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By Enio Sacilotto

My life mentor Jon Lee Kootnekoff told me many years ago, “An attitude of gratitude is altitude”!  It took me several years to figure out precisely what this means. 

The Harvard Medical School definition of gratefulness, “With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”

Many high-achieving professional athletes are grateful for what they have; Drew Breese, when he became the all-time leading passer in the NFL, thanked all the people that helped him in his career.  Ryan O’Reilly thanked his parents after winning the Stanley Cup.  In his Hockey Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Paul Kariya thanked his minor hockey organizations and his coaches for helping him get to where he is.  The list of successful, grateful athletes is endless!

Winning in sport is essential. If it weren’t, there would be no purpose in playing the games.  There would be no incentive for players to put in hours of hard training to improve their skills.  Sports is not only all about winning and outcomes; it’s learning life lessons such as patience, teamwork, work ethic, discipline, willpower, compete and gratitude.

It is a privilege to play sports and be on a team; many people in the world do not get the opportunity to go to the rink, get equipment, have games, and compete.  With all our business, we can sometimes overlook the concept of gratitude.

Expressing gratitude will help you become a better athlete! 

Psychology research shows that athletes that practice gratefulness are: more engaged, more enthusiastic, see everything with a positive perspective, are more productive, have a proactive mindset, sleep better, express compassion, have more vital immune systems, get along better with teammates can persevere through challenging times and generally play with a greater sense of enjoyment.  They have more fun!

A grateful athlete’s attitude shifts away from blaming, complaining, anxiety, depression, resentment, jealousy, negative self-judgment, and other negative emotions that hinder performance.

Here are eight things athletes are grateful for and the benefits that come along with them:

  1.  They appreciate what they have –  grateful players are excited to have the opportunity to play a sport they love.  They understand all of the benefits that go with that sport; fitness, relationships, life lessons, the chance to challenge and test – your abilities.  Entitlement is the worst attitude an athlete or coach can have.  Entitlement stands in direct opposition to gratitude.  Understanding – and being grateful for – the gift to play can help prevent an athlete or coach from taking that honor for granted. Thankful players are humble!
  • Recognize people who help and support them – They regularly take the time to verbally thank parents, coaches, trainers, teammates, referees, and everyone who supports them.  They also recognize people who go unnoticed, such as the iceman at the rink, the receptionist, and the team manager or administrator working behind the scenes.
  • They appreciate the struggles and adversity they go through – Sports is an up and down activity; grateful athletes recognize that things are not always going to go their way.  There will be injuries, losses, poor performance, and team conflict.  They tackle issues head-on and ask themselves what good can come from this situation?  What can I learn?  They recognize the cycle, fix the issues, and know there will be more fantastic times coming ahead.
  • They enjoy the pressure – There is lots of stress in sports; grateful players recognize the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and test their limits. Thankful players appreciate the challenge.
  • They appreciate their competitors – They compete hard against their opponent and do everything they can to beat them.  At the same time, they understand that playing against good teams makes them better and brings out the best in them.
  • They are coachable – They understand that coaches want the best for them and make them better athletes.  They recognize and accept constructive criticism from coaches.
  • Grateful athletes have better emotional control – Being grateful is associated with positive emotions.  Positive Emotions reduce stress and increase the ability to problem solve, and have greater self-control.
  • Gratitude promotes fun and happiness!

Teams that practice Gratitude will benefit:

  1. Gratitude promotes a more robust team – Research shows that people who practice gratitude act with more compassion, generosity, and kindness.  Gratitude creates positive relationships among the team members.  A team with good connections will perform better!
  • Gratitude eliminates Arrogance – By focusing on their stats and outcomes, some athletes neglect their team.  A team needs everyone to be successful, and this is acknowledged when each member expresses gratitude for each other’s contribution.  No one can become successful alone!
  • Gratitude improves team performance.  Research shows that grateful people are more compassionate, kind, and generous.  Team members create great relationships when team members are thankful to each other for their respective contributions.  Teams whose members have positive relationships perform better!

Ten activities you can do to promote your gratitude

Gratitude is like working on your skills and your fitness.  You need to work on it every day, push yourself out of your comfort zone for you to improve.  Five activities you can do to work on your gratitude (these activities are for coaches as well as players); remember to think outside of “you”:

  1.  Keep a Gratitude Journal – At the end of each day, take a few minutes and think about two things you are grateful for from the day. Get in the habit of being thankful in your sports life and your everyday life. Gratitude helps your way of thinking from “I have to” do something more like, “I get to” do something. It can take up to 30 days to start reaping a gratitude practice’s mental and physical benefits, so stick with it.
  • Appreciate what you are about to participate in before a practice or game; stop, take a deep breath and appreciate.
  • The night before a big game, take 15 minutes to write a gratitude list.  Research supports athletes who do this before bed, quiet the brain and limit worrying (thinking about the worst possible outcome).  The result is they will sleep longer and more profound.
  • Create a Compelling Story – Write a story focusing on why you play the game, why you love the sport, your strengths, and how you use them to help the team.  Write about coaches and teammates who have been supportive, highlights of successfully overcoming challenges, and how you have grown mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as an athlete and person.  This activity will inspire and motivate you to give your best.
  • Meditate for ten minutes per day.  Be grateful for something and put your focus on it. Examine how it makes you feel, how it improves your life, and what forces you have to thank for it.
  • Create a gratitude journal and list five things for which you feel gratitude once a week. 
  • Do a thoughtful thing for a member of the family. 
  • Write a letter to someone who changed your life for the better and send it to them.
  • After a successful event, take a moment to thank personally thank someone who contributed to this happening.
  1. Create affirmations that declare yourself as an athlete with an attitude of gratitude. Examples: “I am grateful for being able to play sports.” – “I am grateful to my teammates and coaches.” – “I am grateful that I have practiced so I can become a better player.” – “I am grateful for the mistakes I make and turning them into teaching moments so I can become a better player.” – “I am grateful for the various challenges and obstacles that I faced and how they have made me mentally stronger and tougher.” – “I am grateful for the drills, exercises, running, and workouts in the weight room that make me physically stronger.” – “I am grateful to my parents and family for their support and encouragement.”

Four things teams can do to promote gratefulness

Coaches take the time to promote a “we” mentality by having your athletes appreciate their teammates, strengthening the team’s bond.  Players will feel confident that they can accomplish tasks, rely on their teammates and coaches for support, overcome adversity, and push themselves harder.  Here are some activities you can do with your team:

  1.  Have your players write a gratitude list before practice, then verbally share it with the rest of the team.  It will create a stronger mindset and a more cohesive practice session.
  •  Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude in Your Locker Room – Put up a whiteboard in your locker room and have players write one thing they are grateful for each week.
  • Create an attitude of gratitude by touch.  Examples are fist pumps, high 5’s, getting in a circle, and putting their hands together.
  • Have the athletes verbally thank each other for their efforts.  For example, if a player gives thanks to his teammate for pushing his limits in a drill, the teammate will feel valued and encouraged to work hard at the next practice.  In turn, that teammate will thank another teammate, and the cycle will continue, raising the bar for the whole team.  Gratitude is contagious!

Having an attitude of gratitude will not cost you anything; it is simple, and it is free!  It will help you reach your personal and team goals.  Make the effort of expressing thanks for the good things in your life and see what happens!

Enio Sacilotto is President of International Hockey Camps and operates the Mental Edge High-Performance Coaching. Enio has 38 years of coaching experience (professional hockey in Europe and the Victoria Royals (WHL)). Currently, he coaches the North West Hawks U15 and the Croatian National Men’s team. If you have questions or are interested in any of his services, contact Enio at or call 604 255 4747. Website: