5 Qualities of a Great Athlete

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A coach talks to basketball players sitting on the bench.

Participation in interscholastic sports can be a fulfilling experience for student-athletes. It offers the opportunity to learn about competition and build skills during some of the most impressionable years. It also offers a platform for students to gain knowledge through methods such as visual stimuli and auditory cues. Ultimately, the skills athletes learn through sports can serve them in other areas as they transition to adulthood.

Because of the positive effect interscholastic sports can have on young athletes,  athletic programs need to promote and nurture positive, healthy coaching. Coaches and athletic staff are influential figures to student-athletes, especially in their capacity to teach those in their charge pertinent life lessons. Their mentorship can further focus the life skills an athlete can obtain on the field of play, giving them the tools to succeed inside and outside interscholastic sports.

Traits of an Athlete

The qualities of a great athlete extend beyond athletic prowess. They possess traits that can help them become leaders on and off the field. Coaches can help student-athletes use sports as a springboard to develop these universal traits in a way that can lead to life success. The following are five of those traits, along with information on how they can be utilized outside athletics:

1. Listening

Young athletes can learn how to develop their listening abilities within interscholastic sports. Comprehending what others say is crucial to learning success. During practice or a game, players must listen intently to the coach’s instructions and fully understand what’s being conveyed. Additionally, they must listen to their teammates to coordinate better, and at the same time be able to hear an official’s whistle or call.

Listening is more than just hearing; it’s the ability to understand and utilize critical information. Listening means giving thoughtful consideration to what’s being said, conveying respect for the individual who’s communicating. The athletic competition emphasizes the importance of listening in a way that’s different from in a school classroom. A student-athlete’s comprehensive listening abilities and focused attention can translate successfully to situations in the real world.

Due to their competitive experiences, student-athletes may find it easier to understand instructions or listen to the information they previously thought of as mundane. Listening ability is a critical trait that can benefit a student-athlete’s career. For example, being able to fully listen to a customer’s desires, or to an employer’s needs, can set an employee apart and lead to further career growth.

2. Resilience to Failure

How athletes respond to loss is just as important as how they respond to victory. Failure is a natural part of life that requires resilience. When a loss or negative event occurs, it can devastate an athlete’s confidence and create uncertainty. While these are natural responses, some athletes can let their doubts or negative thoughts consume them, sometimes to the point where all they see is a failure. Athletes who work through failure don’t let it affect them or their future performance. They become resilient and rise above.

Coaches can help student-athletes build resilience by being an example of resilience themselves, and by defining other aspects of success. By providing positive feedback and identifying lessons learned through failure, coaches can build positive attitudes in their players. Similar to a defeat on the field, life has its rough moments. In a professional setting, an individual may face the loss of a job or experience failure for not meeting business goals.

Resilience assists and prepares athletes to push past life challenges when and if they’re encountered. In the real world, the resilient student-athlete will be able to handle rejection and failure, learn from them, and continue to pursue their goals.

3. Teamwork

Cooperation is an invaluable trait that can be built through teamwork in athletics. It’s an important quality that’ll reap benefits during a career and in family life. Collaboration isn’t always easy. Learning early on how to master it can deliver immediate advantages.

In athletics, players work together to pursue a common goal. That means they must communicate openly, compromise occasionally, and respect their teammates. Individually, they must be dedicated and focused,  so they can play at peak performance.

When student-athletes enter the professional world, they’ll find being a team player has major benefits. In their career, they’ll most likely work on teams where collaboration is key. In a family, working with a spouse to align values and strategies can lead to a strong bond. Without teamwork, goals will be more difficult to achieve and progress more difficult to accomplish in any aspect of work or life.

4. Dignity

How athletes react to victory or defeat will create the foundation for future reactions. Student-athletes who learn how to win or lose with dignity are building a mindset of respect and a positive self-image.

How others perceive you — and by inference, how they perceive your true nature — is a major aspect of life that shouldn’t be ignored. How athletes are perceived on the field, and later as professionals, can lead to the gain or loss of opportunities. Treating others with respect and being humble after a victory conveys a dignified attitude. Dignity is a trait found in leaders and in those who seek to make a positive impact on the world.

Time Management

Participating in sports requires a significant time commitment. It also means juggling homework, family and friend obligations, work, and other extracurricular activities around practices and games. This puts student-athletes in a position to learn how to prioritize.

Instilling time management skills may require patience, as it may take student-athletes time to figure out how to balance the activities on their plate. However, it’s an important trait to develop, as strong time management skills are also valuable in the workplace and are key to maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

The Far-Reaching Impact of Interscholastic Sports

Interscholastic sports as a whole can only be as helpful, dignified, respectful, and life-building as the athletic staff in charge. Student-athletes learn valuable life traits directly from dedicated coaches and other staff who grow to be looked on as role models. For those considering becoming an athletic administrator or a similar professional, the career offers many rewards. You’re able to mold young lives by setting an example, by teaching important life lessons, and by cultivating useful traits that can carry the student-athlete far beyond school. Interscholastic sports have the ability to reach — and to change — students on a personal, teachable level.

Develop the Skills to Help Student-Athletes Excel

By developing traits such as teamwork, listening, and resilience, coaches and others in athletic administration roles are teaching student-athletes to succeed off the field as much as they’re helping them to excel in their sport. The impact that it can leave on a student is indelible.

Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration program can help you develop the knowledge and skills necessary to shape the student-athletes of today into the success stories of tomorrow.  The program —  the first academic program in the field of sports administration — is designed to equip you with the ability to help students elevate their skills, on and off the field, in a wide range of scenarios so that you provide them with mentorship that’ll impact the rest of their lives. Learn how Ohio University can help you make a difference in the lives of others.

Recommended Readings

5 Tips for Building a Strong Relationship Between a Coach and an Athlete

7 Positive Uses of Social Media for Student-Athletes and Coaches

3 Ways to Demonstrate Leadership in Athletic Programs


Broadview Psychology, “Resilience: The Ways to Enhance This Critical Skill in Sports”

The Conversation, “3 Lessons for Today’s Teachers and Students from Coach Vince Lombardi”

National Federation of State High School Associations, “The Value of Interscholastic Sports: Impact of Athletic Participation on GPA and Graduation Rates”\

Psychology Today, “The Difference Between Hearing and Listening”

ThoughtCo., “The Increasingly Important Role of Athletics in Schools”