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What Factors Separate Successful Athletes From The Herd?

Hi Ellington,
Excluding PEDs and genetics I’m interested in your view of the top factors that separate athletes who meet their goals from those who do not. NB: By goals I mean personal targets such as lose specific amounts of fat, achieve recognised levels of success in their sport (e.g. champion) etc

I’ve listed my top 5 as a discussion point:

  1. Recognition of what they want to achieve
  2. Grasp of nutrition and recovery
  3. Belief in the way they train for their goals
  4. Personal Drive
  5. Consistency


I agree with the list you’ve made but I think luck and opportunity are two important factors to add. Luck in so far as what team our situation they end up in that allow them to thrive with coaches that push them forward and/or opponents having a knack for underperforming against them. Opportunity because there are probably a lot of potential star athletes out there that just never really get that shot, whether it be veterans starting in front of them on a team or just not really ever getting a fair shake.

I think all you list here are valid … but I believe those qualities still come under the heading of ‘Genetics’. I also agree with Dave about luck and opportunity as factors.

Some people are just born ‘wired’ with a better ability to understand, believe, be consistent, work smarter/harder and focus better than others.

Genetics are always credited with physical things but not all people are born with the same abilities mentally either . That goes for becoming a home runner hitter in the National League or the top sales person of a real estate or insurance firm. No matter how hard they work with batting practice or educate themselves with ‘sales courses’ … its not making up for being gifted genetically with certain qualities and abilities.

I’ve discussed this many times with some top self improvement gurus at seminars but of course they won’t agree openly because they’re selling ‘you can do anything’ . I’m not saying these people are teaching bullshit as their lessons change attitudes and beliefs that help a lot of people get further than they would with their old ways - BUT - you’re still limited by genetics - mentally and physically.

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I do think hard work can overcome some genetic limitations or short comings. Pete Rose was evaluated as unathletic, bad at hitting, and bad at fielding, but through sheer will, hustle, and an opportunity through his uncle, he ended up becoming baseball’s all-time hit king. There are a lot of examples of this like Tom Brady. I don’t necessarily think of tenacity as a genetic trait, as it’s something that is totally mindset oriented, which can alter from year to tear and day to day. Genetics can give someone a leg up, but they don’t determine your final destination.

I’m not going to offer up an answer to your question, because I don’t feel like I have any particular insight into what leads to success in sports or athletics. But I want to inject a note of caution regarding how one might approach the question.

People always are after the formula for success, and the most obvious way to do this is ask what other people did to succeed. It seems like it should be a reasonable way to get started, but it is fraught with risk, for two basic reasons

First, the narratives that someone constructs after the fact may not be particularly objective. People want to believe they were the architects of their own accomplishments. What entrepreneur wants to admit that dumb luck played a huge role in their being in the right place at the right time with a novel idea. So success stories can end up being somewhat self serving, for very understandable reasons.

Second, you have the problem of survivorship bias. When someone tells you the story of how they succeeded, and provides a formula for success from that, it doesn’t tell you anything about the odds of that formula working. For every person who followed the formula and succeeded, how many followed it and failed? Did everyone who did the right things make it big? Or was it the case that only 10%, or 1%, or 0.01% of the people who followed the formula actually ended up winning?

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A great thought-provoking question, Jeff. I’d say:

First, having a measurable goal.
Second, believing in a specific method.
Third, learning from your mistakes.
Fourth, being consistent with your practice or training.

My biggest weakness without question is being consistent . There always seems to be something else going on that interferes with consistently working out.

You have to unlearn what you have learned there, Scott!

Like this week my sons car needed major work so all my free time went into fussing with his car and setting up our Christmas stuff which is a marathon in its self. It’s always something.this weeks workout consisted o one workout of 2 sets of dumbbell presses, rows, curls , tricep ext and free weight squats . Pretty pathetic.

I’m sure you know this, but it’s just about prioritization. I’m working 12 hour shifts at work right now, so my free time is greatly limited. I just go straight from work to the gym for an hour and a half, go home, drink a protein shake, make my food for the next day then go to bed. No matter what’s going on in my life, I always get my workouts in. We can all do it if we want it bad enough.

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One of my problems is I’m interested in too many things. I guess muscle building isn’t as high a priority as I used to think it was. The older I got the less of a priority it became. I’m a Jack of all trades and good at many things but not a master of any of them.

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When you lose your excuses, you will find your results

I don’t feel things in life other than working out to be excuses. I love to workout as much as anything but there are things in life equally if not more important than hitting the weights. There were many years where I skipped doing something important , a lot of missed opportunities so that I didn’t miss my precious workout. Was that extra fraction of an inch on my arm or another pound up in weight on the bar worth it. I don’t know ? Probably not.

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Totally agree!

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I also agree. The voice of experience. Kids tend to alter the balance in life. You only have one shot with your kids. The gym is always there. This is where priorities get important. Give all you’ve got for your kids, but save some (for the gym). And then you have to have an income. There you go: Family, yourself and work. In there lies both the answers and challenges in life. This is the life you have.

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I agree with everything said also, hitting the weight is secondary to life …but if I can’t find 30 minutes max twice a week, then it can become an excuse…therefore, I hit the gym at 4:30am prior to work and get it done and overwith and I will have the rest of time to do whatever else comes up that is more important

Hence the reason why I love dardens full body routines

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Patience , intelligence and honest self evaluation are 3 important factors I would add.


Honest self evaluation is important if you don’t want to go nuts with this bodybuilding stuff . I belong to several Internet sites that are just packed with these giant guys that seem to even dwarf Sergio. Every day there seems to be a new giant guy who pops out of the woodwork and sometimes you just can’t help thinking what the hell is wrong with me and why can’t I get that big? That’s when I have to sit back and remind my self that even though there seems to be a ton of these giant guys around today they still are pretty much still one in a million. With the internet there’s just more chance they are found compared to the old days and getting steroids today is like buying McDonalds , they are are everywhere .