Those who achieve the greatest success in business, sport, or life consistently employ psychological skills and behavioral actions that optimize both focus and learning which enable them to successfully negotiate the inevitable challenges of positive growth and change. In contrast, underachievers often have unrealistic expectations, low aspirations, and little task or goal persistence. A key to cultivating excellence is understanding and engaging the factors that lead to excellence.

A study of 285 male and female athletes from individual and team sports found 6 factors distinguished between those who did and did not achieve excellence.  These factors included:

Factor 1: Support from mentors, coaches, and/or teachers for developing long-term success.  Particularly important for goal setting, planning, preparation, instruction, and improvement feedback.

Factor 2: Imagery use during practice and competition.  They see themselves performing at a high level and being successful.

Factor 3: Coping with performance and developmental pressures.  Can overcome performance anxieties and refocus after setbacks.  

Factor 4: Ability to organize and engage in quality practice.  They rigorously attend to what needs to be done to be successful by setting challenging goals and working hard to realize their aspirations.

Factor 5: Evaluating performances and working on weaknesses. Continually analyzing performances to objectively identify areas needing greater attention and effort.

Factor 6: Support from others to compete to my potential. Surrounded by people who believe in them and help them be successful.


Macnamara, A., & Collins, D. (2013). Do mental skills make champions? Examining the discriminant function of the psychological characteristics of developing excellence questionnaire. Journal of Sports Sciences31(7), 736–744.