Mentality Over Muscle
Winners and Losers
Along with talent, there are several attributes that all winning teams (and winning players) possess, according to Kimball and other sports psychologists.
"If you have a player who is constantly working to improve, it's the number one sign of a winner who'll make winning contagious," Kimball says. "The focus isn't 100 percent on outcome, but on getting better and making the people around you better. If players see their star working his tail off, they'll feel compelled to do the same."
"Humility leads to an understanding that I'm not always the best, and that another person on any given day can win," says Wade Rowatt, a social psychologist at Baylor University. "If you look at the best athletes, most display this sort of respect for opponents."
Love of Pressure:
In four Super Bowls, Bradshaw passed for nine touchdowns and only four interceptions, doubling his ratio of winning throws. His otherworldly feats remain YouTube staples. "I think a lot of guys didn't relish the big moments," says Bradshaw. "Well, I did. I saw how much fun it was playing in front of that many people, so instead of becoming nervous I got really, really excited. My level of concentration went sky-high. That's when I truly excelled."
When no obstacle exists, the elite athlete creates his own. He convinces himself he's overlooked. He finds a moderately disparaging quote from an opponent and posts it on a bulletin board. "Success is directly related to motivation," says Hearn, the '86 Mets backup catcher. "When someone believes it's him against the world, it doubles his resolve—even if it's not true."
This trait is "the most important of them all," says Leonard Zaichkowsky, a professor of sports psychology at Boston University. "Athletes who can't dial back their egos for the good of the team are only going to hurt things in the long run."