Category Archives: General Sport

What it takes to win at sport

Benjamin Markovits (London Review of Books, 7 November) omits the crucial factor in determining success at sport (if we are to interpret success as winning): mental toughness. The funding variables (viz., The Lottery, TV contracts) he cites have helped to identify and develop more talented individuals. But those in themselves would not be enough. Without denying the importance of talent, he ought to have looked more closely at the commitment, discipline, and perseverance that go into success. Winners have talent, yes; but they also have the right mindset.

Using qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods protocols, researchers have repeatedly found mental toughness to be the variable with the greatest potency at discriminating consistently between winners and losers. It is this mindset that has separated, for example, the All Blacks (New Zealand’s rugby union team) and the Kangaroos (the Australian rugby league team) from the merely very good.

If physical and technical skills are matched, and environmental conditions do not favour inequitably an individual or team, it is those who are mentally stronger that prevail. Without denying the crucial role of talent, though which by itself is insufficient, it is possession of an achievement mindset that separates the hugely talented from the very best and, in turn, distinguishes the greatest athletes and winners.