The notion of Talent in a sportsperson, on the mental side in any case, goes back to the idea that the human system (and particularly the nervous system) is adapted to the constraints of the situations that it encounters. But are these characteristics present from childhood or are they developed through training?
Between pleasure and victory… Why does the champion compete?
Motivation is particularly important as it makes the athlete more resistant to stress. When they focus on the enjoyment of the activity it is said to be intrinsic. The athlete is more resistant to stress, they see failures and struggles as opportunities to learn and improve. When they focus on the quest for victory it is said to be extrinsic. It is more about asserting the ego. Failure and struggle are attacks on the ego which can lead to narcissistic injuries of varying severity. An athlete’s motivational profile is never pure. The relative weighting of each of their motivations will be key. All athletes are different, with tendencies one way or the other. This is where they will learn to adapt, to manage the stress from the failures but also from the victories.
Automatic processing versus Controlled processing of situations
As cognitive psychologists, we perceive (the ball), then think (who to pass it to), and act (make the pass). This is controlled processing of the situation. Top sportspeople don’t work this way! They process the situation automatically. Perception and action are combined due to the extensive experience of training and competition. This is what makes them so quick and so precise. Some researchers consider that these champions have learned to ‘tinker’ with their nervous system to make it more effective.
What personality traits are useful?
The personalities of sportspeople do not seem unconnected to their performance. Top sportspeople set themselves apart through being open to new experiences. They are more emotionally stable and more resistant to pressure. Having more awareness, they train methodically and committedly. Finally, the great champions are rather pleasant and cooperative which allows them to work well as part of a team (team sport or training). These personality traits particularly enable top sportspeople to perform over the long term.
- Sportspeople have motivational dispositions that need to be developed and balanced in order to maintain the pleasure of participation and the quest for victory.
- Their mental aptitudes are not determined in advance but acquired.
- They are quicker to make decisions because they have automated the processes.
- LTop sportspeople possess personality traits which play a key role in long-term success.