Share this infographic on your site!

The Psychology of Great Athletes

Embed this infographic on your site!

The editors at Best Therapy Degrees decided to research the topic of

The Psychology of a Great Athlete

For athletes, mental resilience is a key indicator of success. There are exceptions to the typical physical requirements, but the mental ones can be harder to bypass. Drive and volition, confidence, focus, calm and emotional control are some of the psychological characteristics of the most successful athletes on the planet.

Drive and Volition

"[Professional athletes] just work as hard as they possibly can. And that drive is usually propelled by intense passion for their sport; they just love playing the game." - Jim Taylor, Ph.D.

Volition: the deliberate act of decision-making.

For athletes, volition is comprised of self-motivation and the use of psychological skills, as well as the comprehension of emotional response. These tactics combine to generate self-confidence.

Volition may be the foundation for an athlete's choice of performance skills.

- 1. Work Ethic: Everyone sees the greatness of a big-time athlete. But you don't always see the sum of hours it takes to achieve that greatness.
- 2. Total Commitment: Maria Sharapova turned that work ethic into commitment. As a child, she was often first on the court and the last to leave.
- 3. Motivation: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." - Wayne Gretzky
- 4. Conviction: "I can't" should never be uttered by a pro athlete. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team: what if he had given up then?


Believing in yourself and your abilities is a substantial contribution to any accomplishment. It may also be a determinant of performance and efficacy in leadership.

- 1. Faith: "It's lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself." - Muhammad Ali
- 2. Desire: If at first you don't succeed... "I was given the ball 27 times with ten seconds left in the game and the winning shot in my hands... and I missed." - Michael Jordan
- 3. Abolish Doubt: "If you don't have confidence, you'll always find a way not to win." - Multiple Medal Winning Olympic Track and Field Competitor Carl Lewis
- 4. Expectation: "My mind is my biggest asset. I expect to win every tournament I play." - Tiger Woods
- 5. Perseverance: "Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it." - Michael Jordan


The best athletes have practiced staying cool under pressure and against opposition.

- 1. Manage Tilt: "Tilt has many causes and kinds, but it has only one effect. It makes us play bad. It makes us do things we wouldn't do if we were at our very best. And that's how I want to define it, exactly like that. Tilt is any deviation from your A-game and your A-mindset, however slight or fleeting." - Tommy Angelo in "The Elements of Poker"
- 2. Handling Pressure: "No matter how tough, no matter what kind of outside pressure, no matter how many bad breaks along the way, I must keep my sights on the final goal, to win, win, win -- and with more love and passion than the world has ever witnessed in any performance." - Billie Jean King (American Female Tennis Player, considered one of the greatest of all time)
- 3. Sources of Stress for Athletes: Errors (physical and psychological), penalties, injury/pain, coach criticism
- 4. Effects of Stress on Performance
- a. Physical: Acute stress may compromise physical performance
- b. Emotional: Turmoil, behavioral problems and reduced satisfaction
- c. Psychological: Reduced motivation, increased anxiety, lack of focus, poor decision-making and exhaustion, leading to choking


Focus means reigning in the ability to react quickly, but in a controlled manner. Attentional control may make the difference between an average athlete and a superior one.

- 1. Pursue the Goal: "I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'" - Muhammad Ali
- 2. Make Your Goal the Top: "I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win." - Michael Jordan
- 3. Abolish Distracting Thoughts: "Concentration is the ability to think about absolutely nothing when it is absolutely necessary." - Ray Knight (Mets Infielder)

Emotional Strength

Emotions factor into an athlete's abilities more than you might think. It ties back into confidence and mental strength, using acquired psychological skills to control these emotions.

- 1. Enthusiasm: "Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string." - Pele
- 2. Passion: "I run because it's my passion, and not just a sport. Every time I walk out the door, I know why I'm going where I'm going and I'm already focused on that special place where I find my peace and solitude. Running, to me, is more than just a physical exercise... it's a consistent reward for victory!" - Sasha Azevedo
- 3. Control: "Learn to control your emotions or they will control you." - Edgar Martinez

Great Athletes


- Pele
- John Cruyff
- Leo Messi


- Michael Jordan
- Larry Bird
- Lebron James


- Joe Montana
- Jerry Rice
- Brian Dawkins


- Wayne Gretzky
- Mario Lemieux
- Guy Lafleur


- Hank Aaron
- Lou Gehrig
- Nolan Ryan


- Gareth Edwards
- Michael Jones
- David Campese


- Joe Louis
- Muhammad Ali
- Sugar Ray Robinson


- Anderson Silva
- Fedor Emelianenko
- Randy Couture