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The Mental Trick That Sets Champions Apart from Everyone Else

Champion Athlete

The countdown to the summer games in Rio is officially on. And as we prepare for one of the greatest spectacles in sports, the whole world is obsessing over what makes an Olympian. ("Seriously, how does she do that?")

Well, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers, what separates the world champions from everyone else might have less to do with any advantages provided by high-tech gear or the best trainers available, and have much more to do with their perspectives on setbacks. (Here's more on How to Build a Superhuman Athlete.)

On the road to greatness, obstacles are kind of a given. Some coaches and athletes maintain that overcoming challenges is vital to an athlete's development while others say the least amount of turbulence the better.

To explore this idea, researchers interviewed athletes in a variety of different sports like soccer, rowing, skiing, and some combat sports, and categorized them as the best of the best athletes, the good players, and those people who just didn't quite make the cut. Questions dug deep, exploring perceived challenges and career trajectory, the athletes' reactions to obstacles, commitment to their sport, and their relationships with their coaches and families.

What they found was that despite their individual career trajectories, all the athletes experienced roughly the same amount of major roadblocks along the way. What did vary, however, were the athletes' attitudes. According to the study findings, elite performers—a.k.a. the Olympians—had an internal drive and commitment that the other athletes lacked. The champions maintained a "never satisfied" mentality that enabled them to keep pushing themselves and welcome challenges as growth opportunities. When they hit a roadblock, their determined and positive outlook propelled them right past the problem, even if it was a defeat. (Here's How Olympian Megan Rapinoe Deals with the Pressure to Win.)

So what does this mean for your half-marathon training schedule? Don't freak out next time you have a minor injury and have to lay low for a couple of weeks. Instead, channel your inner champion and use that as your motivation to come back to the road striding longer and faster than ever before.