What makes the best sports people better than everyone else?
It is often said that to be the very best in sport it is in the mind that separates the winners from the next in line, but is that really true? Why does Novak Djokovic keep winning? How is it that no one can beat Usain Bolt? What really makes them the best sports people?
I do not wish to assert that any top athlete lacks strength of character and toughness of mind- no doubt they have these traits. To work through the demanding schedules, the rigorous and limiting nutritious and recovery regimes plus hold it together when their most important competitive moments come. But could it be that the thing that enables victory is really extra physical ability?
Rodger Federer and Rafa Nadal both are now more experienced and, perhaps, as a result more psychologically balanced than when they were at their best and winning multiple grand slam titles. Yet they cannot beat Djokovic. He is their physical superior- allowing him to execute more powerful shots, quicker reactions and recovery of points. Tiger Woods was undoubtedly the best golfer of his generation but he has lost his way. He is unable to win after periods of great dominance. He has had various surgeries, back pains, knee pains which could well be the cause of his significant decline. He may have lost his psychological edge because he no longer trusts his body. At lower levels how do we know a member of an amateur sports team was not the psychologically toughest of them all. This person who was fully committed, focused and attended every session of training. This person may have been the toughest but incapable of ever being the best as their physiology held them back.
Association in sport, as in science, is a dangerous guide. The very best can appear the toughest and the mentally strongest because they triumph frequently and in the most demanding of situations. We could then make the conclusion that the mental fortitude must be the reason for their success and attempt to focus our improvements in that area. In reality the make-up of great champions is likely to be as complicated as dealing with any other unique individual. The outcome is only part of the evidence of the character.