I get to marvel often at the amazing things that young athletes do. I get to see the transformation that takes place as they become stronger, faster, more graceful and powerful. I get to watch as they master a new skill or a movement and then bring that to the field or court or ice. And, no matter how many times I get to see those things happen I still find them amazing.
Something else amazes me these days and it happens at every training session – the players say thank you. I value the good manners for sure. Who doesn’t like to feel appreciated. But I’ve been learning that, that little unsolicited extra at the end of our sessions may be just as important as the running or jumping or lifting we do. In some ways maybe more so.
A post on the Professional Sports Psychology blog by G. Chertok turned me on to some research about the value of an attitude of gratitude in adolescent athletes. There’s a growing body of research on the role and benefits of gratitude on our health like the information reported by Drs. Blair and Rita Justice at the University of Texas Health Science Center or what Dr. Shawn Achor of Harvard University is finding out.
But, this research focused on athletes and adolescents in particular. The researchers found an attitude of gratitude positively predicted greater team satisfaction and life satisfaction and lower rates of athlete burnout. All good things if we want to help our players enjoy their experience and develop into healthy young adults.
What we mean by gratitude.
The researchers defined gratitude as “an estimate of gain coupled with the judgment that someone else is responsible for that gain”. For example, last evening I received an e-mail from a player letting me know she had just passed a fitness test with her team and thanking me for my help preparing for it. She did the work, ran the test and got the results and yet she was aware that others had a hand in her success.
This winter as point guard Jeremy Lin’s performance unleashed a wave of “Linsanity” on Madison Square Garden and the NBA, people were eager to tell the story of one man’s singular struggle against the odds to make it in the big time and fulfill a childhood dream. True enough but, in an interview with HOOPSWORLD Lin had this to say “From the outside looking in, everyone is saying, ‘Look what Jeremy has done,’ but people don’t understand that there are so many things that had to happen outside of my control to get to this point,” Lin said. “The timing of everything has been unbelievable and I think it’s a miracle from God. It’s really hard for me to explain. There’s a lot more going on right now besides just me – there are a lot of other people contributing that have made me look good. One week ago, I was just hoping that I’d be able to keep my job for the rest of the year,” Lin told HOOPSWORLD in a phone interview. “I’m just so thankful and grateful for everything.”
How to cultivate that sense of gratitude?
The same way we develop any quality, deliberate, intentional practice. The links above mention a number of ways. One of the keys seems to be simply taking the time to count your blessings. Here are a couple you might try to start with.
- Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed.
- Make it a practice to tell a family member, player, coach or team mate something you appreciate about them every day.
It takes time, patience and hard work to develop as an athlete. It doesn’t happen overnight and attitude is key in sustaining the effort. Research is showing that happiness and a positive attitude are less a consequence of success and more a predictor. Practicing a little gratitude may turn out to be just what an athlete needs to lift their game.