The Grateful Athlete …
How a Simple Emotion Can Elevate High Performance
By John Haime
What are you grateful for?
That might seem like a strange question to ask a high performing athlete, but the emotion of gratitude can help take your performance to the next level.
Let me explain …
Research has linked the emotion of gratitude to better overall physical and mental health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression. Athletes are more satisfied with their teams, less likely to burn out and enjoy better well-being overall.
In my work with athletes, and in previous articles I have written, I highlight the importance of “enjoyment over achievement”. Making sure that enjoyment is at the forefront of performance with achievement following. The athlete who pursues achievement in sport so diligently that they forget about one of the key purposes of sport, enjoyment and fun, can often end frustrated and miserable. The athlete who pursues enjoyment first, with a deep commitment to excellence and improvement is the athlete who lasts and achieves.
So why can focusing on gratitude be so beneficial to you as an athlete?
Well consider that it is impossible to have two emotions at once. And, the same goes for thoughts for that matter – we can only handle one thought at a time. As an athlete, this is important for you to know. When you do feel negative emotions that limit your performance, you have the option of changing your state to a positive emotion – and gratitude is a great one to make the shift.
A few characteristics of grateful athletes …
Grateful athletes appreciate what they have
While some athletes complain, make excuses and don’t appreciate the fantastic opportunity of sport, grateful athletes are excited to have the opportunity to play a sport they love and all of the benefits that go with that sport (fitness, relationships, life lessons, joy of winning, the learning from losing and the opportunity to challenge and test your abilities).
Grateful athletes are grateful for competitors
Appreciate your competitors! Competitors can bring out the best in you and without them you do not have the opportunity to play and test your limits. Competitors give you an opportunity to bring out your best. In his autobiography former Olympic track star Carl Lewis reports that he chose to embrace his competitors as essential in the quest for performance excellence rather than as enemies meant to be beaten down. Lewis won 10 Olympic medals, nine of them gold.
Grateful athletes appreciate the journey and struggle
They know that there will be difficulties and sport often goes in cycles. – ups and downs. Grateful athletes learn from these struggles to always move forward. There is an appreciation in the value of their struggles and an ability to look at the big picture and know there are brighter days ahead.
Grateful athletes “sweep the shed”
Like the great New Zealand All Blacks who tidy up their dressing room after every game and training, and believe humility is aligned with greatness, grateful athletes appreciate everyone around them. They appreciate everything they receive – there is no attitude of entitlement.
Grateful athletes enjoy pressure
Is there pressure in sports? Yes! But, grateful athletes recognize the incredible opportunity they have to demonstrate their skills and test their limits. You play a game you love often with people engaged and cheering what you do. Grateful athletes appreciate the meaning that pressure gives their experience. Grateful athletes look around and appreciate the challenge that is being given to them.
Grateful athletes do not rely on winning
Because they are so focused on a great process and appreciate great competition, the joy of grateful athletes is not dependent on winning. They want to win, but appreciate their process, the competition and the challenge.
Grateful athletes let go
When it’s time to play and practice, it is done with intention and efficiency. Grateful athletes appreciate and enjoy their time away from practice and competition – appreciating all parts of their life.
So, what can you do to become a grateful athlete?
Here’s a start …
- Realize how lucky you are to be playing a sport, having the opportunity to express yourself and having the opportunity to give your life meaning.
- Remember you can only feel one emotion at once. Replace anxious feelings with feelings of gratefulness – make the decision to change your state with a shift to being grateful for this great opportunity to participate in your sport.
“I can’t do this … or what will they think if I lose …” shifts to a grateful attitude …
“How lucky am I to do this and test my skills”
- At the end of the day, think about two things you are grateful for from the day. Get in the habit of being grateful for things in your sport and in your life.
Remember to be grateful for what you have including your opportunity to play your sport. Sport is not something you have to do, but something you get to do!
John Haime is President of New Edge Performance. A former professional athlete and current bestselling author of “You are a Contender! Build Emotional Muscle to Perform Better and Achieve More … in business, sports and life”, John understands how athletes think and feel … he’s been there – under the most intense pressures of amateur and professional sports. As a world-class coach in the area of performance and one of the world’s leading authorities in Emotional Intelligence, as it relates to performance in sport, John coaches athletes in all sports and generates results with world-class athletes, executives and artists in a variety of performance areas. He is trusted by some of the world’s leading athletes – professional and elite amateur. See www.johnhaime.com to learn more.