**This column also appeared in the Argus Leader on June 21, 2015.
The answer obviously varies depending on the athleticism and circumstances of athletes, and the variables that can make athletes successful are not always within their control. That being said, in my experience there are some things that all truly great athletes have in common, and many of those things are within an athlete’s ability to define. We tend to think about physical training as the key to being the best at your sport. Physical training is definitely important, but it goes beyond that. If you want to be a great athlete, think about these things:
1. Work ethic
At every level of competition, hard-working players will find a place on a team. Athletes who want to compete at the top of their game must be willing to put in the time to get better, even outside of practice hours. The greatest players usually are the ones who arrive first and leave last. They simply put in as much time as they can because they want to get better. They also put 100 percent effort into every moment of practice. They work so hard that everyone else has to raise the level of play to be able to compete. Consider the message you send to coaches and teammates with your work ethic, and make sure it is a positive one.
The best players know that they can always improve their game, and that they need guidance and advice to do so. Even the most successful players have flaws, and they must be willing to accept coaching to improve their skill set. If a great player is not willing to work within the team concept, then it can destroy a team. Great athletes who are not coachable are not great players. The willingness to listen and accept coaching advice can help elevate a player to be his/her very best. Be sure to listen to the suggestions your coaches give to you, and incorporate their suggestions.
3. Positive mindset and attitude
All athletes are going to face adversity. Great players are able to meet and overcome those challenges. The best players have persistence that will not allow them to quit, and they learn from facing their obstacles. Defeat is never permanent, and they take the things they learn from meeting adversity and use them to get better. When the going gets tough for the team, remind yourself that you are there to learn and find a way to turn adversity around.
4. Being a team player
Great players know that their success depends on the strength of the team. No matter their role, they will work to get their teammates involved and help utilize whatever strengths they offer. The best players will challenge their teammates in a positive way to benefit the team. The players who succeed want to contribute to a team environment that says individual accomplishment is less important than succeeding together. When you attend games and practices, ask yourself whether your words and actions are contributing to a positive team environment.
In all my years of coaching and at every level of competition, there are always athletes on a team who exemplify these characteristics of success. You should always work on the physical side of your game, but what will truly make you great is your passion for the game, dedication to improvement, and extraordinary commitment to the team. Focus on your training, but also be the person on the team who never complains or gives up, who looks out for teammates, and who works tirelessly to make himself and the team better. If you do those things, you will be a good athlete and a great player.
I am often asked my opinion on things that involve football. The questions range from how to find which player position best suits a child to who I think will win the Super Bowl, and pretty much everything in between. I have many thoughts on the game, on coaching, and on improving performance, so I am starting Passing Thoughts to share some of those thoughts. I welcome your comments and conversation. –KR