A recent study has found something that successful people have long known. The study found that what really distinguishes champions is how they face and overcome challenges and obstacles.

To conduct the study, Professor Dave Collins, Director of the Institute of Coaching and Performance at the University of Central Lancashire, and a team of researchers interviewed athletes from varied sports such as soccer, rowing, skiing, and combat sports.

They sought to find distinguishing characteristics between the best of the best, the good, and those that didn’t quite make the cut. For each participant, they collected information about career trajectory, perceived challenges and the participant’s reactions to such obstacles. Interview questions also explored participants’ commitment to their sports and their interactions with coaches and families.

The results showed that elite performers expressed an internal drive and commitment to their sports that their “almost” great colleagues lacked. The elite approached training with a “never satisfied” attitude, whereas “almosts” might avoid challenging training exercises. Following an injury or a failure to perform, high performers were determined to get back to their sports, stronger than ever. Low achievers, on the other hand, often expressed surprise at their failures, telling how they lost enthusiasm after such incidents.

Despite these differences in the athletes’ attitudes, there was surprisingly little variation in the nature or number of the challenges themselves. All had roughly comparable traumatic incidents during their careers. More than the challenges themselves, the differences came down to how the athletes reacted to these obstacles and the champions’ positive, “learn from it” attitudes.

“From our research, we’re assembling a set of rules to guide what a coach should be doing and what skills an athlete should end up with,” says Collins. “Furthermore, these characteristics hold true for other fields as well, from sports to music to any environment.”

This research clearly shows that even though you encounter challenges, it’s how you respond to it that would determine your success or not.

The research was published in published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.

by S.O.Z