What Makes a Great Athlete?

Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson; Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

There are five things that are included in the makeup, character, and performance of a great athlete.  Athletes are humans, we sometimes forgot that and it is easy to with their performances on the field of play, but it is essential that we hold athletes in perspective.  Athletes are not God or gods as much we or they might want to be in their competitive pursuit of excellence.

When a scout is doing their job, one of the most important attributes to look for and analyze is the character makeup of the person.  What makes him or her tick, perform, and excel?  In the end, character wins over many faults and failures (as does, for better or worse, consistent winning).  Arguably, however, all five of the following attributes are matters of the heart and good character and essential to being a great athlete.

  1. Leadership & Humility

Leadership purveys every aspect of our lives.  A great leader has the ability to bring people together, serve excellently, and show others what it takes to succeed.  Leaders also know that leading requires some following and humility.  Everyone has a boss.  In sports, it is the captain of the team, the coach, general manager, owner, or league commissioner.  In life, we all have those we look up to, follow, and respect, whether by choice or default.  Not every player or person for that matter is going to lead troops across the Potomac River like George Washington, but a leader should know when to lead through service and humility.

  1. Skill & Performance

In a profession where statistical performance on the court is everything, skill (those God-given abilities) and the hard work refining and attempting to perfect those skills through practice and in-game experience results in performance, whether bad, good, or great.  Skill is what the coach, commentator, scout, fan, and spectator notice first.  Performance is the result.  A great athlete must have both skill and performance, the proof so to speak.

  1. Effort & Competitiveness

We all remember the player who dives for every ball or competes to the last second and always seems to lead or help lead his or her team to victory?  There are some athletes who have the reputation for not needing to try or who make it look easy.  Although skill is great, the athlete who can provide and display consistency and longevity is the one we call great and generally are the most beloved by the people.  Remember, the audience wants to feel two things when watching sports (1) empathy and (2) awe.  Empathy in terms of remembering and comparing to common circumstances of trying and succeeding in our own lives and then being in awe of the greatness of the athlete’s performance.

  1. Community Involvement & Family

Being a role model in statistical performance is just as important as being a role model in your community and with your family.  An athlete’s career lasts an average of 3.5 years in the NFL and slightly longer in other sports.  Being involved in your community and being there for your family and raising other good humans lasts at least your lifetime and of course the lifetimes of those you lead.  Many athletes these days have charities, community projects, scholarship funds, and of course families.  Every athlete and those with more should give back and should be encouraged to do so willingly.

  1. Recognition, Post Career, Accolades, & Business Interests

The hardware.  How many awards did the athlete win?  What did the athlete do post career with their resources and influence?  What additional accolades did the athlete receive?  How is the athlete viewed by experts and non-experts alike?  Is his or her name known among non-sports fans?  How far, wide, and deep does his or her influence go in sports and beyond?  For example, an athlete investing and helping lead a profitable entertainment studio production company, succeeding as a media personality, owning a team, starting a clothing line, etc.

A person with great character leads and leads well.  The people, the voting audience so to speak, love a person with good character, morals, ethics, and sense.  It is why athletes with great character who also carry the hardware are held in such high regard and why we expect so much out of them.  It also why we admire and appreciate their accomplishments.

The best and greatest athletes like the best and greatest leaders leave a mark on our minds and souls.  We remember their triumphs, their failures, and we rise with them in our own lives.  We rise to fight again and empathize with their struggle because it emulates our struggle.


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