Becoming an All American Athlete

This Winter collegiate athletic season is finished, and I had the pleasure to work with two athletes who achieved All-American status. Either through a selection process or NCAA tournament finish, these athletes attained a most impressive athletic designation. They were able to separate themselves, along with a small number of other competitors, as exceptional among thousands of others in their sport. So what qualities did these individuals possess which lead to their great achievement. Was it some terrific application of mental skills which were developed, reveiwed and practiced endlessly a la the deliberate practice paradigm? Did they have exceptional genetic physical abilities which allowed them to surpass their competitors? Was the coaching they recieved at a different level and quality which allowed them to out perform others? Was the quality of their team and its communication and esprit d’corp unusually good? Was there approach to practice, training and competition somehow more consistent,effortful and productive? I’d have to say all the above were true. It is frequently a human desire to become reductionistic and apply occaam’s razor wherever possible. The factors leading to an athletes designation as outstanding among their comparable talent group is multi-determined. At an intuitive level, my first reaction when describing these athletes is to highlight the level of their “drive to achieve”. The dimension of “drive to achieve” is not a unitary dimension and encompasses many factors. Futhermore, it is likely different from athlete to athelte. Drive is analogous to such terms as self-esteem, toughness, and resilience. They are comprised of multiple psychological elements and can differ from person to person in the levels of each factor. A lower level on one factor in one athlete can be countered by another factor with a different athlete leading to both having relatively equal levels of “drive”. Whether athlete, coach or sport psychologist the means by which one attempts to increase the “drive to achieve” requires a thorough understanding of the athlete across dimensions of self-image, self-esteem, motivations for achievement, capacity to maintain focus and concentration, genetics, life cycle and developmental factors, problem-solving abilites and more. So remember, increasing one’s “drive to achieve” is not done through a simple acquisition of a skill or enhancement of one aspect of our psychological functioning. It is multi-determined and unique to each athlete.