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What Are the Attributes of a World Champion?

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As the World Snooker Championship approaches, I found myself taking a glance at the historic champions that won the event. At first, it was evident that there have been many multiple winners of the World Snooker Championships, this prompted an exploration into what features in the characteristics of a sporting champion.

Some say that there are two schools of thought that feature in a sporting champion, firstly you’re born with the natural ability to play sport and one displays this extraordinary talent when they are engaged in a sporting activity they are introduced to.

In some cases research points to the elite performer having a genetic systematic way of understanding a sporting skill and they develop to an expert level of their sport with some relevant ease – this is more apparent when an astonishing sporting ability is apparent in childhood. 

An example of this is a young individual displaying outstanding dribbling or shooting skills in football, this is noticed and picked up by coaches at an early age. This type of champion can be seen from the likes of many famous sporting legends and icons that have won a multitude of sporting titles in various sports such as tennis, boxing,  golf and snooker, to name a few.

However, not all champions have the genetic or the talented predisposition to be naturally ‘gifted’ at their sport – alternatively, they have to work hard to achieve the champion status.  This gives rise to the second notion of a champion which sees an individual possess a talent for their sport but they require long periods of development, practice and training to ‘nurture’ their sporting skill.

Nevertheless, one can argue that both the arcs of making a sporting champion – albeit nature or nurture, require the identification of their talent, exposure to the world of snooker they enjoy participating in, coaching and mentoring, acquiring the discipline of the sport, mastering the techniques of the sport and the social support for development (for example, financial). With this in mind, it takes personal attributes to be a champion and that stems from temperament, motivation and the will to succeed.

Mapping both the genetic traits, the practice and performance of most sporting individuals, it can be suggested that anyone who has accumulated a sufficient number of hours of practice in a given domain will automatically become an expert and a champion.

To gain this peak performance or expert performances, it is important that the sportsperson is motivated to succeed. However, there are certain factors that must be explored to achieve the ‘champion mentality’, these are:

  • The environmental factors – for example one’s performance level at the time of a competition
  • The physical status – the quality of practice and training
  • The social influences – opponents, coaches, mentors and family/work life.
  • The psychology of competition – thoughts, feelings, behaviour and motivation.

There are numerous studies that explore the wealth of information that surrounds the personal characteristics of an elite sports performer. Common characteristics point towards one’s confidence in their sporting ability, commitment and realistic expectations – this is coupled with their coach’s aspirations. 

Some researchers also describe the growth and development of the elite performer progressing through four critical stages. The four stages commence with the sampling phase, whereby the sporting individual engages in different sports for pleasure and enjoyment; a specialisation phase, this is when they specialise in one particular sport; an investment phase, when they invest time, energy, travel and finance into perfecting their sport in order to become a world champion; and finally the maintenance phase, whereby the champion’s status is important to maintain in order to stay ‘on top’.

For this to happen, significant time and energy will be devoted to developing a mastery of their sport.  Personal characteristics is the edifice of a sports champion, whether they are intrinsic or extrinsic characteristics, it is continually about striving to learn and improve at any given opportunity.

For most sporting champions, one can identify certain personality traits and motivational constructions that are embedded in their performance. The effects of long practice or having several years of experience within a particular sport is obvious in a performers sporting profile. This in turn carves out temperamental factors that attribute to how a champion feels, thinks and behaves.

Finally, for a majority of sporting champions, there is a desire to add value to their sport, this may come from achieving the best performances, as well as attaining the triumphant accolade of recognition by picking up the ‘winning trophy’.

There is also the notion of champions adopting leadership within their sport, certainly for the champions that win multiple tournaments or they are world champions consecutively, over a long period of time in their sport. Hence, a ‘winning attitude’ is formed, that sparks a positive commitment to the individual’s sporting career.


Image credit: Freepik

Rohit Sagoo is a lecturer in Child Nursing at City, University of London.

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