HOW TO USE GRATITUDE TO BUILD STRONGER TEAMS

By Nancy Justis, Iowa Youth Sports Initiative

Being thankful isn't exactly a new idea. But the latest research shows that gratitude can have a profound impact on our everyday lives.

Recently, there's been much in the news about how practicing gratitude can make you happier, more charitable, mentally stronger, and even help you sleep better.

As many coaches at all levels of sport know, athletes and teams can also benefit from practicing gratitude.

How Gratitude Creates Stronger Teams
Sports are celebrated for their ability to bond families and teams. But those rock-solid relationships are only formed when there is gratitude and respect for the people around you.

Teri McKeever, head swim coach at the University of California and formerly the U.S. Olympic team, believes gratitude completely transforms the energy of her athletes. Before some practices, McKeever makes time for gratitude by giving each swimmer pen and paper. After writing 10 things they are grateful for, the group shares their lists aloud.

"[The athletes] like it because after they've had a hard day [they get to] take a moment and think about what [they're] grateful for, and also hear teammates express that," McKeever said in a speech at the 2015 Greater Good Gratitude Summit. "Those practices are always more productive, cohesive, and enjoyable for all of us."

Focusing on even the smallest positives that create gratitude, in and out of sports, helps build the invaluable relationships that are critical to a successful team and a positive sport environment.

How Gratitude from Adults Helps Kids Become Better Athletes
Getting young athletes to be grateful doesn't necessarily mean forcing them to keep a gratitude journal or treat every dinner like it's Thanksgiving.

Instead, it can be equally effective to set a strong example of gratitude by:

Trying hard to find the good in every situation: "I know coming off the bench isn't fun, but it meant that your teammate also got to be a part of the team's success and you got the rest you needed to play harder later in the game."
Noticing the little things: "I really appreciate how Bobby always uses two hands when catching fly balls."
According to B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist and behaviorist, people learn best through operant conditioning, a method of learning that consists of rewards and punishments for behavior. Hearing positive reinforcement and statements of gratitude, even if the praise is not about them directly, can have a big impact on how young athletes act on the field, with their teammates, and toward the world.

How Gratitude Can Change Youth Sport
Appreciation of everyone's role at a game can also help create a more positive environment for the athletes and all those involved.

Instead of criticizing the teenage referee, be thankful they are using their Saturday to help your child have a safe and disciplined sport experience.

Instead of disagreeing with the coach's decisions, try being thankful for how much time they give to the team outside of their other responsibilities. Recognize that coaching is a position of continual learning, and there are only so many minutes to go around for players.

And instead of seeing opponents as adversaries, view them as training partners who will help your athlete improve at their sport. Even if it's a blowout, be grateful for the experience that can teach your child that in sport—and life—we all face setbacks, and the only thing you can do is accept the outcome, learn from it, and move on.