How Gratitude Improves Athletic Performance

Did you know that practicing gratitude can improve athletic performance? Research confirms what the world’s elite sports stars already know - that being kinder to yourself, and to others, and being grateful, is good for your mental health.  Athletes have talked about how having compassion, gratitude and a sense of perspective enable them to balance the demands of being a full-time athlete with having a family. Grateful young athletes are more satisfied with their teams, less likely to burn out and enjoy better well-being overall on and off the field. 

Why is it important that student-athletes should cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Here I share the main reasons: 

1. Gratitude encourages humility. When student-athletes express gratitude they move further from the entitlement epidemic so prevalent in society today. It is a small –but meaningful- way that athletes can demonstrate a we, not me mentality. 

2. Gratitude deters arrogance. In what some call the “ME-llinial” generation some student-athletes are focused on their individual stats, highlights, and successes regardless of their team. Expressing gratitude to those who have contributed to each athlete’s journey acknowledges that other people matter. No one became successful alone. 

3. Gratitude facilitates emotional control. Athletes who experience gratitude are likely to experience more positive emotions. This lowers stress, promotes problem-solving, and greater self-regulation. 

4. Gratitude fosters contentment. Not to be confused with complacency, contentment helps athletes to be grateful for what they’ve already received, and that better performance is in their future.  

5. Gratitude stewards stronger teams. Research shows that when people cultivate an attitude of gratitude on a regular basis they act with more compassion, generosity, and kindness. This has a positive impact on their relationships. A team with better relationships performs better. 

6. Gratitude inspires student-athletes to take better care of themselves. Grateful athletes tend to take better care of their bodies and they tolerate aches and pains easier. They sleep 10% more and feel more alert and focused. All that translates into better performance in competition and the classroom. 

Gratitude can enhance athletic performance in many ways. As a sports performance consultant and counselor, I believe you've got to exercise your gratitude muscles every day. Cultivating a consistent attitude of gratitude benefits athletes mentally, physically, and socially.  

 Here are four tips to enhance athlete's ability to practice gratitude: 

  1. List five things for which they feel grateful in a journal once a week.  

  2. Do one small thoughtful thing for a member of the family.  

  3. Write a short letter to someone who changed their life for the better and deliver it in person. 

  4. After a successful game, take a moment to personally thank someone who contributed to this happening.  

Kathy A. Feinstein is a top sports performance consultant and Parenting Peak Performers podcast host. If you’re a student-athlete, or parent of one, and want to learn more about the impact gratitude can have on your performance, contact us for a consultation.