The personality traits that help athletes overcome pressure

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How many times have we looked at an elite athlete and thought that pressure doesn’t affect them and concluded that this is what allows them to perform at the highest possible standard? Perhaps in thinking this way, we are missing the obvious point. It may be closer to the truth that such individuals are constantly challenged by pressure and that it is the manner in which they have dealt with those pressures that gives them the edge. In any walk of life we face challenges, and at times we may be tempted to think that it would be much easier if we didn’t have pressure. However, it is the very fact that we have faced obstacles and successfully overcome them that allows us to learn and negotiate similar hurdles in the future. Therefore, if an athlete didn’t face challenges and learn how to deal with them, they simply wouldn’t be able to do so in the moment when it matters most, and this is something Dave Collins, Áine MacNamara, and Neil McCarthy raise in Super Champions, Champions, and Almosts: Important Differences and Commonalities on the Rocky Road when suggesting:

There is growing recognition that facing and overcoming a degree of challenge is desirable for aspiring elites and as such, should be recognized and employed

It sounds simple but what is equally obvious is that there are certain individuals that are able to deal with adversity better than others. This mental resilience is a key factor when it comes to sport and can make all the difference between winning and losing. Interestingly, studies have highlighted the fact that particular personality traits are instrumental in overcoming such challenges and according to Sarkar and Fletcher in Psychological resilience in sport performers: a review of stressors and protective factors,

psychological resilience is important in sport because athletes must utilize and optimize a range 3 of mental qualities to withstand the pressures that they experience

The study identifies the three main stressors encountered by athletes as being:

  • Competitive
  • Organizational and
  • Personal

while the psychological factors that allow athletes to protect themselves from these stressors are:

  • Positive Personality
  • Motivation
  • Confidence
  • Focus, and
  • Perceived Social Support

Competitive stressors involve the demands on an athlete created by competitive performance and include:-

  • preparation
  • injuries
  • pressure
  • underperforming
  • expectations
  • self-presentation, and
  • rivalry

Organizational stressors involve the demands on an athlete by the organization in which they are involved and include:-

  • leadership and personal issues
  • cultural and team issues
  • logistical and environmental issues
  • performance and personal issues

Personal stressors involve the demands on a athlete from outside sport and include areas such as

  • work-life interface
  • family issues
  • and the health/death of a significant other

Key factors in overcoming challenges

This analysis highlights the wide range of pressures that can affect an athlete and the research illustrates that particular personality traits can have an advantage in overcoming such hurdles.

  • Positive Personality:
    Personality traits that have been identified in successful athletes include: adaptive perfectionism, optimism, competiveness, hope, and proactivity
  • Motivation:
    This is identified as one of the key ingredients for success as they help an athlete deal with pressure and stress
  • Confidence:
    Another key ingredient for success in competitive sport and is created through multifaceted preparation, experience, self-awareness, visualization, coaching, and teammates
  • Focus:
    Focus, or concentration, allows an athlete to withstand and even thrive on pressure at the most crucial times

Perceived Social Support

The study highlights the fact that successful athletes were shielded from pressure and stress when they had high levels of social support. This included support from family, coaches, team-mates, 15 and support staff. The findings of the study are supported by Collins, MacNamara and McCarthy in their study which saw them

set out to examine what factors associated with such “trauma” experiences may or may not discriminate between high, medium, and low achievers in sport, classified as super-champions, champions or almost

The study was conducted through interviewing athletes from the three categories of super-champions, champions and almost, and led them to conclude that a combination of experiencing challenges and particularly personality traits provided the best chance for success, as they state:

These findings suggest that differences between levels of adult achievement relate more to what performers bring to the challenges than what they experience. A periodized and progressive set of challenge, preceded and associated with specific skill development, would seem to offer the best pathway to success for the majority

In findings similar to Sarkar and Fletcher they identified the personality traits that enabled some athletes become ‘super-champions’ include:

  • Commitment: Interest in and commitment to their sport during their development years is seen as crucial in future success
  • Reaction to Challenge: Super champions were characterized by an almost fanatical reaction to challenge, both proactively and in reaction to mishaps
  • Reflection and Reward: Clear differences were apparent in how different categories of participant thought about their sport and also in how they perceived progress and, consequently, administered self-reward.
  • The Role of Coaches and Significant Others in this Process: All categories of participants referred to the role of significant others in their progression through positive facilitation and gentle encouragement.

How to develop such traits

A lot of these personality traits are developed over time or come naturally to some athletes, but being aware of them gives individuals an opportunity to use them for their benefit. The good news is that according to Steve Mann in Mental Resilience we can employ techniques to improve our mental resilience. He points to the advice of Dr Graham Jones who states that it is important to identify stress and be energised by it, rather than drained, while an athlete can develop the self belief to overcome challenges through experience, goal-setting and self talk. He suggests that motivation should be concentrated in improving a skill or performance rather than glory or material rewards, while they can overcome stress by concentrating on factors they can control such as performance, training and competition and ignore the aspects that they cannot control.

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About Metrifit

Metrifit is an athlete monitoring system that gathers subjective and objective information from both coaches and athletes to drive behavior modification and improvement through insights modeled on descriptive and predictive analytics. It sounds complicated but Metrifit prides itself on its simple intuitive interface and advocates a simple effective approach that doesn’t overwhelm the athlete or the coaching/staff member. Metrifit is ‘athlete-centric’ helping to develop self-awareness, encourage creative thinking and emotional intelligence as well as developing ownership and responsibility within the athlete for their own success.

Our base product is very affordable starting from $499 per year for up to 30 athletes and 5 coaches and is also available at monthly price of $44.99 with option of cancelling your subscription with 30 days notice.

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References

Super Champions, Champions, and Almosts: Important Differences and Commonalities on the Rocky Road by Dave Collins, Áine MacNamara, and Neil McCarthy
Psychological resilience in sport performers: a review of stressors and protective factors by SARKAR, M. and FLETCHER, D
Resilience in Sport | KPEX Consulting
Developing mental toughness for your event is essential for success by Steve Mann