition, it's equally important to develop a laser-focus on the things that are relevant and controllable (i.e. getting in a great pre-game warmup while not worrying about the referees or weather conditions). When athletes learn the importance of focus they control their thinking, increase their self-confidence, and play their best as a result.
Can't control nerves -- Anxiety is a part of competition, but there are also ways in which athletes can control and modify anxiety so that it doesn't hold them back. Countless athletes are great "practice players," but what happens when the lights turn on for a game? Athletes who take the time to learn and master techniques like imagery, breathing, self-talk, and cue words often teach themselves how to channel would-be anxiety into positive human arousal, allowing them to regularly play in the zone.
Lacking belief and intrinsic motivation -- Belief is directly correlated with success - or lack thereof. Athletes who believe in themselves play to win, while non-believing athletes play scared and to avoid losing. Intrinsic motivation is personal motivation that doesn't rely on being driven by rewards or accolades, but instead the athlete's desire to be the best. This is the kind of motivation that prompts an athlete to be the first one to practice, and the last one to leave. This level of motivation also provides an additional benefit in that it helps galvanize resiliency against losses and injuries as well.
Play the blame game rather than owning results -- Athletes who finger-point outward at things like "politics" rather than owning stress, adversity, frustration, and failure rarely live up to their potential. How can you ever improve if all you do is complain, and/or point to poor reasons for your failures? Successful athletes assume there will be tough days, and actually look at failure as teachable moments for future growth and success.
Not willing to outwork the competition -- At the end of the day sports are often decided simply by who wanted it more that day? Are you willing to do things the competition won't do?
Practice smarter, not harder. The ideas presented here are designed to help athletes maximize their abilities by streamlining their thinking and efforts. If you're not living up to your expectations, see how you stack up against the 5 most common reasons why I see athletes fail to reach their full potential. The good news is that change can happen immediately, even if you have been dealing with overcoming bad habits for awhile.
Dr. Chris Stankovich is the founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems, an athletic counseling and human performance enhancement center. Sports parents, please check out The Parents Video Playbook and sports counseling services at drstankovich.com