The Five Characteristics that Define Champions

Ask anyone in the sport of fitness to name a champion and two come definitively to mind: Rich Fronig and Sara Sigmundsdottir. Ask those same people to describe what makes these two athletes champions, (titles aside), and the answers become more nebulous. Body type, maybe? Mental strength, possibly? Confidence, perhaps? The question of what makes a champion is clearly a gray area, but it’s less so now it’s become a topic of interest amongst Psychologists. In fact, the latest research into Champions, “Super Champions, Champions, and Almosts: Important Differences and Commonalities on the Rocky Road,” suggests it comes down to five things.

  1. Champions have a fierce desire to overcome challenges:
    • Of the 56 athletes interviewed from a wide range of disciplines including: soccer, rowing, skiing, and combat sports, the UK researchers uncovered every single one had experienced a number of setbacks and obstacles. That in itself wasn’t unique, the Super Champions and Champions, however, tended to face the challenges head on, with a desire to learn from them and come back stronger, while the less successful athletes were surprised they were experiencing setbacks at all.
  2. Champions are constantly setting new goals and challenges:
    • For many athletes competing in the sport of fitness reaching regionals is their end-of-season goal, which once accomplished, sees them, rest-up, satisfied with their achievement. According to the research, Champions never rest on their laurels: once one goal is reached, they’ve immediately set the next one.
  3. Champions are intrinsically motivated:
    • Rich Froning famously put his success down to, “not necessarily that I like to win, but I hate losing more.” It was a throw away comment but it stacks up with the research: champions are highly motivated, not only to play their sport to win (or not to lose) but to do whatever training it takes to get there. In contrast, less successful athletes were marked out by their love of the game, but their lack of commitment to their training.
  4. Champions visualize and reflect:
    • Visualization has long been a part of elite sports. Al Oerter, a four-time Olympic discus champion, and the tennis star Billie Jean King were among the first to publically speak of it in the 1960s. And with good reason: it works. Certainly, that’s what the research suggests. Super Champions and Champions all spent considerable time visualizing meeting their goal, while also reflecting on every detail and metric of their training to get there.
  5. Champions take ownership of their training and performance:
    • Anyone who’s ever had a pushy parent or coach knows that pushiness only goes so far to driving ones desire to improve in a sport. Interestingly, this is borne out by the research. Super Champions and Champions all reported that their coaches were helpful in setting their training agenda, managing expectations and advocating the long game and that this kind of gentle support encouraged them to become self-directing and self-motivated which made all the difference when it came to long term commitment to their sport.

Training or competing to please your coach, Dad or Significant Other is not an approach we advocate at OPEX Fitness. In fact, we’re with the researchers. Champions, in our experience, are created through individualized training programs that empower clients to take responsibility for their own success in fitness, whatever that might look like.

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