Psychological Traits of Olympic Champions

Let the Games Begin!

Like most of you, I have been looking forward to watching the Olympics this year. The excitment from all the countries, the anticipation of watching your favorite athletes and games, and the overall spirit surrounding the festivities just draws you in!

I’m always so impressed and intrigued by the athletes and their strong commitment to their sport. They are certainly among the few individuals who show such strength of heart and mind to be able to accomplish what they do.

Research on Psychological Traits of Our Champs

A recent study on the psychological characteristics of U.S. Olympic champions was conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina and they found a number of common characteristics among these athletes.

  • High Motivation and Commitment

These athletes were competitive and looked forward to and really enjoyed competing. Their competitive drive was fueled by an internal desire or intrinsic motivation to accomplish their goals, as opposed to external rewards. The 10 Olympians were goal oriented. They not only set goals, but they were also good at deriving multiple plans or pathways for achieving their goals. Finally, their dedication to their goals was extremely impressive.

  • Optimistic and Positive

This allowed them to remain positive when faced with difficulties and rebound more quickly when failures were experienced.

  • Positive Perfectionists

Adaptive perfectionists set high standards and like to be organized, but they are low on concern over mistakes, doubts about actions and concern over parental criticism (when young).

  • Ability to Focus

The Olympians had the ability to concentrate or focus on key performance-related factors while effectively blocking out distractions. They were described as having “the ability to dial in” and “the ability to intensely focus and quiet the mind.”

  • Ability to Handle Stress and Cope with Adversity

Having the ability to handle stress and cope with adversity allowed these athletes the capacity to deal with the routine setbacks and anxiety associated with training and competing in developmental and elite levels of competition.

  • Mentally Tough

some of the more common components of mental toughness focused on resilience, perseverance and the ability to successfully deal with adversity.

  • Sport Intelligence

 It consisted of such themes as the ability to analyze performance, being innovative relative to one’s sport technique, being a student of the sport, making good sport-related decisions, understanding the nature of elite sport and being a quick learner.

What We Can Learn

So, other than knowing what makes these individuals totally awesome, what else have we learned?

1. Other successful people possess these traits. I haven’t done the google search on this yet, but I imagine that these are also the traits of other people who have been successful in their field. Consider Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and U.S. Presidents. To be on the top in your field (get there and stay there) takes a lot of commitment, innovation, sacrifice, and mental toughness.

2. You are probably already surrounded by “Olympians.” Now, also consider the successful people in your family, your community, and your career field. I bet you can pick out a number of these traits and find that those who are successful exhibit a number of these characteristics. Learn from these individuals. Talk to them about what makes them successful, what motivates them, and how they balance their work and success with family and a personal life.

3. You can be an “Olympian” in your own life. I don’t know about you, but I’m a little old to take up a sport and achieve Olympic Champion status, but that doesn’t mean I can’t strive for success in my own life. Being an Olympic Champion is about become the best at what you do. What do you want to strive to be the best at? It’s your life and you get to choose!

4. You can pass these traits along to your kids.If we want our kids to possess the traits that make one successful in life, we have to teach, model, encourage, cheer, and guide them along the way. Encourage your kids to find interests, remain focused, and show passion for what they love, and you will have done them an enormous favor for a life of success!

Now, enjoy the 2012 Olympics!!

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Published by

Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

8 thoughts on “Psychological Traits of Olympic Champions

  1. I absolutely agree that we can encourage our kids and lead spectacular lives ourselves. This doesn’t always have to mean that we’re all entrepreneurs or striving to make millions or whatever. I’m actually pretty regular with my life, but even in that regularity, I try to do my best, however simple it may be.

    I’m trying to hone that drive and focus in my own kid at a young age.

  2. Great article! I have often thought what it takes to make an Olympic champion. I think your right that a lot of these qualities are found in every day people. Being a small business owner came to my mind as I was reading from your list. I do admire how much work it must take for these athletes to get to the Olympics and to compete under such stress.

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