We’ve all heard of IQ, most of us have heard the term “emotional intelligence”, and in the sport world, the term “physical literacy” is often used to describe the foundation of athleticism necessary for any sport. Physical literacy is developed best when an athlete is exposed to a healthy variation of physical skills during their athletic development such as gymnastics, skiing, swimming, and soccer, skills which cover the four fundamentals: agility, balance, coordination, and speed.
But what about intelligence when it comes to the mental skills side of sport? I’d like to call this athletic intelligence. Why? Because most of us can think of at least an athlete or two who has all the physical ability in the world but for some reason their “mental literacy” may be preventing them from reaching their physical potential. On the other side of the coin, we may know an athlete who by most accounts is far from being the most gifted; the strongest, fastest, most coordinated or technically proficient in his or her sport, but due to mental strengths overcomes and performs up to or beyond their predicted physical potential. Perhaps this can be attributed to a higher degree of “athletic intelligence”.
So what defines athletic intelligence? Are you born with it? Or can you develop it with a strong work ethic? Like most things, it is likely a combination of nature and nurture. Regardless, I would define athletes with a high degree of athletic intelligence as having most of the following abilities:
- The ability to be a true performer on the athletic stage; whether projected through a quiet confidence or a cocky swagger, they carry themselves with poise and composure through all the highs and lows of sport. Whether they feel like it or not, they know how to act like a champion summoning the right thoughts, emotions, and body language needed to perform their best on any given day. True performers also genuinely love to compete and “put on a show” for any audience that is interested!
- The ability to stick to the optimum pre-performance strategy, as well as quickly refocus positively on the next best strategy mid-performance if needed.
- A high “coachability”; such athletes learn quickly and implement new skills from a coach’s instruction, as well as demonstrating a high self-awareness and ability to effectively communicate important feedback to a coach. Highly “coachable” athletes maximize their interdependence with others and get the most out of training and/or competing with others.
- The ability to focus on intrinsic motivation to continually self-improve (whether they are a developing athletes or World Champions) versus focusing solely on achieving results. This is done by focusing primarily on improving personal skills, competing against the clock and/or course and skills needed to master the most current challenge.
- The ability and understanding that mental toughness is built through hard and persistent day-to-day training. There are no magic formulas for competition day other than knowing you’ve prepared your very best.
All of the above may be summed up by the following quote:
Don’t aim at success-the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than onself.” (Viktor Frankl)