That answer is a little different for everyone.
The 3 common things
1- High Training Frequency and Proper Stimulus
2- Proper Nutrition and Sleep
Although, if somebody is going to go that far, they were going to get their regardless anyways as desire trumps everything. You could put 500 obstacles in somebody’s way, but if they believe it’s possible, and it’s that important to them, they will always find a way.
What do those people do that others don’t?
They dream. The dream has to be vivid and clear. They read, go to sleep when others are out having “fun”, and follow a nutrition plan unlike their buddies eating whatever whenever. They find and embrace challenges and pain.
Why do so few get to the very top? Simple. Only that many are willing to do what it takes. Most don’t want to live a life of that much discipline.
1- High Training Frequency and Proper Stimulus. How much is enough? You have to build the base of the athlete initially to give them a chance. Recovery is the limiting factor of how much an athlete can train. If they have spent the time to build an initial base, they are going to continue to be able to do more increasing their chances of reaching their potential. The younger the athlete when they start training year round in a weight room, the higher their potential. If they start with 2x/week of weight room training + 4 days of games/practice in 5th grade, by the time they are in 8th grade, those same athletes will need to be training at least 3x a week in a weight room as well as 5-7 practices + game per week. By the time that athlete is in college, they will be training in a weight room 4-7x a week as well as 4-8 practices + games per week. This is all individual dose dependent as we must account for the athletes past history in sports and training to get an idea of where to start them. Some athletes will progress better with 4-6 weight room sessions a week rather than 1-3 sessions a week and others will be backwards. This all depends on sleep patterns, eating patterns, and the past training history of an athlete. How can you figure out how much you need? Track data. Make sure it is improving. If it is not, now it is time to figure out why. The end goal is to be able to train the most, but you have to earn it through food/sleep and building up over time.
In regards to proper stimulus, just guessing and doing what we have always done isn’t always the best practice. If something can’t be proven through tracking of data, we don’t know if it is actually doing what we want it to do. If an athlete is trying to get faster, why would they go do only bicep curls or never ever sprint at full speed for short distances? If they have front squatted for years and can’t get their max to go up, they need to figure out what muscle group is lagging in order to get their max to keep going up. The law of accommodation also similar to the law of diminishing returns, but we’ll save those for another day.
2- Proper Nutrition and Sleep. Food and sleep set the base to be able to recover. We so often look for quick fixes, a new supplement, a certain food, new tool like a Thera gun, etc. None of those will trump proper food intake and proper amounts of sleep. If you aren’t doing those two things but trying to do the others, you are stepping over $100 bills to pick up pennies. We could go on and on about the nutrition aspect, and it gets deeper and deeper the further down the rabbit hole we go. If an athlete is truly trying to reach the top, they will be tracking food, using meal plans, and being diligent with each. Calories, macronutrients, nutrient timing, all of which will play a part in their performance based diet. For most, this is too much stress initially although and they would be better off to start with small pattern changes. Again, most individuals won’t do every single thing that it takes. It takes a ton of discipline for all of this.
3- Time. The younger an athlete starts taking his/her training seriously, the more potential they have. The bigger the base, the taller the pyramid. In America, we think weights are dangerous and sports are safe. If we were to look at a force plate and see how much force is going on there when an athlete plants to cut vs when they squat with a 10lb DB, which is going to show up as higher in force? The plant step to cut. That is MUCH MUCH harder on the body than picking up a 10lb DB 20 times. If an athlete is in the proper system, they will be setting and breaking records 24/7. Years of that and one day they look up and can’t believe just how far they have came. If I broke my squat record by 10lbs every 3 months for 7 years, that is a total of 280 more pounds. The same can be done with jumping heights and sprint times year after year when programmed properly.