Studies have proven time and time again that being part of team sports is one of life’s greatest teachers for young student athletes, who carry the lessons they learn on the field far beyond the game. But what positive characteristics do elite athletes harness so well, helping them to elevate their performance and meet their goals? Here are 5 traits that can help coaches and athletes make a positive impact on their game (and their life!)

Self Respect

Self confidence and self respect are the building blocks of every other attribute. Respect for the game and respect for yourself help build mental toughness and a desire to improve. While striving for the highest level, you discover what is truly important to you. Understanding your values gives you insight on what type of player you are. It’s important not to compare yourself to your peers, instead focusing on your process. After all, playing the comparison game is a surefire way to suck the joy out of everything.

It’s important for coaches and parents to help instill confidence in young players without overshadowing their goals. To gain self respect within their sports, athletes must play for themselves. As an athlete, it’s important to evaluate whether or not you’re there for yourself or because your parents or coach want you to be. 

Self Awareness

Self awareness is the ability to look inward and evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses. This is important in athletics because it allows players to reflect on games and practices to determine what we need to improve on. Athletes need an understanding of their abilities and skills to help them grow their confidence and self-respect while also nurturing their game. Without self-awareness a player cannot identify when and where they made a mistake, halting the growth process.

The best athletes take responsibility for their actions. They do not let the fear of making a mistake stop them from trying new things. They also take the time to understand their role on a team. Ask yourself, “How do my skills benefit the team?”

Emotional and Mental Strength

Mental and emotional strength comes from an awareness and understanding of your emotions. High level players possess the right attitude to overcome unexpected adversities. This doesn’t mean that they’re always positive (negative emotions and experiences are a part of life), they just know how to process those negative feelings and harness them for forward motion. Bad performances, injuries and criticism are all unavoidable parts of the game, and a good understanding of your emotions can help you move past each of these obstacles.

Building emotional and mental strength requires training just like physical strength. Elite athletes give themselves grace; they allow themselves to fail without beating themselves up. As a growing athlete, it is important to be patient with yourself. Players and coaches should work together to create safe places for teammates to fail so they can develop a healthy mindset towards themselves and their sport. A healthy team culture can help build mentally and emotionally strong athletes.


The key to every great athlete is a love for the game. Passion and focus allows athletes to play with purpose. The athletes that have a passion for the game play with a goal in mind. Their willingness to reach their goals through dedication that goes beyond practice is what sets them apart. Take risks and challenge yourself in everything you do. 

What type of player would you be if you had no fear of failure? Walk into every practice with a goal in mind, this will help increase your productivity and put you on the path towards becoming the type of athlete who makes a positive impact on the world regardless of what the scoreboard says.

Willingness to Learn

A hallmark of great athletes is coachability. A willingness to learn helps players develop a deeper understanding of how the game works, as well as how they might operate when the pressure is on. When instructions and criticisms are offered it’s in the best interest of the player and team. Being able to comprehend and apply constructive feedback is a vital skill. It shows coaches that you are adaptable and can be ready for any situation.

Every athlete has the opportunity to become a student of the game. Some athletes, especially young ones, might require an explanation why they should apply certain tactics. This curiosity should be fostered and to help develop this coaches should stick to clear lines of communication. We should encourage athletes to watch professionals in their sports. Not only will this show them skills and tactics, but it will also highlight the importance of these 5 characteristics.

No matter what sport you play, you have the opportunity to develop leadership skills. Self respect, self awareness, emotional and mental strength, passion, and a willingness to learn are characteristics that elite athletes have mastered, and should be a focus in developing young athletes. The beauty of this is that each of these skills is transferable to real life situations. If you take time out to develop these aspects of your game, you will see growth in your relationships, school, work and so much more. 

Want more helpful resources for your team? Join our Sport Fuels Life mailing list to have inspiration for your game sent directly to your inbox!