Gratitude has been identified as a life skill worth cultivating, not just for the general population but for athletes and coaches as well. It has been associated with a numerous indicators of well-being, including increased positive affect, optimism, and hope; as well as decreased depression and anxiety. Learning how to intentionally cultivate gratitude supports increased sport and life satisfaction, decreased burnout, and perceived social support, thus a perfect antidote to stresses.
While one-time interventions have demonstrated significant benefits, multi-session gratitude interventions have the potential to strengthen these positive effects as well as team dynamics, according to professor, Nicole Gabana from Florida State University, who ran The Athlete Gratitude Group (TAGG).
To generate more positivity within yourself or team consider taking a thirty-day challenge to strengthen you gratitude muscle by tracking things that you are grateful for. You can then see the results for yourself.
I personally try to experience the benefits in my own life and have witnessed transformation in teams and athletes in the quality of sport experience. Probably the most dramatic transformation was with a university woman’s basketball team I worked with many years ago. As the team approached the half-way mark of their competitive season, they found themselves with a less than 50% win average. As part of a reflection process for improving performance in the second half they identified the ‘process goal’ to “celebrate the little victories”.
They shifted their focus to generating positive energy on the court with more high fives, more “good job” statements; generally to be more encouraging to one another. This proved to be a positive and winning combination that turned their season around, leading them to the conference final.
Whether you cultivate gratitude as part of a group experience (which is awesome to do), or as a personal daily habits, here are some guidelines for getting started.
For an individual, use a gratitude journal. Set aside 5-10 minutes a day to reflect and write about the things that you can be grateful for, and appreciative of. Pausing long enough to experience the gratitude from a multi-sensory perspective can increase the energetic power. So, that is not only listing the items but noticing how the gratitude item makes you feel, what you notice in your body, what you notice in your emotions, even what smells, sounds, and sensations your experience when you think about what you were thankful for.
Gratitude can come from many different aspects of life, both the little (micro i.e. an assignment completed, a felt improvement, a great play, a good meal) and big things (macro i.e. the opportunity to participate in competitive sport, that you have a roof over your head and food to eat). Other categories are to be thankful for the relationships and people in your life, qualities you appreciate about yourself, even appreciation for lessons that can be learned from difficult situations.
For a team or group, consider having a gratitude wall, or a specific time each week you share something you are thankful for. Perhaps in the beginning you may feel a bit uncomfortable sharing; however as individuals in the group take on the positive leadership, others will soon follow. The key is to practice a respectful environment where individuals are listened to and appreciated for sharing.
Mental health is important for everyone, and gratitude is one simple practice you can develop to contribute to yours.
All the best in both sport and life,
Abstract for AASP workshop-22, “The Athlete Gratitude Group (TAGG): A Positive Psychology Intervention for Athletes and Teams (2019)