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Grit and Success in Sports

Have you ever wondered what it takes to compete at the highest levels? Many people have told me they believe it’s an athlete’s physical talents. Yet, we’ve all seen some of the most physically talented athletes get outperformed during competition. I’ve also had people tell me it is an athlete’s technical and tactical skill. But again, we’ve all seen some of the most skilled players and teams choke in big moments. It’s definitely true that talent and skill play a huge role in differentiating what athletes “make it” and those that don’t, but in my opinion, one factor seems to outweigh the rest. Grit.

What is Grit?

Grit is the willingness to fail but the refusal to give up. It’s the resilience to fight back when the competition gets tough. It’s that extra rep in the gym or that extra sprint on the field. It’s the discipline the elite athlete has to stay home from the party and get that extra sleep. A gritty athlete is one that fights back even after setbacks, adversity, and injuries. These are the athletes that continue to show up no matter what stands in their way.

As an athlete growing up, I always associated grit with toughness. I would even have described myself as gritty. However, I was recently introduced to the work of a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania that has dedicated her career to researching grit and what makes a gritty individual; and my perception of what it means to be gritty changed.

Behavioral psychologist, Angela Duckworth (2020), defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Grit is about having what some researchers call an “ultimate concern”–a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.” She claims that while talent and skill matter in success, grit matters even more.

According to Duckworth, gritty individuals dedicate years of their lives to achieving their goals, and they put in tireless effort to get there. Many times, when individuals experience disappointment or boredom, they change course and choose to pursue something else that they think will benefit them more. However, when this happens to gritty individuals, they stay the course and continue to refine their skills and work hard to reach their goals. In sports, gritty athletes experience setbacks, adversity, or injuries and push through them.


It’s important to remember that talent and skills are crucial to success as well, but effort is what separates elite athletes from others. It doesn’t matter how gifted an athlete is, if they don’t put in the necessary effort, their talent will never improve. The same is true with skills. Many times, athletes believe they are excellent at a skill and therefor they don’t need to practice it as often. Could you imagine if Steph Curry had this mentality? Curry has said himself that he is constantly working on improving his shot and does shooting drills regularly; I bet he wouldn’t be the shooter he is today if he wasn’t consistently putting in the work. No matter how talented or skilled you are, you are always putting in the effort to get better. This is what it means to be gritty.


How Do I Get Gritty?

The best thing about grit is that it can grow. You can learn to be gritty. It also doesn’t require homework or spending hours reading books, but rather recognizing what aspects of grit you already have and where you can improve. According to Duckworth (2016), here are some signs that you have grit and some advice on how to build grit:

1. You have something you are extremely passionate about. Gritty athletes are passionate about their sport and never get bored of working at it. What are you passionate about? What could you never get bored of? If you discover your passions and interests, it’s less likely you will want to give up when adversity strikes.

2. You don’t let frustrations prevent you from reaching your goals. Gritty athletes get back up when setbacks or adversity knock them down. They don’t become frustrated and give up on achieving their goals. Making mistakes and failing are normal and even necessary in order to improve in your sport. Reframing how you view mistakes can increase your grittiness.

3. You have a growth mindset. Gritty athletes believe that they are capable of change and growth. When you believe that you are an evolving individual, that can give you the perspective you need to push past adversity and build grit.

In my opinion, grit is what separates successful athletes from those that aren’t, at any level. While it’s true that not every athlete will go on to be a professional- that doesn’t mean you don’t need grit! Being a gritty individual can help you achieve success in school, at a job, or in a hobby. How can you develop grit today?

Check out Angela Duckworth's Ted Talk to learn more about Grit!

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