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Lifestyles and mindsets of Olympic, Paralympic and world champions: is an integrated approach the key to elite performance?


Objectives The holy grail of any nation in the global sporting race is to better understand, replicate and sustain podium winning performances on the world stage. International sporting bodies advocate a holistic approach to the athletic profile and environmental and system-level factors required for world-class sporting performance, yet key lifestyle, relational, training and performance practices are commonly overlooked. We aimed to explore the contribution, interplay, and impact of lifestyle and psychological factors among a sample of world-class, champion athletes.

Methods Open-ended, semistructured face-to-face interviews were conducted with 10 World, Olympic and Paralympic Champion athletes that covered their sporting development and athletic profile including their mindset, training and competition practices, along with lifestyle and other key factors to which they attributed their success. A thematic approach guided by grounded theory principles, was employed to source and analyse their perspectives and experiences and determine common themes.

Results Four dominant and overlapping themes emerged: psychological attributes, interpersonal relationships, performance strategies and lifestyle practices. All athletes attributed their success to psychological rather than physical factors, and the vast majority relied on mental rehearsal skills and recovery practices.

Conclusion The athletic profile and support required to reach and sustain podium-level performance is multidimensional, integrated and individualised and psychological factors are paramount. Championship performance is likely to occur at the intersection of psychological prowess, interpersonal support, effective performance strategies and lifestyle. An integrated approach inclusive of these dimensions can be used to guide athlete development and support at both an individual level and a collective level.

  • sport
  • elite performance
  • sport psychology
  • health promotion
  • athlete

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