I have gathered some excellent references for you concerning the
mental and emotional attributes of elite athletes.
An article by L.J Maile highlights the following non-physical
attributes that contribute to success as an elite athlete:
1) high motivation and commitment;
2) an optimistic and positive perspective;
3) a positive perfectionism;
4) strong ability to focus; and
5) high stress tolerance and capacity to cope with adversity.
6) a high degree of sport intelligence.
"The role "character" plays in athletic excellence: A look at elite
athletes and their coaches." by L.J. Maile, Ph.D. USA Powerlifting
According to an abstract from the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology,
the attributes that make up the "mental toughness" ascribed to elite
3) dealing with pressure and anxiety
4) focus (performance-related)
5) focus (lifestyle-related),
6) pain/hardship factors.
Read "What Is This Thing Called Mental Toughness? An Investigation of
Elite Sport Performers," by Graham Jones. Journal of Applied Sport
Psychology. Volume 14, Number 3 / September 01, 2002
** For a more in-depth analysis, of "mental toughness," read:
"Developing the Mental Toughness Inventory (MTI)," by Simon C.
Middleton, Herb W. Marsh, Andrew J. Martin, Garry E. Richards, and
Clark Perry. SELF Research Centre, University of Western Sydney,
A study involving Olympic athletes has this to say about the
psychological "Characteristics of Champions:
"After an extensive review of the literature, Williams and Krane
(2001) identified a number of psychological characteristics of highly
successful athletes, as well as the mental skills these athletes used
to achieve optimal psychological states. Characteristics included
self-regulation of arousal, high confidence, better concentration and
focus, an in control but not forcing it attitude, positive imagery and
self-talk, and high determination and commitment. Skills used to
achieve peak psychological states included imagery, goal setting,
thought control strategies, arousal management, well-developed
plans, well-developed coping strategies, and pre-competitive mental
preparation plans. The quantitative and qualitative results collected
with these Olympic champions paralleled these results almost exactly.
Specifically, as a group these Olympians were found to be
? The Ability to Focus
? Mental Toughness
? Hope/Goal Setting Ability
? Sport Intelligence
? Ability to Cope
? High Drive
? Intrinsic Motivation
? High Optimism
? Adaptive Perfectionism
? Automaticity: The Ability to Click into Automatic Performance
? Emotional Control: Ability to Relax and Activate
Read "The Development of Psychological Talent in U.S. Olympic
Champions." Executive Summary By Daniel Gould, Ph.D., Kristen
Dieffenbach, M.S. & Aaron Moffett, M.S. University of North Carolina
at Greensboro, Applied Sport Psychology Laboratory Department if
Exercise & Sport Science. December 2001
A survey of 759 Olympians listed factors that contributed to their
success, as well as negative factors that influenced them. Not all of
these are strictly personality or character issues, but they do,
overall, affect mental performance when striving to achieve a goal?.
Factors Influencing Olympic Success:
1. Top Ten Factors Influencing Olympic Success - Dedication and
Persistence (58%): These Olympians were quick to acknowledge the
positive influence of their inner drive, desire, persistence, and
commitment to achieving their goals; to being the best they could be.
2. Family and Friends (52%): The influence of family and friends was
pervasive in the development of these athletes.
3. Coaches (49%): Not surprising, these Olympians identified
excel-lent coaches throughout their development as having a
significant influence on their success. As identified by the athletes,
coaches provided such things as expertise, encouragement, and
4. Love of Sport (27%): Many of the Olympians in this study felt that
their love of and passion for the sport greatly influenced their
success, often providing them with the neces- sary motivation to
continue training in less than optimal conditions.
5. Training Programs and Facilities (22%): Opportunities and access to
good training were critical.
6. Natural Talent (22%): While the athletes exerted a significant influence on
their success through their dedication and hard work, natural or
God-given talent was also recognized as a critical factor. Olympians
in this study noted that a genetic predisposition played a role in
7. Competitiveness (15%): A strong competitive nature and love of
competition was identified as a factor influencing success.
8. Focus (13%): The athletes reported their ability to stay focused on
their goals and the task at hand, despite distractions such as
significant others or other life roles, as having a significant
influence on their success
9. Work Ethic (12%): These Olympians worked for the success they
achieved. They reported that hard work and a strong work ethic was a
factor that influenced their success.
10. Financial Support (12%)
Read further for the Negative obstacles that elite athletes felt
hindered their performance.
See "Understanding the Path to the Podium."
The attributes of elite football players have been described as
1) a good attitude to hard work
4) commitment to a team above the individual
Read "Foucault Goes to the Footy: Professionalism,
Performance,Prudentialism and Playstations in the Life of AFL
Footballers," by Peter Kelly and Christopher Hickey. Faculty of
Business and Law, Deakin University; Faculty of Education, Deakin
"The role of an elite athlete requires the mastery of a multitude of
physical and psychological skills in order to achieve successful
performance. Recent publications have identified a number of
psychological characteristics andskills associated with successful
elite athletes including
* goal setting
* self-talk strategies
* self-regulation of arousal
* well developed coping and planning strategies
* good concentration abilities
* and high levels of confidence, determination and commitment
Read "Are Elite Athletes With Disabilities Mentally Tougher Than
Able-Bodied Competitors?" by Paul G. Penna, Sharon A. Burden, and
Garry E. Richards, SELF Research Centre, University of Western Sydney,
You might be interested in the following articles that touch on
certain attributes of elite athletes.
"Understanding and Refining the Resilience of Elite Athletes: An
Intervention Strategy." Robert J. Schinke, Ed.D. & Wendy C. Jerome,
Ph. D. Sport Psychology Program, School of Human Kinetics, Laurentian
An interesting insight:
"Exploring the Benefits of a Broader Approach to Qualitative Research
in Sport Psychology: A Tale of Two, or Three, James," by Helen Hooper,
Les Burwitz & Phil Hodkinson Forum: Qualitative Social Research
[On-line Journal], 4(1) January 2003.
"Risk is relative: elite athletes take biggest risks," by Farrin Jacobs.
Psychology Today, March-April, 2002
"COMMON SENSE DICTATES that adventure seekers are less risk-averse
than their sedentary peers. But even elite adventure racers who
compete in "extreme" sports like mountain biking, rock climbing and
kayaking don't take their risk-taking lightly, according to Terri
Schneider, who is pursuing her master's in sports psychology at San
Jose State University in California.
"Sensation seekers lust after novel, intense experiences and are
willing to take any manner of risk--physical, social, legal or
financial--to satisfy their urge, according to Marvin Zuckerman,
Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychology at the University of
Delaware and an expert on sensation-seeking.
"Schneider administered Zuckerman's index of attention-seeking
behavior to 120 athletes in four sports. Adventure racers garnered the
highest marks, so Schneider--herself an adventure racer--grilled eight
of these uber-athletes on everything from childhood risk-taking
patterns to their hobbies and decision-making process in a race.
"She found that the more experience adventure racers have, the more
likely they are to take big risks. But they no longer consider their
(Abstract only) "Psychology of the elite athlete: An exploratory
study." Cognitive Therapy and Research. Volume 1, Number 2 / June,
I hope these articles are helpful for your research. If I can be of
further help, please don't hesitate to ask and I will do what I can.
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