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The issue of peak performance at the elite level involves physical, technical, and psychological components (Harmison, R. J., 2006). Peak performance within elite sport competition often requires continuous information processing, decision making and reaction that are dependent on acquisition of the most relevant visual data from the environment (Harmison, 2006). Many sport psychology researchers have tried using sophisticated technologies to identify and measure many of the components of visual attention associated with optimal performance by elite athletes in a variety of sports within the last twenty years (Davis, P. A. & Sime, W. E., 2005). However, physical talent and skill differences within elite athlete populations are often minute, the psychology aspect of the athlete becomes the main factor that affect their performance (Gould & Dieffenbach, 2002; Thelwell, Westona & Greenlees, 2005).


The purpose of this report is firstly to identify the psychological attributes of elite athletes associated to peak performance.


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Psychological Characteristics of Elite Athletes


A number of approaches have been taken to examining the psychological attributes of elite athletes and from the study from Jones (2002), According to Jones (2002), the classification of an elite athlete athletes are those who have achieved full international honors, represented their country in major events and have 5 years of international experience in their sporting field. Thelwell, Westona, and Greenlees (2005) and Harmisons (2006) founded that there are certain psychological attributes that appear to be correlated with peak performance for most elite athletes. These athletes have a mind-body state that consists of the following: mental toughness, perseverance, resilience and persistence (Jones, 2002; Thelwell, Westona, & Greenlees, 2005; Harmisons, 2006).


Mental Toughness


What exactly does it mean to be mentally tough? According to Thelwell, Westona and Greenlees (2005), mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables athletes to cope better than their opponents with the many demands that sport places on the performer whether it in competition, training or lifestyle.


Particularly, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.


It was also argued that mental toughness includes some form of outcome measure (e.g., psychological edge, coping better than opponents) where comparisons are made with opponents (Jones, 2002). Furthermore, the definition identifies the mentally tough athletes as not only able to cope and perform well under excessive pressure, thus utilising skills that enable control, determination, confidence and focus on a consistent basis but the ability to exert control over the varying demands placed upon them in training and their personal life.




Self-confidence is the belief that you can handle the demands and challenges of the game. It is based, in part, on how you have performed in previous games. It is also depends on how well you manage your inner critic and the way you think and feel about baseball. When you’re feeling confident, you play better. It’s easier to manage intensity; you’re more focused and better able to handle adversity.


Confidence is an emotion or state of mind commonly associated with athletic success. The importance of high levels of confidence in elite athletics is also highlighted in the studies of Jones and Hardy (1990) and Hemery (1986). In Jones and Hardy’s report of interviews of elite athletes, they found that in general, elite athletes tended to have very high levels of confidence and felt that the athletes felt that these high levels were needed for the performances that they were looking for. Hemery’s study of 63 elite athletes showed that 90% of the sample had “a very high level of self-confidence.”(Hemery 1986 p. 156)


Confidence is usually a result of an athlete anticipating success in their upcoming event. An athlete’s anticipated outcome is the greatest indicator of confidence (Kauss 1980). This expectation for success can be based on an athlete’s confidence in themselves, in teammates, emotional readiness, physical ability, knowledge of the opponent, goals, strategies, physical condition, or in the coach (Kauss 1980). Elite athletes are renowned for high confidence levels. DeVenzio believes that this may be a result of being an elite athlete and not necessarily a cause. He believes that “confidence level mirrors skill level” (DeVenzio 1997 p. 91). This view points to the link between talent or previous success and confidence level.


If the preceding paragraph is true, perhaps the best therapy for low confidence is success. Coaches in every sport have employed this tactic. It can be seen whenever top ranked teams schedule lower ranked teams so that they can rack up wins and boost confidence. In addition to this technique, O’Connor suggests that an athlete can also build confidence just by acting confident. He says that an athlete should always act as if they are confident even if they are not. In doing so, the athlete does not let on any weaknesses to opponents and can even build up their own confidence (O’Connor 1970).


I believe that one cannot clearly define confidence as a cause or effect of being an elite athlete. It is obvious that to reach the very pinnacle of sport, an athlete must have a high confidence in their abilities; and getting to that elite level and all the preceding successes that it took to get to that level must surely build the confidence levels of an athlete


Motivation and Desire


The mindset of athletes to engage & persist in sports despite disappointments, sacrifice and discouragement


To become an elite athlete in any sport requires hours upon hours of training. Often this training is rigorous, painful, or injurious. However, the athletes who have reached the pinnacle of their sport have more than likely put in their time to get to achieve that high level of success. To do this, these athletes must have something that motivates them to continually push their bodies, and come back from whatever struggles or setbacks they may experience along the way. This motivation may come intrinsically or extrinsically.


Intrinsic motivation is an athletes’ personal drive to achieve their goal. This may be setting a school record, winning a race, or defeating a particular opponent. Extrinsic motivation is the resulting motivation from an outside source such as parents, coaches, or teammates.


Research has shown the link between extremely high levels of motivation and the achievement of elite status (Hardy and Parfit, 1994; Mahoney et al., 1987; Orlick and Partington, 1988). This would seem to be an obvious conclusion. There are many people out there who have the talent to succeed but very few who have the motivational drive to do what it takes to succeed. In light of this, it appears that intrinsic motivation may be the greater determinant of achieving success in sports. This view is supported by several research studies (Hardy and Parfit, 1994; Mahoney et al., 1987; Orlick and Partington, 1988). To achieve an elite level in sport, an athlete must have the motivation to train hard on a daily basis and to overcome any obstacles or setbacks that athlete might face in reaching or maintaining that level of performance. Overall, it would appear that the following traits would be common among elite athletes: extreme self-confidence, low performance anxiety, and high motivation. These three things are very closely related and would seem to form a cyclic pattern. For example, the athlete that is highly motivated to succeed knows the importance of physical preparation and that motivation carries over to their training. As a result, the athlete is well conditioned and physically prepared to meet the demands of the competition. Because the athlete is physically prepared he or she gains confidence in knowing that they have done what they need to do, and that they are physically prepared. This high confidence level caries over and results in decreased anxiety because the athlete knows that they have put in the time, are prepared, and are confident in their chances for success. Now this athlete is primed to achieve the desired results. If the athlete meets or exceeds expectations and achieves a level of success, this fuels the athletes’ motivation to train and return to or exceed that level again. Elite performers have shown a strong need to demonstrate their personal competence and self-determination. As a result, they commit themselves to difficult and demanding goals, when these goals are achieved, the athletes’ feelings of self-competence are confirmed and their intrinsic motivation enhanced (Hardy et al.1996).


  • Ability to bounce back from set-backs.

  • Do not dwell upon failure but learn from it.

  • Strong desire to be the best.

  • Desire to succeed.

  • Need to set challenging goals.





  • Attending to particular internal and external cues that positively or negatively affect athletic performance.

  • Performance related

  • Not affected by performances of others

  • Mindfulness/ remain focused despite competition issues

  • Remained composed in unexpected and uncontrollable events.

  • Lifestyle related

  • Switch sport focus on/off as required

  • Remain focused despite personal issues





Dealing with anxiety successfully is an important characteristic of the elite athlete. Anxiety as defined by Weinberg, R.S. & Gould, D., (2003) is a negative emotional state characterised by nervousness, worry and apprehension and associated with activation or arousal of the body Stories of athletes or teams that performed poorly because they underestimated their opponent (below optimum anxiety levels) or worried themselves out of the game (above optimum anxiety levels). Research has shown that the ability to cope with anxiety is an integral part of sports, particularly among elite athletes (Hardy et al. 1996; Orlick & Partington, 1988). This is also evidenced by the report that more than 50% of consultations among athletes at an Olympic festival were related to stress or anxiety related problems (Murphy 1988). The link between anxiety and performance in sport has been known for a long time.



Dealing with Physical and Emotional Pain


Hill, (2001) mentioned that Push physical/ emotional pain boundaries while maintaining technique/effort. The ability to take responsibility for their overall professional development.



Psychological Skills to Achieve Peak Performance


Krane and William (2006) found that the ability to focus attention, control of performance imagery, a total commitment to the pursuit of excellence, the setting of practice goals, competition simulation, mental preparation, detailed competition plans, and having distraction plans were common variables were associated with peak performance. Those Olympic athletes who did not perform up to their potential reported not being prepared to deal with distractions, changing things that worked, experiencing late team selection, and not being able to focus after distractions.


One would expect, then, that highly successful Olympic athletes would exhibit these mental skills and characteristics. Krane and William (2006) mentioned that athletes can learn these psychology skills and strategies through education and practice to enhance productive mind/ body states and control unproductive mental state, resulting the ability to perform at their best.





The ability to maintain focus, control emotions and perform under pressure is often the difference between winning and losing.


All materials contained herein are written by Sammy Phua and are subject to all applicable copyright, database protection, and other rights as copyright owner and publisher. Attribution must be made to the author(s) and the published article’s title, journal citation, and DOI.





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