Why Some Athletes Succeed While Others Don’t


f you were a coach, what qualities do you look for in an athlete? You may need to pick someone to be part of your team from a big pool of athletes. Your choice is crucial because your choice will matter to both the athlete and your team’s ultimate goals.

However, it’s not easy. One athlete displays his or her talents with gracefulness and precision, while the other is like an unpolished diamond yet with promising attitude and enthusiasm in whatever he or she does.

Needless to say, both are equally important. Now comes the hard part.

Who will you pick?

In this case, I would like to offer you my most honest suggestion which you may wish to consider when you face such situation.

If you are not a coach, I hope my point of view can also help you as a form of insight to understand the kind of athlete you should be to contribute as positively as you can to your team.

First and foremost, I’m sure your ideal candidate is someone who can be the bravest of all and willing to chase every storm as far as they can go.

However, when the going gets tough, it’s inevitable for anyone to think it’s impossible. Point is, you don’t get a chance to see such an athlete everyday. Instead of hoping and praying, maybe it’s best to see what we should identify as the right candidate and also how we should cultivate the right qualities in athletes to develop them into the right players for your team.

Challenges in an Athlete’s Life

Let’s get started first by listing down a few of the possible tough and challenging scenarios most commonly seen during games and trainings:

  1. pain due to injury
  2. battling the mindset of “what if I look stupid?”
  3. when pushing the boundary is painful and tiring
  4. when I’m just not able to be “as good as” the rest
  5. what if I mess up?
  6. battling the “I just don’t feel like training today” syndrome

These are just a few of the millions of reasons an athlete may come up to you with to hold of practice or get a chance to relax a little.

Or if you are an athlete, you may have such thoughts once in awhile.

It’s perfectly normal because the human brain is wired to take the path of least resistance, which is to veer towards a path that provides an easier access. So most of the time we tend to take the easier way or lazier way out.

But I’m sure there are times we just hate such attitudes.

We trust that anyone who signs up for a competitive environment like this has to be ready to meet such challenges in the first place and take them with stride.

Nevertheless, there will always be athletes who are able to endure from challenges 1 to 6 of the list and more, yet never got selected in the team.


How to Choose the Right Athlete into Your Dream Team

I have one great way that you may wish to use when you meet such dilemma of fielding players or drafting the “right” athlete into your dream team.

You’d probably have heard of the “Growth Mindset” study by Carol Dweck. If you haven’t, she did a research of what it takes to be successful and this is what she said: “A growth mindset allows each individual to embrace learning, to welcome challenges, mistakes and feedback, and to understand the role of effort in creating talent.”

Through this research, she published a fantastic book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Her book is powerful because just by reading it, it allows our mindset to shift from being aware of how to approach our abilities and talents towards learning to fulfill our potential.

If a coach or athlete like you can understand this simple idea, it will allow you to see so many possibilities within yourself and your athletes in your team.

If you prefer a summarised version, I have here a video you may wish to watch. In this video, Brian Johnson did a wonderful review of Carol Dweck’s book that you can learn in about 10 minutes of your time.

For an even more concise picture, here is an infographic I found on the web to illustrate clearly what Carol Dweck mentioned in her book about Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset.

why some people succeed while others don't

How Does Growth Mindset Help You in Sports

This means that, where you see different athletes with varying talents or varying levels of talent display, it really doesn’t matter.

What matters most is what you and your athletes value most. Especially in competitive sports, everyone is vying for the top position, nobody wished to be in the last place.

Now this is normal and true, but only to a certain extent. As athletes, we must be hungry for more, we must not be satisfied with our current results. However, as a sports person, we must always ask ourselves, are we hungry to prove something to the world, or are we hungrily searching to learn and grow?

This is where Carol Dweck’s study of the “Growth Mindset” comes in to help you see your situation with the right perspective to select your players, motivate them, work with them and eventually lead the team towards the desired direction.

Once you have your team in place, I encourage you to cultivate this growth mindset in every single athlete you have in your team, leaving no one out of it.

Do not just see what they can show you there and then. They may not have what it takes to do what you want them to do in the beginning.

How to Cultivate the Growth Mindset

You should first be the one accountable. Train and guide them step by step to think towards the “growth mindset” path of thought. Only when this is done, that’s when you leave them to show you what they can do with what they have learned. Whether you are a coach or athlete, always remember that nobody is born to know everything. Even if you are born with a God-given talent, there’s always a higher mountain to scale and overcome.

The difference between those who can overcome at least the 6 points in the list above and those who can’t is how they think by time.

In time to come, those who aren’t able to do so only focus on things they can’t do.

While those who succeeded is because they thought of what they should do to get over the challenges rather than harp on the fact that it’s hard.

Teach your team to create. Teach your team to imagine, to think of ways to overcome tough times rather than to leave them to wallow in their fears and anxiety.

With your guidance, they will eventually be inspired and grow to serve the team with a higher purpose and achieve greater results together.


  1. Thanks to Brian Johnson for his book review on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, which influenced the way I think.

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