How to Be a Good Athlete

Anyone training for anything should know how to be a good athlete. Although this seems basic, it’s vitally important. The following principles optimize physical and psychological performance, maximize recovery, and minimize the risk of injury.

I’m writing this article for complete beginners to sports and for those who don’t have access to an involved (or good) coach. If you have had the privilege of working with a great coach or if you played a competitive sport, you may be able to find some value here too.

Be Coachable

Ever heard of the phrase “Just do it?” Nike has built its entire brand off this one training principle. And for good reason because, as an athlete, this is the most important idea you need to embody.

In short, you must listen, learn, and perform without deviation. This starts from the athlete’s faith in their coach. Consider the coach to be the conduit through which years (decades) of experience passes to you. If you do not listen to your coach, you will lose out on lessons learned and information that will take years or decades to figure out for yourself.

Eventually, you will have enough experience to learn from your own mistakes. You may also start to learn how to use your discretion and tailor your coach’s program to your own needs, including knowing how to communicate with your coach and others about your training in an intelligent way. However, this happens only after you lay the necessary foundation by just doing as you’re instructed.

How do you know if you’re coachable? Here are some factors:

  • You only need to hear it once.
  • You don’t challenge your coach, at least externally.
  • You do exactly what you’re told as you’re shown.
  • You continually learn, from your mistakes and from others.

How do you know if you’re NOT being coachable? The biggest indicator is that you keep THINKING. You think you know better. You think you might fail. You think you’re too weak, too small, too out-of-shape. You think you might injure yourself. You think you deserve to take it easy. You think you can take shortcuts. The list goes on.

If you think you know better, you wouldn’t need a coach and you would already be good at whatever you’re training for. Probably not the case. Thus, a coachable attitude is absolutely necessary to reach the highest levels of performance. And even if you have a different goal in mind, then the same is also true: being coachable is similarly absolutely necessary to achieving a competent level of performance in a reasonable timeframe.

Be Consistent

Training is hard. However, unlike many other facets in life, your effort (including your rest) always pays off. Thus, part of athleticism requires diligence and faith in what you’re doing.

Consistency requires (1) high quality effort and (2) regular sessions. High quality effort does not mean maximum effort wherever possible but rather appropriate effort wherever possible. Thus, some sessions only call for light effort, in which case you should put in light effort. However, if a session requires 100% power (e.g., sprints) or max volume (e.g., push ups until failure), you should give it your all.

You must have a regular schedule as well. If you only train every now and then, you will never make progress. Even if you train once a week, often but randomly, or without any goals, your performance gains will be dismal.

Regulate Activity in Peaks and Balances

Although a good athlete has a plan and sticks with it, they also must understand peak performance, recovery, and involuntary fluctuations. You cannot expect to perform at peak levels for an extended period of time. Nor can you expect to reach new peaks every time or every other time you train. This expectation may lead to burnout, injury, anxiety, and overcompensation. In reality, you need to make time to recover before you can reach another peak. Further, you can expect to underperform at times, due to various factors inside and outside of your control.

Create a Support System

Most, if not all, successful athletes had a system to keep them accountable. For example, many proud fathers are their son’s second, hyping them up like Angel Garcia, inspiring them like Chris Eubanks Sr., or leading them to victory like Anatoliy Lomachenko. Many brothers, from the Klitchkos to the Charlos, reached new heights only to cheer their own brother to greater ones.

Since athletics can be hard and unforgiving, you need people who will have your back and ignite your spirit. If you are alone when you are on the brink, you are liable to jump off the cliff because nobody is watching you or holding you back or inspiring you to keep trying.

Take Care of Your Body

Here are the absolute basics: drink plenty of water (before and after training); get 7 – 9 hours of sleep, and eat cleanly.

Staying hydrated keeps your fluids moving, your joints limber, and mind clear. It also prevents dizziness and overheating (symptoms of dehydration). Getting sleep helps with mental (and physical) recovery, weight loss, and memory retention, among other things. Maintaining an appropriate and balanced nutrition ensures muscle retention, fat loss, optimal energy levels, and physical recovery.

Sometimes, people can’t take care of their body because of food or housing insecurity. Unfortunately, athletics favors those who can afford the lessons, training, and lifestyle, regardless of a person’s circumstances or background. However, you can still prioritize what’s important. For example, food could include rice and beans as a cost effective and nutritious base for quick carbs and easy protein, and multivitamins can help compensate for micronutrient deficiencies. As for sleep and water quality, using sounds to drown out internal or external noises and investing in a good water bottle will help. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like some advice on being a good athlete despite difficult conditions.


This is not an exhaustive list of principles. Some may emphasize aesthetics (e.g., look good, play good) or courtesy (e.g., numbers on barbell plates should face inside; put everything as you found it). However, these principles are regarded as the most basic and important ones, regardless of your sport or values.

Author: Le Ho

I am currently a law student at the University of North Carolina Law School. As an undergraduate, I boxed for Carolina and earned its first men's national championship title.

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