Athlete Mentality: Find Your Motivation and Make Yourself a Winner

Athlete Mentality: Find Your Motivation and Make Yourself a Winner

What really defines a winning athlete, and why do some athletes succeed and achieve one victory after another, while others, with a lot of talent, cannot?

This topic, related to Sport Psychology, is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating aspects about getting to know the lives and sport trajectories of many athletes, sportspersons and coaches.

History is full of sportsmen and women who have succeeded and achieved numerous victories in their professional careers, incredible stories of improvement, work, passion… as well as an innate talent in many cases.

At the end of the article I’ve left you a complete bibliography of books that can help you forge a winning mentality, that can inspire you, and other more theoretical ones on Mentality and Sports Psychology. I’ll also leave you some of the quotes that open different chapters of my book.


What does an athlete actually do or how do they build that mentality to be invincible?

And here we are not only referring to material successes but also:

What that differentiated attitude and character is that gives a sportsman or woman have a winning mentality?

How to develop a strong character in sport

As an amateur triathlete, (despite competing in the elite category in some of the races), I’m asked countless times:

  • How do I have a strong mentality;
  • How do I keep from breaking down in situations that involve stress during competitions.

I assure you I’ve lived through many, and I’ve never retired from any event, except the last one I did, due to an injury.

We all want to be great athletes.

Many even spend most of their time training physically, yet when it comes down to it, they either give in or circumstances make them feel unsafe.

Clearly, it’s not enough to want something. You have to work very, very hard, commit yourself and sacrifice time doing other things.

What to do to improve an athlete’s mentality?

I personally believe that developing a strong character and mind starts with having an established focus and full time commitment.

I think it goes a lot with one’s way of being and attitude to things.


However, these are all attitudes that can be trained and therefore improved.

It is true that in endurance sports, such as the Long Distance Triathlon, a lot of time is spent training alone.

These moments are perfect for developing certain skills and a strong character that will help you continue on in complicated situations.

«The attitude with which we face each situation can determine our success or failure.»


Is motivation and internal state?

Let’s start with a fundamental aspect: MOTIVATION.

Motivation is a word that comes from the Latin (“motus”, “motius”). Its meaning is CAUSE OF MOVEMENT. A meaning that holds an incredible power.

Motivation is also defined as:

“The trigger or signal that one discovers for a certain way of doing something to satisfy a need through creation or by increasing the desire necessary for that action to take place”.

On the other hand, we find other definitions of philosophers and other authors who define it as:

“An internal state that activates, directs and maintains behaviour”.

At this point, and after having read many autobiographies, books about the lives of great sportspersons, and even viewing bibliographical documentaries of tennis stars, cycling, basketball …

I can say that it’s this constant internal state that is the most powerful tool defining the strong mentality of an athlete.

Sports motivation

The reason is that it is a MOTIVE that lasts over time, it is the most important intrinsic cause that directs your life and your actions.

How is personal growth achieved?

«I focus on one thing and one thing only – which is trying to win as many championships as I can.»


This internal state, then, is related to the commitment to your sport and to the programme or action plan that will lead you to victories, improvements…

It is the constant interest and will to overcome, and this is what will make this Motivation and Will Power last over time.

What does Mamba Mentality mean?

Paying homage to Kobe Bryant this week, and having researched his history, progress, sporting life, attitude to life and commitment to himself and his companions etc… we can find all the above explained.

Mamba mentality

This week the socials are filled with what has been described as “Mamba Mentality”.

A mentality characterised by passion and the constant desire to improve every day. And this, regardless of the circumstances.

How to get a Winning Mentality?

In reality, the true winning mentality of the athlete is forged precisely in those moments when external circumstances are going against you, or moments when the athlete is separated from the game by an injury, moments of tension before or during the game / competition etc..

That attitude is what determines success or failure in general terms; it is what differentiates an athlete from a champion.

Usain Bolt

History is full of great athletes, athletes who were successful precisely because they did not abandon that constant desire to improve: Lance Armstrong, Usain Bolt, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, Chrissie Wellington etc…

What is Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation?

Within Sports Psychology, Motivation is defined as:

«Direction and intensity of one’s effort.»

(Sage, 1977).

At the same time, within the subject, there’s a difference between two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic; and it’s the best combination or balance between both that determines the mentality and attitude of the champion.

It is the Self-Determination Theory, which develops these 2 sources of motivation.

What are the sources of intrinsic motivation?

When speaking about Sources of Intrinsic Motivation , reference is made to those that come from within oneself.

The first cause, that determines the why of oneself (a great example of this is Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”),

is also related to the desire for self-improvement, constant learning, understanding and analysing the process.

Intrinsic motivation

A great sportsperson asks their trainer the reason for each action, they are interested in everything that can make them improve in their sport and performance, they look for the mastery and perfection of technique.

That is, the pleasure is given by the task itself, sport practice itself, regardless of external factors.

«I will do whatever it takes to win games, whether it’s sitting on a bench waving a towel, giving a glass of water to a teammate, or taking a winning shot.»


Without a doubt, one of the greatest examples of this inner strength and development of the mental strength of an athlete is when they are forced to withdraw from the game, from their sport, due to an injury.

If your motive is strong, you will find a way to keep improving in as many skills as you can at that time.

The book that I reference at the end of the article, “The Champion’s Mind”, details how great athletes saw an opportunity to continue developing and improving, precisely during periods of injury.

It also details some of the meditation and visualisation techniques that great athletes use to develop that mental strength.

«Concentration is the root of all man’s capabilities.»


What is intrinsic motivation??

When you find an athlete who lacks this inner strength and passion, it is easy for them to be unmotivated, because interest is lost.

This, without a doubt, is one of the great differentiating features of those who are champions, regardless of the number of victories or medals.

In my past as a classical ballet dancer, the internal motivation and passion for dance was such that I did everything for and to be able to dance and go to dance school every day.


In my 12 year career since I started the first class, I didn’t miss a single one, without exception.

I was not a girl with the body of a dancer, nor the perfect skills (my physiognomy was more like that of a dancing boy)… but I was good at it, and made an effort to do better every day.

I was rehearsing until I was asleep.

And I kept that up until the day I felt no passion, when I arrived at school (I must say, I do miss it infinitely to this day).

What are the sources of extrinsic motivation?

They are all those who do not depend on us, but who do motivate or provoke us by our actions: successes, recognition, rewards from the coach, family, friends, teammates, competitors…

These are both positive and negative reinforcements.

Looking for inspiration outside is also very enriching, as long as we know how to use it and catapult our desire.

Which is best, intrinsic or extrinsic motivation?

The moment that inspiration (the sportsperson you admire) becomes an obsession with wanting to be exactly the same, the internal cause, your motive, will take a back seat.

  • While a certain degree of external motivation is necessary, this as the only support would result in an extremely short and unpleasant sporting career.
  • If you leave everything in hands of the external, it is very likely that long term results will not be achieved.

Bruce Lee

The aim is to find the perfect balance between the two in order to stay motivated over time and throughout your sporting life; and this is truly what defines the minds of champions.

Bibliographical references relating to the Athlete’s Mentality

I leave you with a small list of bibliographic references related to the mindset of the athlete or sportsman that can help you in the process of finding that unique source of internal motivation, that champion’s mentality that we all have inside.

“The Champion´s Mind”

By Jim Afremov. This book marked a turning point in my attitude, it reinforced many of my actions.

Its authors make a compendium of all the actions that great sportsmen and women (especially American football and NBA players and coaches) have carried out to develop themselves mentally in all kinds of situations and circumstances and how they have achieved success.

“The Inner Game of Tennis”

By W. Timothy Gallery. This book is a classic and pioneer of the true concept of “Coaching” and is a must-read for every coach.


By James Kerr. The summary of the culture of the All Blacks that works in any field, either sports or business, for creating a strategy with defined values and success.

“The Brave Athlete”

By Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson. A manual that helps you respect your brain to learn how to train and compete.

“How Champions Think”

By Rob Rotella and Bob Cullen. In this book, different strategies that we can adopt in sport and in life to achieve our goals are presented.

I also recommend watching the documentaries that exist of sportspeople of diverse disciplines, in which they summarise in detail the actions that each one of the protagonists has carried out to reach their full sports and personal potential.

I assure you they’ll be an excellent source of inspiration!

Related Entries

  • What You Need to Know About Sports Motivation. We invite you to find out at this link.
  • We give you the best advice on how to find that Will Power within. Click here.
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About Isabel del Barrio
Isabel del Barrio
Isabel del Barrio really loves sport, demonstrating it from a very young age and sharing her enthusiasm and knowledge to this day
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