Most of us know someone who is an incredible athlete but few of us really know how they ended up that way.

Why do some people achieve amazing athletic success and others, who may seem equally as talented, fall short?

Common answers to this question may sound something like this:

  • Some people are just naturally talented
  • They had a great coach
  • They went to the right school with a great [insert sport here] program
  • They worked incredibly hard

And, if you were to answer this way I’d say you’re probably correct…

But which of these things are more important?

Or, are they all equally important?

Understanding the 4 Pillars of Athletic Success will help you step up your coaching game to ensure all of your athletes are reaching their full potential.

And if you’re an athlete, it will help you focus on your weaknesses and truly understand where you need to improve!

Unfortunately, most coaches and athletes these days are too busy paying attention to, and trying to mimic, what the current top performers are doing (i.e. Rich Froning Jr’s diet and Klokov’s personal training program) and not optimizing their own training programs based on who they are as an athlete.

So, what characteristics separate the top performers from the rest of the pack?

The 4 Pillars of Athletic Success

Inherent Ability

This one isn’t very complicated.

No matter how much I train, no matter how much I want it, and no matter how many people give me a shot at it I’ll just never be a nose guard in the NFL, why? Because I’m a full grown male that tops out at 5’ 9” and about 170#…

I’m just not built to play professional football. Some people are just programmed physically, mentally, and physiologically to be good at a particular task, which may exclude them from everything else. There are definitely outliers here but the vast majority of individuals will be limited by his or her genetics. There is a lot to be said for natural talent, and it can take an athlete pretty far, however, talent isn’t everything.

Intrinsic Motivation

This is hands down my favorite quality in an athlete (or anyone I coach) and arguably the most important.

Intrinsic motivation is the desire an athlete has within themselves to succeed or achieve a particular goal. This is something you see a lot in sports. In the running world, the motivation to ‘get out’ of Africa and the small poverty-ridden village one lives in is pointed to all of the time when discussing the success and dominance of the runners that come out of Africa.

A much less extreme but similar situation could be pointed to for all of the professional athletes who grew up poor, in run-down communities, and still managed to succeed through sheer willpower and determination. Although there are many obstacles to your success this is the only factor that you have complete control over and could make all the difference in the world.

Opportunity

Opportunity comes in many forms… from money to coaching, to timing, and access to facilities and equipment.

If you just don’t have access to a swimming pool in the first 10 years of your life you probably won’t be a world champion swimmer. However, I know many athletes (Like AJ Roberts a former World Record holding powerlifter) who used to drive 3 hours round trip as broke college student to a gym that would suit his goals.

So, while being in the right place at the right time can definitely give you a head start you can also create your own opportunities if you have the motivation.

Timing is another issue that I see all of the time now with my competitive CrossFit athletes. Not too long ago making it to the CrossFit Games was attainable by a large population of regular CrossFitters.

However, now that the ‘sport’ has become more commercialized and the community has grown in popularity most of us lost our shot as more and more talented athletes have been attracted to the competition.

Direction

Also known as access to great coaching!

Sometimes a great coach can help you overcome many of the obstacles in your way to achieving success in your sport.

Other times the coaching may be detrimental to your performance. There is a large majority of ‘elite’ coaches out in the world who have achieved their status by riding a shooting star into the spotlight while leaving the athletes with a lesser ability in a broken mess behind them.

There are many coaches that had an opportunity to connect with an intrinsically motivated athlete with loads of inherent ability and have used that single athletes success to propel them into that ‘great coach’ status without a lot of effort.

Since I’ve had the opportunity to teach and coach thousands of athletes & coaches with the CrossFit Endurance seminar team I’ve seen this first hand. As we break down running mechanics many of the athletes who ran in high school and college never addressed running technique as a part of their training and were shocked by what they saw on video and then depressed when they figured out their poor technique is the root of all of their injuries and problems.

Not too long ago I was contacted by a Division I sprinter (800m) who was having trouble getting faster, his college coach had him running upwards of 60 miles per week with the rest of the team… To train for a single 800m sprint. Although this approach may work for 1 or 2 inherently talented athletes it obviously wasn’t working for everyone. Great coaches can help any athlete realize his or her potential but choose wisely, not all coaches are created equal.

As a coach you need to understand the 4 pillars of athletic success: Inherent Ability, Intrinsic Motivation, Opportunity, and Direction. You ask need to understand where your athletes fall into each of these categories or you’ll never be able to help them reach their full potential.

If you’re an athlete, use this list of attributes to self-assess where you are and what might be holding you back

And if you’re an athlete who needs some direction, motivation, and accountability to reach your full potential then you should consider checking out our premium programs.