Olympic Gold Medalist Kara Lawson Gives an Illuminating Explanation of What It Takes to Become an Elite Athlete

Learn about the pyramid analogy and what it takes to reach elite status in your sport.

No athlete becomes elite by accident.

It takes hard work, it takes talent and—most importantly—it takes a certain type of mindset.


No athlete becomes elite by accident.

It takes hard work, it takes talent and—most importantly—it takes a certain type of mindset.

WNBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist Kara Lawson grew up with the mentality that she wanted to be among the best of the best. Then she went out and made it happen. STACK recently caught up with Lawson at a Nike-sponsored event at the Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Texas; and we were intrigued with her explanation of the "elite athlete pyramid." According to Lawson, the analogy helped her make the decisions she needed to make to get where he is today.

"I had a really good middle school soccer coach named Bill Bragg. After practice, he would sit us down and we would have motivational quotes or some concept or story that he was trying to teach us. And I still remember some of the things he would tell me when I was 12, 13 years old. One of the things he told me is that being an elite athlete is like a pyramid. Everybody plays in kindergarten and elementary school, all your buddies play. Then you get up into middle school and fewer people play because they're just not that into it. Then in high school, even fewer people play. Not everyone makes varsity. So it just keeps getting smaller and smaller. Then you're talking about Division I athletes, it's even smaller, and then pro athletes, that's up here (motioning to the top of an invisible pyramid). That's the one percent of the one percent. He said why those people get there is because they're willing to sacrifice certain things that the people below them are not. It might be boys. It might be prom. It might be parties. Whatever it is, they're willing to sacrifice it to get there and the people below them are not. So you have to make a decision about where on the pyramid you want to be. And whereever you want to be is ok. There's nothing wrong with just being a high school athlete, there's nothing wrong with just being a college athlete. But if you want to be at the top, you have to sacrifice more. That stuck with me."

Kara Lawson - Olympian

"It made making decisions easier for me in high school. When I maybe wanted to do something socially but I had AAU practice or I had to work on something, I knew why I was doing it. I was fortunate to have that in my head early on, and that's what made it easier for me every year. I was working toward something. It's way easier to have that focus and make sacrifices when you have something out in the distance you're shooting for instead of just waking up and saying 'oh, ok, I'm going to work out today just because.'"

It's a pretty cool way to think about the mindset it takes to get to the top. Ask yourself, where do you want to fit into the pyramid? If you want to be at the peak or close to it, be prepared to make some serious sacrifices.

RELATED: J.J. Watt's Mindset for Getting to The Next Level

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