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Trading Psychology

How the Athlete Mindset Can Help You Trade Smarter

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Written by Timothy Sykes
Updated 1/3/2023 17 min read

When my student Roland Wolf passed $1 million in trading profits, it got me thinking.* Can athletes — or anyone with the athlete mindset — make for better traders?

Roland was a professional soccer player before an ankle injury ended his career. When he started trading, his work ethic was incredible.

Now he’s turned $4,000 into $1 million in four years.*

I learned the athlete mindset from personal experience. From a very young age, I was obsessed with tennis…

tim sykes note about tennis player Ivan Lendi - wants an autograph
© Millionaire Media, LLC

My goal was to become a professional tennis player. My obsession drove me to wake up at 5 a.m. to practice before school. It drove me to practice for hours after school. All that practice made me better, but it also took its toll. Tommy John surgery brought my career to an end.

But I applied the same focus and determination I developed through tennis to trading. And that paid off.

It’s not just me and Roland, though. There are others. To respect their privacy, I won’t name them in this post. But I’ll shed some light on why former athletes can go on to be great traders.

(*Please note that these kinds of trading results are not typical. Most traders lose money. It takes years of dedication, hard work, and discipline to learn how to trade, and individual results will vary. Trading is inherently risky. Before making any trades, remember to do your due diligence and never risk more than you can afford to lose.)

The Athlete Mindset Applied to Trading

Midwest Traders
© Millionaire Media, LLC | Dominic rises for a shot over Jack while Tim & Michael look on

First, I’m not saying you have to be an elite athlete to be a great trader. You don’t even need to have an athletic background. But anyone with the athlete mindset already has a deep understanding of how to work on a process.

It’s like a leg-up to the ultimate goal: becoming a consistent, self-sufficient trader. 

So, if you are an athlete or former athlete, keep reading to see how you can apply your mindset to trading. If you’re not an athlete, keep reading to discover how the athlete mindset can help you become a better trader. The parallels are eerie.

Athlete Mindset: Better Today than Yesterday

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Elite athletes know that not every day will be their best. At the same time, they work every day to raise their performance level. They show up every day and put in the work. Every day is a chance to get better. It doesn’t matter whether it’s game day, a practice day, or film day.

Over time — even on bad days — they’re far better than average.

Trading is similar. Even the best traders have bad days. Traders with a growth mindset work to get better every day. When they lose, they learn from it. When they win … they learn from it. They show up every day ready to put in the work. And they learn from it.

Reviewing personal and team performance is common to top-level athletes in all sports. It can give anyone with an athlete’s mindset an advantage in trading. (The best way to review your trading performance is to keep a trading journal.)

Athlete Mindset: Never Give Up

Anyone who’s ever been an athlete knows you don’t give up until the final whistle blows or the match is over. You play every point, play, or down like it matters. You keep fighting — even if losing seems inevitable.

Why not give up? Again, it’s the mind of an athlete. It’s striving to be your best and give 100%. It’s working toward perfection — even while knowing perfection is near impossible.

And it’s knowing that things can change fast. Comebacks happen. One or two big mistakes can cost you the win. Or help you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

It’s all built in from endless hours of dedication, discipline, and hard work. And it doesn’t matter if your focus is individual competition or team competition. Elite athletes all know of big comebacks and underdogs defeating heavily favored opponents.

Trading is similar in that top traders all go through adversity. We all lose. Sometimes we take trading losses that seem unfair or beyond our control. Don’t take this to mean you shouldn’t cut losses quickly. I’m not talking about hold and hope. I’m talking about not giving up on the process of becoming a better trader.

Think of it this way … how often do top baseball players get a hit? If you get a hit one-third of the time, you’re one of the best.

Athlete Mindset: Train Every Day

Part of the athlete mindset is to train every day. That doesn’t always mean physical training. Elite athletes do have days of rest. But they use those days to review film, work on strategy, or dissect their opponents.

Traders with the athlete mindset have the same kind of work ethic. I’m known for using #NoDaysOff on social media. That comes from my days as a tennis player.

Students like Roland with the athlete mindset apply it to trading. His dedication to studying his first six months in the Trading Challenge was crazy. He studied seventeen hours per day, every day. He studied when the market was closed. It paid off for him.

Roland’s playing soccer again, by the way. Check this out.

That’s the athlete mindset in action.

Athlete Mindset: Determination, Dedication, and Work Ethic

Every elite athlete I’ve met and worked with has it. Some people say, “Oh, that athlete has a gift, freakish natural ability.” The road to elite status is littered with gifted athletes who never made it. Why? For too many, it’s because they never developed the mindset of a successful athlete.

The other side of that is powerful. Many top-level athletes overcome crazy disadvantages. They have an intense work ethic and determination.

Likewise, a lot of people who play sports develop the athlete mindset. Even if they don’t play beyond high school or college.

Pay attention, this is important: Maybe they weren’t good enough to reach the next level as an athlete. But they use the athlete mindset to excel in other areas of life. The business world is full of former athletes who brought that mindset into their careers.

You Don’t Have to Be a Nerd (You Have to Put in the Time)

You don’t have to be a nerd. And you don’t have to be good at math to be a winning and consistent trader. But you MUST have a strong work ethic.

The reason so many former top-level athletes make great traders is because of their work ethic. They flat out know how to put in the effort. Also, their self-talk is better. They know how to overcome the inner voice that tries to talk them out of being productive.

Math and Science: Not Required

I’m not knocking math and science. I’m just saying that success as a penny stock trader doesn’t require you to be good at math or science. Trading penny stocks requires you to learn a unique but finite set of skills. That happens by creating good habits. Then applying those good habits to trading.

Brand new to penny stocks? Start here with my FREE penny stock guide.

Shout Out to Athletes

Again, it’s not just Roland. I’ve worked with several former athletes. Here’s a picture of me and former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress. We appeared together on Maria Bartiromo’s show on Fox.

tim sykes and plaxico burress
© Millionaire Media, LLC

And these four videos show me teaching former NBA players about penny stocks.

Teaching NBA Players About Penny Stocks Parts 1-4

There are others. Again, to respect their privacy I won’t name them. But I have more than one former top-level athlete in the Trading Challenge. They’re amazing to work with because…

Elite Athletes Know What It Takes

One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog post is because I’m so impressed by my former athlete students. They just seem to know what it takes.

They’ve been humbled and made to work harder. They’ve all been at the top of their game only to have their world turned upside down. Each has had a bad loss, been the newbie at the next level, or struggled through injury.

They’ve all had to overcome adversity.

And because of that, they’re prepared to put in the time and effort. Even when it seems lonely, they’re ready to work to get to the next level.

The work ethic I developed from tennis changed my life. And even though my elbow injury was devastating, my dad calls it the million-dollar injury.

Could I have reached that elite level as a tennis player? I’ll never know. What I do know is this: the athlete mindset I developed in pursuit of my dream is still there. It’s still part of me. It drives me to be a better teacher every single day. Just like it drove me to be a better trader when I started two decades ago.

So if you’re an athlete — or someone with an athlete mindset — this is a shout out to you. Join my Trading Challenge. I believe you already have an edge.

This video shows some of the parallels between top-level athletes and traders.

Stock Trading Lessons From An NBA Great

It’s Lonely to Be an Elite Athlete

One of the reasons I teach is because trading can be a lonely profession. Sometimes ignorant haters accuse me of not being able to trade, saying that’s why I teach. Most of them are too lazy to do a little homework.

I start each year with a small account and donate my trading profits to charity. Why? Because most of my students start with small accounts. It helps students more than if I traded with a huge account every year.

But the other reason I focus on teaching is because I don’t want to sit in a room watching stocks all day long. It’s a very lonely life. I’ve been there.

As a teacher, I work on behalf of students. And it frees up time for working on charity projects.

But as a shout out to athletes…

I know that loneliness you’ve felt while honing your skills. I remember those days as a tennis player and as a trader. What I say right now is … use it. You know from experience that if you keep working at it, you can develop the skills it takes to succeed. You already have the athlete mindset which makes you uniquely qualified.

Why? Because…

Passion Drives the Athlete Mindset

It’s that feeling of waking up every morning hungry to get better. Practice becomes a part of you. It’s no longer something you do … it’s who you are. You practice the same move over and over again. You do it until it becomes a habit.

It’s very similar to how…

Passion Drives Profitable Traders

Trading isn’t about making more money. The trading mindset is also about practice. It’s about getting better every day. Traders who focus only on the money blow up accounts. Traders who focus on the process become better traders.

Next Steps for Trading With the Athlete Mindset

If you’re an athlete, congratulations. Tap into the athlete mindset and your crazy work ethic. Apply it to trading. You already have what it takes to succeed. Apply to the Trading Challenge today

If you’re not an athlete…

Share This Post With Athletes

Share this blog post with anyone you know who is (or was) an athlete. It doesn’t matter which sport. If they got injured or they’re career is over, I want to teach them. I KNOW they have the right mindset for success.

Even if you were an athlete 10 or 20 years ago. Once you understand that work ethic, it’s part of you. You can tap into it. It’s not just about the money. It’s about passion.

I get the chance to talk with students who are former athletes. It’s beautiful to see them passionate about something again. And it’s beautiful to see they understand it’s all about the process, dedication, and work ethic.

Develop the Athlete Mindset for Trading

Study the athlete mindset. Elite athletes get that way through hard work and determination. The process they use is the process of success. It applies directly to trading.

Trading Challenge

Finally, when you join the Trading Challenge, get ready. Coach Sykes will nearly break you. I will break all the assumptions you make. I will get you out of your bad habits because I’m a tough coach. Got what it takes?

What do you think about applying the athlete mindset to trading? Comment below, I love to hear from all my readers!


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Author card Timothy Sykes picture

Timothy Sykes

Tim Sykes is a penny stock trader and teacher who became a self-made millionaire by the age of 22 by trading $12,415 of bar mitzvah money. After becoming disenchanted with the hedge fund world, he established the Tim Sykes Trading Challenge to teach aspiring traders how to follow his trading strategies. He’s been featured in a variety of media outlets including CNN, Larry King, Steve Harvey, Forbes, Men’s Journal, and more. He’s also an active philanthropist and environmental activist, a co-founder of Karmagawa, and has donated millions of dollars to charity. Read More

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* Results are not typical and will vary from person to person. Making money trading stocks takes time, dedication, and hard work. There are inherent risks involved with investing in the stock market, including the loss of your investment. Past performance in the market is not indicative of future results. Any investment is at your own risk. See Terms of Service here

The available research on day trading suggests that most active traders lose money. Fees and overtrading are major contributors to these losses.

A 2000 study called “Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors” evaluated 66,465 U.S. households that held stocks from 1991 to 1996. The households that traded most averaged an 11.4% annual return during a period where the overall market gained 17.9%. These lower returns were attributed to overconfidence.

A 2014 paper (revised 2019) titled “Learning Fast or Slow?” analyzed the complete transaction history of the Taiwan Stock Exchange between 1992 and 2006. It looked at the ongoing performance of day traders in this sample, and found that 97% of day traders can expect to lose money from trading, and more than 90% of all day trading volume can be traced to investors who predictably lose money. Additionally, it tied the behavior of gamblers and drivers who get more speeding tickets to overtrading, and cited studies showing that legalized gambling has an inverse effect on trading volume.

A 2019 research study (revised 2020) called “Day Trading for a Living?” observed 19,646 Brazilian futures contract traders who started day trading from 2013 to 2015, and recorded two years of their trading activity. The study authors found that 97% of traders with more than 300 days actively trading lost money, and only 1.1% earned more than the Brazilian minimum wage ($16 USD per day). They hypothesized that the greater returns shown in previous studies did not differentiate between frequent day traders and those who traded rarely, and that more frequent trading activity decreases the chance of profitability.

These studies show the wide variance of the available data on day trading profitability. One thing that seems clear from the research is that most day traders lose money .

Millionaire Media 66 W Flagler St. Ste. 900 Miami, FL 33130 United States (205) 851-0506 This is for information purposes only as Millionaire Media LLC nor Timothy Sykes is registered as a securities broker-dealer or an investment adviser. No information herein is intended as securities brokerage, investment, tax, accounting or legal advice, as an offer or solicitation of an offer to sell or buy, or as an endorsement, recommendation or sponsorship of any company, security or fund. Millionaire Media LLC and Timothy Sykes cannot and does not assess, verify or guarantee the adequacy, accuracy or completeness of any information, the suitability or profitability of any particular investment, or the potential value of any investment or informational source. The reader bears responsibility for his/her own investment research and decisions, should seek the advice of a qualified securities professional before making any investment, and investigate and fully understand any and all risks before investing. Millionaire Media LLC and Timothy Sykes in no way warrants the solvency, financial condition, or investment advisability of any of the securities mentioned in communications or websites. In addition, Millionaire Media LLC and Timothy Sykes accepts no liability whatsoever for any direct or consequential loss arising from any use of this information. This information is not intended to be used as the sole basis of any investment decision, nor should it be construed as advice designed to meet the investment needs of any particular investor. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future returns.

Citations for Disclaimer

Barber, Brad M. and Odean, Terrance, Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors. Available at SSRN: “Day Trading for a Living?”

Barber, Brad M. and Lee, Yi-Tsung and Liu, Yu-Jane and Odean, Terrance and Zhang, Ke, Learning Fast or Slow? (May 28, 2019). Forthcoming: Review of Asset Pricing Studies, Available at SSRN: “https://ssrn.com/abstract=2535636”

Chague, Fernando and De-Losso, Rodrigo and Giovannetti, Bruno, Day Trading for a Living? (June 11, 2020). Available at SSRN: “https://ssrn.com/abstract=3423101”