15 Attributes Of A National Team Athlete

Just back from a trip to Ontario, Canada, coaching and learning… I spent some time at the National Elite Development Academy (NEDA) and conducted our first Ontario Centre for Performance (CP) centralized session. Good times! I tell ya… it’s amazing what you can do with elite learners. I was able to do in 15-minutes with one NEDA male athlete what would normally take 15-days with the average kid. That was fun. The kid made me look (and feel) like I knew what I was talking about.

I wanted to share this thought with the group as an extension of my previous post on athleticism. At our final CP tryout, I felt it important to also define what qualities a national-team athlete possesses.


  1. Passion – For the game… for their country!

    This Nike ad, featuring the senior men's national team, could was posted all over Spain. Roughly translated: 'Being Spanish is not an excuse, it's a RESPONSIBILITY."
  2. Willingness to Train (Like A World Class Athlete) = Talent / Self-Motivated
  3. Resilient – Able to handle the mental, physical and social/emotional loads
  4. Solution Finders – Low maintenance, adaptable
  5. Leaders with Character – Leads/Disciplines self first (accountable, responsible); brings energy to the group, knows when to follow, able to positively influence others
  6. Competitiveness – Every minute of every drill
  7. Cooperative / Considerate – team game… we before me
  8. Bright, Coachable, Willing to learn – Life long learner / versatile
  9. Possess Basketball IQ – Tactical awareness of attack within FIBA game (24sec clock, time & score)
  10. Persistence – It’s a marathon; willingness to commit to the long-term vision … stubbornness
  11. Confidence – Believes in their ability because they have trained
  12. Relishes Contact – Gritty and physical … thrives in physical game, edge
  13. Multi-Skilled (Global Athlete) – Dribble, Pass, Shoot … able to initiate and finish from all positions
    • Execute skills with vision, at speed, with contact … in small space
    • 1on1 & Multi Player Attack: cutting/passing/penetration/screening/picking games
  14. “Athletic” / Size & Length
  15. Loyalty – Have it, develop it … to country and teammates

Let me know what you think… additions? …subtractions? …revisions to the list?

Some may wonder why passion falls number one my the list. Well frankly, to me, it is the most essential attribute for national team success at the international level. What I’ve found from being amongst national team athletes from a number of countries is a great passion and pride for playing for their country. (Yes, skill is crucial. It’s a prerequisite that all teams have at a World Championship level.)

While in Slovakia this summer for the U19 women’s world championships, we were chatting with one athlete after an amazing performance that led her team, Serbia, to victory in a hard fought game. Most athletes would have been thrilled post game. But not her. She was crying her eyes out.

One of the Canadian coaches I was with came over to tell her how inspired and moved he was by her play. I don’t think, initially, he realized her state of despair. Once he did, he patted her on the back and asked why she was so upset. To which she responded, in her best English: “I hate my coach!”

(Now, I don’t speak Serbian and have no idea what this coach was saying, but, he was crazy. A good tactical coach; but without a doubt certifiable. Everything that came out of his mouth seemed to convey sarcasm and disdain. He continually dressed-down his kids. Cultural differences aside, this guy was rough. I empathized with her.)

She went on to share a lot more about what was so distressing to her. Finally, the coach interjected as he could see that through the swell of her emotions, that she was struggling to convey her true feelings. He said: “Why do you play then?

Cold faced, she rebuked him with her stare and retorted: “I play for my country!”

Period. Nuff said.


From working with senior national team athletes from Spain, Slovenia, Italy, Senegal and having traveled to world championships and European championships this summer, I can tell you that this sentiment is widely shared. This is the cultural divide that distinguishes other countries from North America.

We began to do our part this past weekend. We had our future national-teamers up singing the national anthem – a capella.

Small things, make a big difference.