What Separates Good Athletes from the Great?
This question has been speculated by athletes, coaches and sports fans for ages. What are the characteristics that separate an athlete from being a good player from a great player? At the Elite level of athletics, there is a very small level of physical difference between the top athletes. So what is that special something in an athlete? The answer is not a genetic disposition to being physically bigger or stronger, nor is it possessing a higher level of intelligence. The answer is simple: The best athletes possess a characteristic called “GRIT.”
Coaches, scouts and recruiters name GRIT as one of the most important qualities they seek in an athlete. For example, Seattle Seahawks legendary coach Pete Carroll, expresses that the main attribute he looks for in players is GRIT. Many coaches like Carroll are acknowledging that talent can be taught but not without GRIT as the foundation.
What is GRIT?
Dr. Angela Duckworth, the pioneer in GRIT research, defines this trait as, “self-discipline, combined with a passionate commitment to a task and a burning desire to see it through.” Furthermore, in Dr. Duckworth’s research that included National Spelling Bee participants, rookie teachers in challenging neighborhoods and West Point Cadets, she found, “One characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was GRIT.”
Essentially, GRIT can and should be developed for success; it is not an all or nothing trait. In the same way we can develop physical and mental skills, we can train GRIT and maintain it as a personal characteristic. Before you start working on evolving a grittier attitude, it is important to assess what level you are at now. To start measuring your level of GRIT, we need to break it down further. Even though the definition may seem a little broad, there is a simple acronym to help remember what GRIT is.
- Goals: Having a long-term goal, like making Varsity in high school or playing in college, but also having short-term goals that you work at everyday.
Example: Practicing your stick skills or footwork for an extra 30 minutes.
- Resiliency: Flex your mind in face of adversity, to be able to bounce back. Sports is a game of highs and lows, but being resilient means taking it all in stride.
Example: Returning to play after injuries, not making the team first time around but continuing to practice and get better to make the team the next year.
- Integrity: This means taking pride in yourself, your performance, your practice, and your team. It means deliberately practicing, not just walking through the motions. This requires self-control.
Example: Running through a drill you don’t like very much with 100% effort, because you know it will make you the best player you can be in the end.
- Tenacity: This is the heart of GRIT. It’s the sheer determination and perseverance to reach your goals and work towards reaching your full potential. To get to a high level you have to show intensity in your ability to reach your goals.
Example: Extra hours of practice or training, watching film, etc.
GRIT in Action:
GRIT is not developed overnight or in one training session. Developing GRIT is a process. But small changes are what equal big rewards in GRIT. Here is a way to put this into action now.
- Push yourself 5% extra….For change to occur you will have to experience some discomfort. This is when GRIT is the key factor. If you can withstand the challenge this is what separates great from good.
- Lots of people approach effort and intensity by saying give 110%. But that can be overwhelming and difficult to grasp. If we have 10 more sprints it is hard to gage if we are giving 110%. But what we can do is motivate our teammates and ourselves that extra 5%.
- Giving that extra 5% each time starts to build GRIT and dedication. Try this during your next workout or practice and see how much more you have in your tank!
Kat Scardino, M.Ed. and Devin Markle, Co-Directors of Athlete Development at Sports Academy, are members of the WSF Digital Contribution Team.
The content provided for this article has been approved by the Women’s Sports Foundation.