Have you ever wondered what it is about elite athletes like Roger Federer, Misty May-Treanor, Usain Bolt, Mia Hamm, Lebron James, and this year’s Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes that propels them into greatness during those pivotal competition moments and gives them the winning edge?

We’ve all heard that sports is a mental game, but what are the overarching best practices that every sports legend instinctively taps into, and how can you learn to implement these skills into your own performance both in the game and in life?

In our search for the magic equation of what helps elite athletes rise to the top when it counts the most, we have discovered the top 3 important qualities that drive sport’s finest toward great heights.


Psychology Today says it’s not the arrogant or self-inflating type of confidence, but the type of “deep and resilient belief in the great ones' ability to achieve their goals.” They are grounded in the belief that they will succeed, even though they know they’ll still encounter mistakes and challenges along the way.

Megan Zimlich, All American Pole Vaulter and 2020 Olympic hopeful, says what helps her to be confident is recognizing which internal voice to listen to during competition. “Choosing to listen to the ‘right’ voice in your mind... the one that remains positive and calm under pressure. Ignore any fears or doubts–that voice is useless.”


Chris Archer from Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates says that “it takes 10 years to become an overnight success” in sports. High performers dedicate their heart and soul to the game. They rise early for training and conditioning, they sacrifice their time and bodies, risking injury and enduring sore muscles. They push themselves physically and mentally, putting in the work in order to know that their physical abilities become an intrinsic and reflexive reaction when the competition heat is on.

“Your best physical conditioning also gives you a mental edge. I find that putting in the hard work behind the scenes is empowering. Then I know I’ve done everything possible to compete at my best,” says Team Connection’s Executive Vice President, David Bolick.


Living in the moment is the key to athletic performance free of negativity. Not allowing your thoughts to dwell on mistakes or waste time beating yourself up mentally after an error and instead shifting your focus to the present task at hand will keep things progressing in a positive forward motion. Inc.com says that “athletes who excel, don't dwell on the past whether it's negative or positive. They worry about how they can execute in the present, and future.”

Psychology Today defines mindfulness as “a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present. When you become mindful, you realize that you are not your thoughts; you become an observer of your thoughts from moment to moment without judging them.”

To learn more on what makes an elite athlete thrive in the heat of the game, and how to implement these practices in your own process, check out these #sportfuelslife approved book titles:

The Champion’s Mind: How great athletes think, train, and thrive by Jim Afremow
Conscious Coaching: The Art and Science of Building Buy-in by Brett Bartholomew
Mental Toughness: Train Your Brain (Improve Focus, Brain Secrets, Peak Performance, How Champions Think, Critical Thinking, Self-Confidence, Powerful Habits, Mental Resilience Like a Spartan by G.S. Baker
It Takes What It Takes: How to Think Neutrally and Gain Control of Your Life, by Trevor Moawad and Andy Staples