It should come as no surprise that the God who created us and the universe we live in implores us all over the Bible to be grateful people.
Aside from the Bible encouraging us to be thankful, studies show that people who practice gratitude are generally more happy, healthy, and optimistic about life.
Despite the encouragement that God and our culture give us to be grateful—and the many reasons athletes specifically have—it can be hard to practice gratitude in the midst of the daily grind of our sport. Our ability to be grateful often ebbs and flows with the circumstances in front of us.
Gratitude is like a muscle—it gets stronger if we consistently give it attention and push it beyond its level of comfort. Conversely, if we fail to exercise it consistently, our ability to be thankful atrophies. It needs to become a habit.
In his latest book, Your Future Self Will Thank You, Drew Dyck talks about the importance of habits: “The key to living a holy life isn’t simply to out-battle temptation at every turn. It’s to build righteous patterns into your life. It’s achieved through habits.”
Athletes, we need to intentionally build habits that will grow the muscle of gratitude in our lives.
With that in mind, here are eight habits of thankful athletes, mental choices that athletes can incorporate into their daily lives to grow and maintain their gratitude “muscles.”
Grateful athletes take time to soak in the moment
Before practice or competition, they stop, take a deep breath, and make it a point to appreciate what they are about to engage in. Who else on this earth gets to play a game they love in front of fans who cheer them on in the process?
Is there pressure involved in that? Sure. But grateful athletes make it a habit to pause and enjoy, if only for a moment, the unique opportunity they get to experience.
Grateful athletes recognize people who go unnoticed
They shake the hand the of maintenance worker who helps cut the grassy field that they are about to tear up with their cleats or the janitor who mops the floor so their feet won’t slide on the dust. They write their athletic trainer a thank you note for taping them up, helping them rehab, or stretching them out before practice. They give a hug to the die-hard fan that is at every game and cheers for his/her team regardless of the outcome.
Grateful athletes fight against entitlement
They recognize every blessing they receive as a gift they are not entitled to. Entitlement stands in direct opposition to gratitude.
Grateful athletes fight against the “I deserve” mentality that is so pervasive in our culture by thanking the giver of these gifts and frequently checking the posture of their heart.
Grateful athletes are coachable
They listen to the advice and instruction from their coaches and, when appropriate, from their fellow teammates. They realize they do not have all of the answers. Even if they disagree with input given, it will not keep them from at least testing it out on the field. Grateful athletes have an appreciation of the authority they currently sit under. They also have a desire to soak up any knowledge given to them.
Grateful athletes look for silver linings
They understand that life is not always going to be rainbows and butterflies. There will be hardships in the form of injuries, losses, poor performance, and team conflict.
Grateful athletes do not pretend these circumstances do not exist or pretend they are not affected by them. They do, however, constantly ask themselves “What good can come of this or has already come of this?” in the midst of the struggle.
In difficult times, gratitude can be tough to grab onto. Grateful athletes make an effort to step back, look at the bigger picture, and cling to any silver lining they find.
Grateful athlete’s joy is not conditional
They do not need a win or an epic personal best to be thankful. The genesis of their gratitude does not come from favorable results, nor is it circumstantial.
They understand lasting joy cannot be found in a game delivering both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. How do they set themselves on a trajectory of consistent gratitude?
They put their hope in the one who does not change. God. They read—no, devour His word. They participate—no, are actively involved in a community of like-minded people to sharpen one another.
At all costs they stay connected to the one who calls himself “The Rock.”
Grateful athletes recognize excellence in their opponent
They have an appreciation for their competitors. Have you ever noticed that rivals tend to bring their best to the table when they play? Grateful athletes practice gratitude towards a rival on two levels.
One, they are thankful that their rival will ultimately bring out the best in their own performance.
Two, because their joy is not dependent on winning, they are able to appreciate and look forward to the competition itself. Grateful athletes have a unique ability to want to beat their opponent while at the same time appreciating the intensity that is about to ensue.
Grateful athletes are aware of the idolatry trap
They know one of the greatest enemies of gratitude is idolatry. With this is mind, they aggressively attack an idolatrous mindset—and quickly repent when they inevitably fall short.
They are like Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14. After healing a guy, the crowds start worshipping them. Sound familiar athlete? But instead of bro hugging and saying “Thanks! All glory to God!” they plead with the crowd to stop worshipping them. “We are men just like you!”
Then, once they have the crowd’s attention, they share about God.
Grateful athletes view their sport as a gift from God to steward for the good of others, not just themselves. They look for ways to leverage the platform sport offers to share God’s love with those in their sphere of influence.
P.S. If you want me to send you some free resources (including the first chapter of my book The Assist: A Gospel-Centered Guide to Glorifying God Through Sports, subscribe below and I will send you some great stuff! I promise not to spam you either:)