Photo by Ethan White, story by Kate Boles.

The Missouri High School Athletic Association has a clear list of what is considered a sport and what is considered an activity, but whether or not something is considered a sport, there are many different factors that go into what makes an athlete.

Starting out at a young age, kids like senior West Side Girl Katie Baker started to get involved in different activities to burn off energy. “My dad said to me I was dancing around my room or the living room when I was younger and he said to my mom ‘if you don’t put her in a dance class I will,’” Baker said.

For other kids, it took some trial and error to find out what they wanted to be involved in. “Up until about eighth grade I hated golf but everyone, all my brothers and my dad played golf, but I would never want to. But once I quit baseball, I got to go off and I had a pretty good start at it. Like it was just like beginner’s luck, I guess. So I kept going,” junior golfer Charlie Russell said.

There are a number of factors that go into deciding whether someone is an athlete or not and different people have different definitions. According to the athletic coordinator, Jeremy Hubbard an athlete is someone who has a unique set of skills that include mental toughness, perseverance, time management and the ability to be coached and take constructive criticism.

There are different views on how much the physical side of an athlete contributes to the connotation of their character. Junior runner Will Caroll said that the physical aspect of running, although it’s a key component, isn’t the most taxing part of his sport.

Russell also said that even though training your body and keeping in shape is very important due to staying healthy and avoiding injury, it’s more about technique and skill than anything else.

Even though dance is considered more of an art form, Baker said that it takes practice and effort to perfect, “it is a sport because you have to make it look easy when it’s not easy.”

Athletic trainer William Ballantyne said that an athlete is someone that not only has physical strength, stamina and agility but also has strong mental focus and has a goal for themselves to achieve a certain level of performance.

Mental toughness is something that Carroll said is one of the biggest components in running, and it’s one of the main things that sets it apart from other sports.

“I think it’s about 85 percent to 90 percent mental strength. When you’re running, you want to just give up and lay on the ground, at least from my standpoint. But once you become a runner and you have that [basic] training, it’s really about can you push yourself mentally to handle the pain,” Carroll said.

Another aspect that Ballantyne and Hubbard said was important was the want and drive to achieve goals and work toward them. “There’s never any point that you should think you’re good enough you should always want to get better. So I think being an elite athlete their mindset is always going forward, not looking in the past just getting better and better and better,” Russell said.

This mental stamina, coupled with the ability to physically excel are the driving factors behind what makes an athlete. The definition isn’t black and white but there is a commonality between all athletes. Baker said “Someone who changes every day and is committed to the sport. Someone who loves it and you can tell it in a passionate about it.