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Lifestyles and Mindsets of True Champions

A new study on the making of a true champion shows that lifestyle, relationships and mindset may be real keys to elite performance.

By
Brock Armstrong,
Photo of an athlete looking determined

Anyone who aspires to be great at their chosen sport focuses on what they think is more important—training. Which workout is best? How many days per week should you train? What post-workout meal is going to benefit me the most?

Oddly enough, lifestyle, personal relationships, and mindset practices are often overlooked. But a new study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine called Lifestyles and mindsets of Olympic, Paralympic and world champions: is an integrated approach the key to elite performance? examined how factors other than training affected a sample of world-class, champion athletes.

10 Olympic and Paralympic Champion athletes were interviewed with a series of questions that covered everything in their training and athletic life including their mindset, workouts, and competition practices. They were also asked about their general lifestyle and any other key factors that the athlete themselves thought had contributed to their success. 

Researchers noticed that there were four consistently overlapping themes:

  1. Psychological attributes (a heavy focus on the psychology of their sport),
  2. Interpersonal relationships (surrounding themselves with people who aided in their performance development),
  3. Performance strategies (visualization being one of the key strategies),
  4. Lifestyle practices (a focus on sleep, meditation, rest, and recovery).

In the end, and much to the surprise of many, all the athletes that were interviewed attributed a large part of their success to psychological (rather than physical) factors. The majority further added that they relied on other non-exercise or non-workout techniques such as mental rehearsal and specialized recovery practices.

All the athletes attributed a large part of their success to psychological (rather than physical) factors.

I think the big take away here is that it is a mistake to focus solely on what Lebron's workouts are like or how many times per week Flanagan is running, without also focusing on the non-workout aspects of their training. This study gives us more evidence that what is required to reach and stay on the podium is truly multidimensional, with the psychological piece of the puzzle being integral.

As the study itself concludes, "Championship performance is likely to occur at the intersection of psychological prowess, interpersonal support, effective performance strategies and lifestyle." In other words, there is more to being a champion than simply nailing all of your workouts.

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