Effort as a Habit


Along with a teachable spirit, there is nothing more important to the success of an athlete than fostering the habit of working hard. Most people think that talent is the key to success, but effort is more important. What’s best is that you are in control of how hard you work. Some coaches and parents think the athlete either has “it” or they don’t. But it’s not talent or effort. What makes an athlete great is talent and effort. But if you have to choose between the two, effort is more important and over time leads to skill and ability. Most professional athletes that are highly successful, like Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, and Mia Hamm, had crazy work ethic and worked extremely hard. Over time people see that as talent but it was the effort that got them there.

There are some kids that have natural talent. We have seen them on the playground or in gym class, but talent without the effort is just sad. There are a whole bunch of people out there that never learned to work hard and never fulfilled their true potential.

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, identifies two common mindsets.

The first is a fixed mindset, in which a person sees their ability as set or unchangeable. They think it doesn’t matter how hard they try because they feel they don’t have what it takes. They also feel if they are seen as trying so hard that this will imply that they don’t have natural talent. This mindset is a dead end because whether you succeed or not is determined by something totally outside your control - the amount of talent you are born with. With this type of thinking you will never reach your potential.

The growth mindset is the belief that no matter where you start in life, you have the ability to grow and improve. Your ultimate success is dependent on how hard you work, not how much talent you were born with.

Mia Hamm, one of the greatest female soccer players of all time, challenged herself by playing up with bigger, older, and more skillful players. At ten years old she joined the eleven year old boys team. She pushed herself out of her comfort zone by working as hard as she could and as a result she was faster and better than she ever dreamed possible. This all came to be through hard work.

To be a successful athlete it’s crucial to have a growth mindset. By using language like:

“I can improve my serve if I work hard at keeping my head up and following through.”

“I can learn to block a hit if I work hard at jumping”

“I can learn to anticipate and get to the puck first if I can learn to skate faster by working harder in practice”

An athlete with a growth mindset knows that they will make mistakes, have setbacks, and sometimes get discouraged. They understand that success comes with time and effort. They can rise above and figure out what they need to work on to get better.

It’s important for successful athletes to have effort goals. They understand the importance of WHY they need these goals to achieve success. Effort goals are so powerful. You can control how hard you work and how much effort you give. Effort goals translate into outcome goals, like scoring 3 goals in a game, or acing 5 volleyball serves. The most successful athletes set goals and the unsuccessful one’s do not.

The researcher, Richard Lerner, of Tufts University, designed a goal setting map to help student athletes accomplish their goals in sports and life. Take a look!


This GPS device has step by step directions to help you reach your goals. Goal Selection, Plan of Action, and Shifting Gears when things don’t go as planned.


  1. Pick challenging goals and visualize achieving them. If the goal doesn’t excite you then you’re not likely to stick with it or achieve it. You have to want to do it! Choosing a hard goal that isn’t easy to achieve will cause you to improve more than achieving an easy goal. In other words Go For It!

  2. Avoid a goal that’s too big to achieve. Set a time frame for interim goals that are achievable. It is a marathon, not a sprint, to achieve your goal.

  3. Write your goals down on a piece of paper. You will be more likely to accomplish a goal if you write it down.

  4. Include goals to make your teammates and the game better. Your hard work will motivate others to do the same.

  5. Keep your goals in balance with your life and academics.


  1. Set effort goals in terms of time on task. How many hours, minutes, days a week will you work on your goal?

  2. Divide your goals into bite size chunks and check your progress. What gets measured gets done.

  3. Make a “public commitment” to your effort goals. Get an accountability partner - a teammate, coach, or parent,

  4. Visualize working on your goals in a specific place at a specific time. “I’m going to study at my desk for 30 minutes when I get home from practice.”

  5. Reward progress. When you reach your weekly goal give yourself a reward that you really want like going to the movies or out with friends.


  1. Most goals need tweaking. Expect to shift gears when needed.

  2. Expect setbacks and know that this is just part of life.

  3. Remember WAG: Watch, Ask, and Get coaching

  4. Be open to changing an unrealistic goal without getting discouraged. Ask yourself, “Do I need to work harder, try a different strategy, or adjust my goal?”

The most important part of goal setting is just to begin! Use a chart to commit to your goals and track your progress.

Amy Anci