The Athletic Mind - New Study Reveals Top 6 Traits of Aspiring Athletes

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A new study by looking at the psychological make-up of athletes in team sports reveals certain key attributes, including mental toughness and perseverance.

Playing sports is a physical as well as mental game.

Top athletes need more than just physical skill; they need to be mental competitors.

When coaching young athletes, instructing them on the mental side of the game is absolutely essential.

There is one crucial detail that sports analysts are likely to miss when dissecting the masterful performances of Wayne Gretzky, Serena Williams, Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt, or Bruce Lee: The secret to their success wasn’t muscle deep. Granted, their stamina, strength, speed, agility, and precise reflexes were irrefutable. However, research from PsychTests reveals that when it comes to athletic success, mental prowess plays a crucial role.

Researchers at PsychTests analyzed the personality profile of 322 young athletes who took the Athlete Mental Skills Profile (Team Sports). The sample of athletes, all of whom aspire to go pro, was divided into three groups based on performance ratings from their coaches (Excellent, Good, or just Average). A breakdown of the psychological makeup of these athletes reveals that strong performers skimp on neither effort nor dedication.

Here’s what puts top athletes in a league of their own:


  • 85% of excellent athletes regularly set challenging goals for themselves (compared to 79% of good athletes and 72% of average ones).
  • 87% possess an exceptional inner drive that keeps them motivated, so that they don’t have to rely on other people to encourage and push them (compared to 79% of good athletes and 67% of average ones).
  • 72% of excellent athletes describe themselves as “ambitious” (compared to 51% of good athletes and 44% of average ones).


  • 66% of excellent athletes are dedicated to maintaining a healthy lifestyle (compared to 41% of good athletes and 18% of average ones).
  • 71% continue their exercise program even during the off-season for their sport (compared to 58% of good athletes and 67% of average ones).
  • 81% make sure to get enough sleep the night before a game (compared to 75% of good athletes and 78% of average ones).
  • 79% use visualization techniques to help them stay focused and motivated (compared to 74% of good athletes and 78% of average ones).
  • 94% consistently show up for practice on time (compared to 91% of good athletes and 78% of average ones).


  • 64% of excellent athletes are able to keep their cool even when angry or frustrated (compared to 61% of good athletes and 50% of average ones).
  • 71% take failure in stride and bounce back quickly (compared to 60% of good athletes and 39% of average ones).
  • 70% thrive under pressure (compared to 50% of good athletes and 33% of average ones).
  • 75% keep a positive attitude, even when things are not going well for them (compared to 73% of good athletes and 61% of average ones).

What makes it difficult for average athletes to achieve a higher level of performance? Well, it could come down to the fact that they are just not as physically skilled as top athletes, but PsychTests’ study offers an alternative explanation:


  • 50% of the average athletes in PsychTests’ sample are plagued by self-doubt (compared to 36% of good athletes and 22% of excellent athletes).
  • 28% said that they have “choked” during crucial moments in a game (compared to 17% of good athletes and 8% of excellent athletes).
  • 11% make excuses when they don’t play well (compared to 5% of good athletes and 9% of excellent athletes).
  • 11% attribute their successes to chance and luck rather than their own skill and effort (compared to 6% of good athletes and 5% of excellent athletes).
  • 11% feel that attending team practices should be “optional” (compared to 5% of good athletes and 7% of excellent athletes).

“Ask any professional athlete the secret to their success and they’ll likely say something along the lines of ‘grit’, ‘hard work,’ ‘dedication,’ ‘passion,’ and ‘believing in myself,’” explains Dr. Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “It’s highly unlikely that someone like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan will say that they were born to be an athlete. Granted, some people are gifted with a certain physical prowess that lends itself well to sports, but personality is a major contributor. You have to be a mental competitor in order to be a physical one. This is never more obvious than when a player ‘chokes’ at a moment when they really need to perform well. What would make someone like Wayne Gretzky miss the net during a crucial playoff game? Certainly not a lack of skill. However, a lack of focus, self-doubt, or an inability to handle pressure is a definite possibility. Here’s the bottom line: When coaching young athletes, developing their physical skills is important, but instructing them on the mental aspect of the game is absolutely essential.”

Do you have the personality of an athlete? Check out (Athlete Mental Skills Profile - Team Sports) Athlete Mental Skills Profile (Team Sports)

Professional users, such as coaches, athletic directors of scouts, can request a free demo for this or other athletic assessments from ARCH Profile’s extensive battery:

To learn more about psychological testing, download this free eBook:

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About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see The company’s research division, Plumeus Inc., is supported in part by Research and Development Tax Credit awarded by Industry Canada.

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Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D.
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