Monday April 29th 2024

What makes a World Champion? What separates the good athletes from the great ones? How do World Champions become World Champions and what’s the process that they use to get there? That question isn’t easily answered. After all, if becoming a World Champion was so easy, it would be less special and we wouldn’t hold the accomplishment in such high-esteem. Furthermore, if we could so easily replicate the process to get there, then bottling it and marketing would become a lucrative business. In the end, becoming a World Champion is extremely difficult and as such, training an athlete to become one is just as hard.

As a multiple time World Champion and a UWW Hall of Fame member, Martine Dugrenier would never be outworked by anyone

If you think about it, nearly all high performance athletes have access to equipment, coaching and nutrition. Granted the level of access is not the same for everywhere around the world. We see examples of World Champions coming from conditions that are far inferior to other countries, where the equipment is not the same and access to nutrition is inferior. And yet, some of these countries are able to produce World Champions on a consistent basis. Likewise, there are countries that have all the tools to be able to produce champions where research, technology and resources are concerned, but are unable to do so.

A good training environment only makes up part of the formula for success

Geography certainly has a role to play in this as environment as well as living conditions play a huge role in determining how a person lives and develops. In countries that have a lower standard of living, the desire to succeed may ultimately be one of survival as success in sports is often rewarded with financial rewards. In countries with higher socio-economic status, this can provide more opportunities, especially where sports are concerned. In cases such as this, these countries may be spoiled for choice. However giving people options isn’t always the answer as there also must be a demand for the activity in question. Environmental conditions and a sense of history usually dictate what sort of activity or sport you may want to offer.  After all,  it would be impractical for a sport to set up shop where historically there wouldn’t be a demand or the demographic to fill it.

For example, some would say it’s foolish to have for example, an ice hockey team in an area where historically the climate was not amenable, or they didn’t have a history with it. And yet, South Africa has an ice hockey team that’s recognized by the IIHF and is currently ranked 44th in the world. This pretty much flies in the face of conventional logic as you wouldn’t think of South Africa as a destination for Ice Hockey. This however is the exception to the norm and should not ne taken as gospel.

Hockey Night in Johannesburg; Who could have thought that?

Photo property of the South African Ice Hockey Federation

We also see countries that have access to all the best when it comes to technology, nutrition, facilitates and coaching. Some of these countries are able to churn out high-performance athletes in machine-like precision, with results coming like they’re off a conveyer belt. Countries such as the United States and Japan come to mind as places that have high socio-economic standards and are usually on the edge of cutting-edge analytics and testing methods.

I believe that what it ultimately boils down to, is the mindset of the athlete in question. Ability and coaching will only get you so far, even if they’re at the highest of levels. Mindset of the athlete has to take over at one point, otherwise you will end up as just another one of those unfulfilled talents that were never able to win that elusive World Title. I’ve witnessed this first-hand, as I’ve had to the privilege to train with three world champions throughout my wrestling career. Each of those champions weren’t just one shot champions but some of the most dominant athletes of their respective generations.

Being the training partner for an athlete like Gia Sissaouri made me a much better wrestler and gave me some invaluable insight into the psyche of a World Champion

Each of these athletes had different environments as they were growing up as well as different socio-economic statuses and upbringings. But what I noticed with all those athletes that was common was a desire to be the best by doing anything it took to improve. Things such as putting in the work, especially when the coaches were not watching was a reoccurring theme and it drove those athletes to be a bit better every single time. This once again boiled down to their mindset and how they approached the sport. Good enough wasn’t for these athletes and because of this, they held themselves to a higher standard.




As an athlete, George St-Pierre used to ask questions which were geared to him becoming a better wrestler and not just a better fighter. He sought to become the best at almost all his disciplines. A true Martial Artist and World Champion




Because of my time in observation and training with each of these athletes, I think that I have a good perspective of what it took them to become a World Champion. However, knowing and being able to apply and execute these processes isn’t as cut and dried as that. Like competing, coaching also boils down to ability and mindset and not all coaches have it. To move off on a bit of a tangent, I’ve seen many coaches claim greatness, but have never put in the time to be great. They ride on inflated accomplishments and try to claim results where there isn’t any. Finally, coaches that also fall into this category tend to want other people to do most of the work for them, while doing as a little as possible and then claiming credit in the end. But that’s a conversation for another day.

So in the end, what is the mindset of World Champion? Based on my observations, I can list several factors that helped those gifted athletes to be the best at their sport.

  1. A willingness to learn: Always looking to improve and ask questions from anyone and having the knowledge and intelligence to discern the better sources of information from one another.
  2. A certain level of humility: In asking someone for advice, you automatically admit to not knowing something, which for some people, can be difficult.
  3. A confidence in their convictions: While being humble is always good, a certain amount of swagger and conviction is also present as these supreme athletes are confident in their actions due largely to the amount of work they’ve put in.
  4. The willingness to work: Success is not given to you because of some inherent ability. It must also be a complimented by a level of dedication and hard work that surpasses normal people.
  5. A single minded-focus: World Champions don’t get distracted by other things. They are committed and focused to achieving their dreams and nothing will stop them from doing so. That focus becomes almost an obsession as other things will be secondary.

So, while this definitely isn’t the recipe to produce a World Champion one hundred percent of the time, this is definitely a good start. Other things will have an impact on this such as athlete ability and longevity, along with a healthy does of luck. In the end, this is all we can hope to instil as a numerous amount of factors are out of control and success can be measured in many different ways.