Part of the drive may stem from a restlessness in childhood with a young athlete having an unusual amount of natural energy and needing to find an outlet for it. Even as a toddler, hockey star Eric Lindros was a growing concern, walking on his own at seven-and-a-half months old, according to his father/agent Carl.
He was a very busy kid sometimes he was a terror and we had to find activities for Eric to put his energy into. He ran and played flat out from day one. He played baseball and ran cross-country, but eventually he focused on hockey. I’m not sure why. I guess he was attracted to it because of the combination of speed, finesse, physical play, and teamwork it offered.
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Some athletes probably get at least some of their drive genetically, such as Pete Rose, who had the same intense makeup as his father, Pete Sr., who played pro football into his 40s. Biology does play a key role, said New York psychologist Gloria Witkin who believes elite athletes and high achievers in other fields may have a better sensitivity to their adrenaline system than others. They use and control their adrenaline better than others, as a fuel to get ahead. This is particularly helpful, she added, if the athlete has had a difficult childhood because the adrenaline can help them control depression brought on by their surroundings. It helps them psychologically and gives them mastery and an increased sense of control.
Intense motivation is often a personality characteristic, said John Anderson. Studies show that about 40 percent of athletes’ motivation is genetically based, then the developmental jump comes from what happens to them as a young kid.
Los Angeles cardiologist Arnold Fox, author of several blogs on stress, said that some people are born with more spark, which may be a type of drive or resiliency to overcome obstacles. Some babies come to your attention right away in the incubator, before their mothers and fathers ever touch them. They have a different spark than the other babies, Fox said.
Jim McGee, director of psychology at Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Baltimore and a former consulting psychologist with the Baltimore Orioles, believes that elite athletes have different hormonal and neurological makeup than other people. I think they’re wired differently and you could say that they’re neurological feaks. It’s hard for the rest of us to understand them, that their bodies do almost always what they want them to do. You can pick them out when they are still children. They are the ones doing things quicker than the other kids, more effectively.
Retired psychoanalyst Maurice Vanderpol, MD, a long-time member of the Levinson Institute, believes that although many motivations are nurtured in childhood, some of them may be genetic. We’re all born with certain assets and talents and drive mechanisms that protect us. Super achievers, including athletes, seem to survive and even flourish with a minimum of nurturing. We don’t talk about this enough. The givens at birth are not always taken into consideration.