"Champions aren't made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill."~ Muhammad Ali
In the majority of cases talent will have been spotted and nurtured early. Intense and high-level coaching over a number of years will have imbued technique and skill, a thorough understanding of tactics and excellent physically fitness that sets them aside from the enthusiastic weekend player.
So what is it that gives some the edge over the others? What is it that means they can hold their nerve in a penalty shootout, shut out on and off the pitch distractions and climb right up to the top of the pile?
Mental strength is as every bit as vital as physical strength. It is what ultimately defines winners and losers.
So called 'choking' in sport is the result of the intense pressure a player perceives herself to be under. This pressure results in judgement failure which leads to unforced errors.
It also takes a physical toll, manifesting itself in increase heart rate and muscle tightening.
According to Clinton Gahwiler, a distinguished sports psychologist and adviser to the South African Olympic team, the ability to handle pressure is a skill that can be changed and improved by working on it.
"Basic mental skills involve becoming aware of one's ideal internal state, and then developing techniques for creating, monitoring and maintaining this state during important performances," he says.
Example techniques for preparing for high pressure situations:
* Visualizing or imagining the moment. Players should imagine the experience of scoring a penalty to win in a shoot-out in a final or seal the championship
* When practicing simulate the pressure as far as possible. Create noise, get opponents to try and distract the subject, and put hier off verbally and mentally
Match day nerves
A common sporting term for a player who appears totally determined and fully focused on the challenge facing them is that they are 'in the zone'.
Many sports psychologists believe that a certain level of nervous before a game is a good thing. In broad terms, channeled correctly it is a stimulus towards optimum performance. However if it becomes anxiety and nerves, the players vacate the zone and do not perform to their potential.