Many of us have gone to, or seen, sporting events where the better players, the ones who stand out head and shoulders above the rest (Drew Brees and Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV are good examples, Michael Phelps would be another), all seem to have something in common with each other. That they, for some reason, tend to play harder, show more emotion, demonstrate a high level of skill, can consistently perform at an elevated level and seem to be the players, or player, that a team rallies around and looks to for their success. You know who I am speaking of; the ones that make a difference.
When observing athletes like this, many, including myself, will point to things like talent, dedication, commitment, perseverance, discipline, sacrifice, work ethic, etc. as major reasons behind an athlete's ability to demonstrate this greatness. And yes, most assuredly, these are very important factors.
However, what exactly is it that allows for the characteristics mentioned above to blossom in an athlete? Is it something that they just decide on one day and, as long as they have some level of talent, just go out and "do," or is there something else? Something on the inside that creates this opportunity of astonishing ability, to pull one's team out of the grips of defeat and/or accomplish what looks to be impossible.
From my viewpoint, there are four underlying and interconnected attributes/characteristics that allow an athlete to reap the benefits of their talent, dedication, commitment, perseverance, discipline, sacrifice, work ethic, etc.; and, as with much of what I write, they are internal attributes/characteristics that one chooses for themselves.
1. Care: In order to achieve the level of greatness I am discussing here, an athlete must truly care about what they are doing. They cannot view this term, like many do, as just a word to be thrown around with little meaning. In this context, it is a deep-seated feeling that brings with it discomfort when one is not doing well and strong motivation to find a way to do better the next time. It is a foundation for many things that without, an athlete is simply just going through the motions.
The deeper you care about what you do, the stronger your foundation from which to build.
2. Pride: Closely tied to the deep-seated caring discussed above is the idea of taking great pride in your "work." This is not the kind of pride from which conceit or arrogance is born, in fact, it is a humble type of pride that is self-gratifying and that is exemplified through feelings of self-satisfaction. It is very important to not confuse the two meanings; to do so will destroy the integrity of what I mean here.
Be proud of the efforts and sacrifices you make to become better, for there are few willing to do the same.
3. Passion: When we speak of an athlete's ability to succeed through the most adverse of circumstances, we are speaking of their heart, and at the center of their heart lies attribute #3 - passion. A passionate athlete is one who puts their heart and soul into what they do, and not just during occasional performances and/or practices, but every single time they train/practice and step into the competitive arena. In addition, it is not something they do just for themselves but also for their teammates, their school, the spectators, or anyone/anything else they represent. And, most assuredly, for every single athlete who looks up to them for guidance, and who may someday wish to do the same.
Be passionate about what you are doing and set an example for others to follow your lead.
4. High Expectations: This is a no-compromise type of attitude about one's daily training and competitive performance. That word daily is important because it indicates that you hold yourself to these high expectations every day (whether at practice or competing) and, during training, that you are not finished until they are met. Self-evaluation is common and consistent here, and it is always tied to the next level up from where the athlete is currently. True perfection is not possible and athletes who achieve greatness accept that. However (and this is a big however that never, ever stops this type of athlete from always striving to achieve it), the impossibility of this quest is not self-defeating to them, or self-deflating for them, but actually inspires a sense of pride within because of the efforts they put forth.
Always keep expectations for yourself at high levels, never becoming complacent, and you will never lose your sense of direction.
"Greatness, whether athletic or otherwise, does not come from those content on just being but from those who seek being the difference!!!"
Kirk Mango 2008