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In the sporting world I believe there are two distinct definitions for being professional.

The first and obvious one is getting paid to prepare and play sport.

The other relates directly to attitude and effort and not to the size of a pay cheque.

Several times I have seen players who are paid quite handsomely to play a sport yet they struggle with the attitude and effort aspects. These players have tended to be what we would call talented, ie they rely heavily on their capability to understand and execute what is required to be successful in their sport, yet some of them do it without a great deal of effort or excellence attitude. I’ve heard them being referred to as ‘paid to play’.

On the other end of the spectrum is the amateur player who doesn’t get paid a cent yet their attitude to preparation and playing their sport is top shelf. Their commitment to improvement and execution is not reflected in how many zeros they have or don't have on a contract.

The question many professional coaches face is how to get the absolute best out of those players who are ‘paid to play’ as opposed to 'true professionals'. These true professionals are paid well yet are fully committed to their development and execution of skills.

Taking a ‘paid to play’ player and making them a 'true professional' takes effort from both parties, the coach and the player. It also takes a considerable amount of self reflection from the player and then a curiosity and willingness to find out how good they could be.

The coach can help in this process by creating a vision for the athlete of their potential. They allow the players imagination to create a picture of their best self in their mind’s eye and to create motivational emotions around achieving that best version. They then need to convince the player that to reach that vision they need to extend themselves consistently through hard and smart work.

Why do some 'talented' athlete's cruise along not ever seeming to care that they could be better?

A major reason is that success may have come too easily for them. They haven't had to work really hard to get selected for under age representative teams, they've always been one of the first picked because they are 'talented'. This lack of challenge may have created an expectation of their own success (not a bad thing, if harnessed correctly, to help build solid self belief). It may have also been created because they read their own press, meaning they hear or see people talking of their talent and how natural they look and they believe it without question. This may lead them to reinforce a fixed mindset, believing that their abilities are set in stone and they are what they are. They don't believe that if they keep challenging themselves to be better then they will be better. As such, they put themselves in a position where they do only what they need to and no more. Doing more might expose them to failure and that is not what is expected of a 'naturally talented' player. So they set themselves to cruise mode and as a result they frustrate coaches and other players because their potential only simmers and never comes to a boil.

These players are challenging for coaches because they have more to offer yet they perform well, and it is the coaches role to find out what buttons to push to get the most out of them.

Who do you know sits in this category?

Who do you also know that embodies a true professional attitude?

This is the player that all coaches love to coach. They respect the process of development and understand that it takes consistent and diligent work to close in on their potential. This player does the extras, asks for the feedback, problem solves themselves, eats right, looks after their body, plays to their strengths and works hard on their deficiencies. They do it day in and day out because they thrive on the challenge and let the material things (like zeros on a pay cheque) take care of themselves. There would be very few World or Olympic Champions who would say I did it for the money.

These are the players who can help the coach build that vision for the 'talented paid to play' players, turning them into true professionals, and create a strong and positive team environment.

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