What Makes a Successful Pro Athlete?


What makes a successful athlete?  Is it due to talent, or is it due to work ethic, or is it some combination of both?

Alexi Pappas (D ’12) shared a story on her blog last week of an encounter with President Barack Obama where this discussion came up.  Upon hearing how Pappas was a professional runner, Obama declared to her “You have a gift,… You were born with a body that was meant to run long distances, more than the average human.”  Pappas, while flattered, countered that she believed that her “performance in the sport is actually a result of hard work, motivation and support from [her] community.”

This blog post is a great read and it does make you think of what it takes to become not only a professional, but successful athlete.

I think a number of items need to be in balance in order to achieve that kind of professional success.  Talent and work ethic both make up the majority of the equation.  A supportive environment is also key, as you need at least one other person who could see your potential and be your advocate, even when it feels like the rest of the world is against you.  But you also need smarts – I don’t mean book or school smarts, but “self-smarts”.  It’s more like a sense of self-realization by understanding what factors that can impede or enhance your performance or career.  Questions like “am I overtraining?” or “is this coach/training group/training method really working for me?” or “is this option or opportunity really worth it for me?”  I feel that athletes who have been caught with PEDs have been lacking in this self-smart department, as they focused on the short-term impacts while somehow ignoring the long-term consequences.

That’s just my thought.  What are yours?  Is it more talent or work ethic, or some combination of both?  Or are there other elements that we should consider in this?



2 Responses to “What Makes a Successful Pro Athlete?”

  1. kbg says:

    I had not thought of the “self-smarts” part…I agree. Of course, natural gifts and working hard are huge, but in combination. One of my daughter’s favorite quotes is, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”