Your long-term trading goal is probably to become a professional trader, or at least to make enough money from trading to pay your bills each month. Statistically speaking, you’re probably aware that the odds of you becoming a professional trader are not stacked in your favor. Similarly, the odds of any one high school or university athlete making it to the pros are also not too good.
There are clearly some similarities between the minority of athletes and traders who make it to the pros. What are these similarities and what can YOU personally learn from them to improve the course your trading ‘ship’ is on right now?
Whether you’re an amateur golfer or an amateur trader, there are certain mental ‘powers’ that you need to attain if you want to eventually becoming a professional.
Professional athletes are not afraid of failure
As a trader, failure is going to be a regular part of your weekly routine, and how you deal with it is what ultimately determines whether or not you become a professional. As an athlete, it’s exactly the same, but don’t take my word for it, read this quote from Michael Jordan:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan (#1 NBA Basketball Player of All Time)
Professional athletes, like professional traders, know that losing sometimes is not the end of the world but it is part of their profession, and so they are more concerned with doing the best they can, controlling themselves and winning long-term. Where amateur traders and athletes both get into trouble is letting losses affect them too much. As I discussed in a recent article about making stupid trades, you cannot become too emotional about losing or winning in the market, because doing so can easily spiral out of control and cause you to undo all the progress you’ve made.
A professional trader deals with failure in the market by always being cognizant of the FACT that they can potentially lose on any one trade they take. They accept this as a universal fact of trading and they work out a logical money and risk management plan to deal with this fact, but they do not become emotional or act ‘surprised’ at a losing trade, because they have already accepted that losing trades are a part of the process.
All you can really do with losing trades is accept that they are part of trading, not try to avoid them, learn a little something from them and then move on, but it makes no sense to dwell on them and fret over what “could have been”, even if you get stopped out by 1 pip, which does happen sometimes.
“What do you do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, and forget it.” – Dean Smith (US Olympic Men’s Basketball Coach)
Long-term success requires avoiding short-term temptations
Perhaps the most obvious thing that a professional athlete can you teach about professional trading is that you need to be focused on the bigger picture. I find that many, if not most traders, get extremely caught up in the trade they are currently in and with how much money they can make “this week” or “today” as opposed to focusing all that mental energy on how they can end up profitable for the entire year. If you are more focused on doing what you need to do to be profitable over a whole year, your trading approach is going to be drastically different than if you are only focused on the “here and now”.
Professional athletes have made it to the pros because they were simply more committed to their long-term goal than all the other athletes who didn’t make it, physical attributes obviously helped them as well, but in any professional sport you can find a story of a man or woman who was considered “too short” or not strong enough, fast enough, etc. yet they continued to excel in the face of these obstacles and made it to the pros. This goes to show that commitment to the longer-term goal can truly get you anything in life IF you actually follow-through with that commitment by being disciplined and having a plan (and sticking to it).
Just like athletes, traders get distracted from doing what they need to do to achieve their longer-term goal. An athlete in college might get distracted by partying late at night, doing drugs etc., while the soon-to-be professional athlete is getting a full night’s rest and waking up early to get a head start on practice…this shows a greater desire to succeed and a stronger commitment to maintaining the discipline that long-term athletic success requires.
Similarly, a trader will get distracted by trying to make a lot of money as soon as possible, which causes them to risk too much and trade too much, which inevitably causes them to blow out their trading account and never become a professional. Professional traders become pros by doing what the approximate 90% of traders who do not become pros are not doing, which primarily means being committed to persistent discipline, just like the professional athlete. Persistent discipline is the ‘magic ingredient’ that leads to long-term success in both athletics and trading, there are no short-cuts in either profession.
The worst enemy of a professional athlete is thinking too much when the game or match is on the line. In my article on why most traders choke when trading real money as opposed to demo trading, I discuss some of the reasons why both athletes and traders tend to choke when it really matters the most. A common enemy that plagues both traders and athletes is thinking too much and over-analyzing. It’s why a basketball player can score 30 points in a game and then miss the game winning free throw during the last few seconds. It’s also why a trader can run-up a demo account like a total pro and then blow out his or her live account a couple of months later.
Both professional athletes and professional traders know that experience trumps everything, and that is why professional athletes out-practice their peers who didn’t make it to the ‘big show’, they put in the extra time and energy actually doing what they love, not just thinking about it.
Similarly, professional traders simply love trading, from the losing to the winning, the charts and the self-discipline required, they love the process and they know that after they learn an effective trading method like price action, they need to gain experience and stop thinking so much. You can drown your trading success if you try to think and learn too much about the market, at the end of the day you just need to get your feet wet and start gaining real-world trading experience, after you’ve learned a solid method like price action of course.
The most frustrating aspect of being a trader and probably for athletes as well, is that you can indeed be your own worst enemy if you let yourself. The way to avoid this is by keeping your mind clear and calm by not over-analyzing everything or trying to take in too many trading variables. Professional athletes talk about being “in the zone” when they are on top of their game and everything just seems to be clicking for them in a very stress-free and flowing manner. Professional traders also sometimes discuss being “in the zone” with their trading when they are locked-in to what the market is doing and really trading in-tune with what the price action is telling them.
Being “in the zone” for a pro athlete or a pro trader is the end result of proper preparation but also of not trying to “force” the issue. Letting go of apprehension and fear, and trusting your gut while blocking out all other distractions (like news data, economic reports, other trading methods, market analysts, etc.), is how you create the right trading mindset to get into the zone with your trading.
This quote from professional big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton says it best:
“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.” – Laird Hamilton (American big-wave surfer)
The most important thing to learn from professional athletes
Finally, perhaps the most important thing that you can learn from professional athletes which you can apply to trading, is that a professional athlete had to truly be a ‘specialist’ to make it to the pros. By concentrating as much of their time and energy as possible on preparing for and practicing just one very specific sport, pro athletes are able to out-perform thousands, perhaps millions of other athletes who didn’t make it to the pros. To really excel at anything in life, whether it’s sports or trading, you’ve got to be dedicated to becoming a master of your craft and you’ve got to enjoy the journey, perhaps even more so than the destination. A professional athlete has truly mastered their chosen sport because they were focused on doing one thing as good as they possibly could, they were not trying to become pro in five different sports at once and they weren’t allowing all the distractions around them to affect their progress.
As a trader, if you really want to excel and become a professional, you’ve got to do the same thing. That is to say, you’ve got to truly become a master of one trading strategy and not let all the outside distractions affect you or influence your trading. Once you learn and master an effective trading strategy like the price action trading method I teach in my trading course and members’ community, the only thing standing between you and professional trading is the mindset, discipline and dedication shared by both professional athletes and professional traders.