Gratitude is a trait we should all be aiming to develop in the young players we work with. Developing better people first is a fundamental belief at PDP. So as coaches, how do we approach this? Mental performance expert John Haime discusses how players can shift their mindset and enhance their own experience through taking a grateful approach to their own development, outlining how a simple emotion can elevate performance


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 in football 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 a footballer?

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 footballers …

Grateful footballers appreciate what they have. While some players complain, make excuses and don’t appreciate the fantastic opportunity of sport, grateful players 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 footballers 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. You need your competitors!

Grateful footballers appreciate the journey and struggle

They know that there will be difficulties and football often goes in cycles. – ups and downs. Grateful players 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 footballers “sweep the shed”

Like the great World Champion New Zealand All Blacks who tidy up their dressing room after every training and game, and believe humility is aligned with greatness, grateful players appreciate everyone around them. They appreciate everything they receive – there is no attitude of entitlement.

Grateful footballers enjoy pressure

Is there pressure in sports? Yes! But, grateful players 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 players appreciate the meaning that pressure gives their experience. They know pressure is a privilege. Grateful players look around and appreciate the challenge that is being given to them.

Grateful footballers do not rely on winning

Because they are so focused on a great process and appreciate great competition, the joy of grateful players is not dependent on winning. They want to win, but appreciate their process, the competition and the challenge.

Grateful footballers let go

When it’s time to play and practice, it is done with purpose, intention and efficiency. Grateful players work hard with intention but also 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 footballer?

Here’s a start…

  1. 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.
  2. 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”
  3. As an exercise, at the end of each day, think about 2 things you are grateful for from the day. Get in the habit of being grateful for things in your football and in your life.

Remember to be grateful for what you have including your opportunity to play football. Football is not something you have to do, but something you get to do!

To see John’s fantastic new mental performance program, click here for more.

“Learn from a master of psychological performance in sport. Having spent a great deal of time speaking and working with John, I can personally recommend John’s new program, Be World Class: Building your Mental and Emotional Muscles for High Performance Sport”

 Dave Wright – Co founder, Player Development Project.

Popular searches: defending, finishing, 1v1, playing out from the back, working with parents