This is the time of year when we all want to focus on things we’re thankful for. It’s an exercise that keeps us adults grateful for what we have in our life, but it’s also important for kids. Keeping an “attitude of gratitude” can help our kids be better friends, siblings and even 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 practices so hard.”

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.