Success in Sport and in Life – The Top Five Traits all “Winners” Possess

Written by Tim Gabbett and the team at Gabbett Performance Solutions.

Winning – whether it’s in sports, business or life – is more than just the sum of its parts. Successful athletes, teams, performances and businesses all have something that elevates them above their level of talent. Individuals have an ‘X-Factor’ that differentiates them from their competition, and winning organizations have a ‘winning culture’ that elevates them above the rest. Throughout my career I have been involved with high performance athletes and organizations, and several traits consistently emerge as crucial to long-term success. In this article, I will explore the top five traits that all “winners” possess.

The “Winners” Matrix

1.             Hard Work

As a man who has championed the phrase “Train smarter and harder”, it is perhaps no surprise to see hard work as one of my keys to success. Look across any sport, profession or industry and you’ll know that the winners didn’t get there by luck. For everything you see on the playing field, there are countless hours behind the scenes required to pull it off – rigorous training, strict diets, mental and physical preparation are all necessary to reach great heights.

The key to hard work is to recognize that nothing worthwhile comes easy. The most successful athletes, teams, performers and businessman are those that can visualize their end goal and put forth the hard work needed to reach them.

I am reminded of LeBron James as just one example of the effort it takes to truly succeed. James is clearly one of the most physically gifted athletes of his generation, but his work ethic is what truly sets him above the rest. LeBron is reported to have an incredibly strict workout and diet routine year-round. This perseverance embodies what it means to work hard – projecting his end goal and making continuous effort to reach it.

Source: LeBron James Instagram

2.             Persistence

Many of the five traits are interrelated but distinct – persistence and hard work are a perfect example of these. Persistence occurs when you get given the chance to quit, but don’t. What separates the winners from those who don’t make it, is their ability to get knocked down and rebound – again, and again, and again! Throughout any career, be it professional, sporting or artistic, there will be hard times. The truest testimony to your attitude as a winner is your ability to push through these times, persevering even harder than you did before.

It is in the lowest and darkest times that the best opportunities reveal themselves, so look for winners in those that can find the light at the end of the tunnel.

3.             Continual Improvement

Tied in with persistence, is the ability to consistently improve over time. Any skill worth having will take hours and hours of practice to perfect. Perhaps even more crucially, any long-term progress will require countless failures to reach success. Learning in any skill is not always linear. It would be much easier to reach expertise if you progressed at a steady pace each day, getting better and better with each practice you attend – but that isn’t how learning works.

In reality, in the pursuit of any skill, one will find themselves regressing and progressing, in a constant flux between perceived improvement and decline. It is only over the long-term that the improvement becomes clear. Because of this, to become a winner one must recognize that there will be periods of highs and lows and continue to train and improve throughout them.

4.             Discipline

One of the differences between good performers and true winners is their ability to stay calm, disciplined and in control regardless of the pressure and stress they are under. This applies as much to the crucial moments themselves (big games, important presentations, etc) as the work behind the scenes (sticking to training, diet and preparation). The true winners are those that can stay committed to their set of values regardless of the situation.

In a sporting environment, many teams have found themselves let down by the ill-disciplined mistakes of a player under pressure. Learning to manage the emotions that come with the pursuit of success is just as important as any other skill on this list. You will see that the winning teams across any number of sports are often those that can avoid fouls; whilst the organizations we recognize as having a ‘winning culture’ are frequently those with a reputation for strong discipline. Across any environment, winners are able to stay disciplined to the values, rules and goals they establish.

5.             Health

One of the most crucial developments of the 21st Century has been our focus on health in the workplace, be it in sport or business. In recent times, a wide cross-section of organizations have placed greater emphasis on physical and mental health. No individual, whether an athlete or a business professional, can reach their full potential without taking time to ensure their physical and mental health.

From a sporting perspective, physical health is obviously crucial to the performance of an athlete or teams. The most successful modern teams are those that recognize the importance of modern science and medicine to continued health and success. However, mental health should not be overlooked. When it comes to the workplace or the sporting arena, your “workers” need to be locked in, focused and ready to perform. If that means taking time to focus on your mental health, then that must be made a priority.

The most successful individuals and organizations are those that can appreciate the importance of health to success.

Across any domain (business or sport), these are the five traits that are most important to success. Feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments below.

For more information about Tim Gabbett and Gabbett Performance Solutions, contact