Grit: Successful Footballers And Happier People

Gritty People – Successful Footballers & Happy Individuals

Grit is the perseverance and passion for long term goals and an unswerving dedication to achieving that mission (Duckworth, 2016; Tough, 2013).

This character trait is the difference between the people who initially get excited about a long term goal and then fizzle out when they lose interest or face obstacles, compared with the people who start their long term goal and pursue through the difficulties, set-backs and pressures involved with long term success. 

“To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.” – Duckworth, 2016

Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare – Angela Duckworth

Many people may assume that grit and intelligence go hand in hand. However grit is only faintly related to IQ – “there are smart gritty people and dumb gritty people” (Tough, 2013). In fact those with lower IQ scores and higher grit tend to be more successful than people with high IQ but low grit scores. In a study conducted by Duckworth et al (2007) grit accounted for up to 4% success in success outcomes, taking into account the vast amount of aspects needed for success, this statistic can be viewed as very high.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard – Kevin Durant

So how does this relate to footballers and athletes? Some studies suggest that young players who relentlessly purse their long-term goals may be where other players fall short (Jordet, 2016). Players will experience difficulties during their football education, grit is a fantastic indicator of players that will persist through these challenging times. Only players who are highly committed to their goals are willing to perform the thousands of hours of practice needed to develop into an elite performer (Baker & Cote, 2003).

Even more importantly, high grit has been shown to equal high life satisfaction (Duckworth, 2016), in other words high grit = happier people. Expert on Grit, Angela Duckworth created a grit scale, the scale has 10 questions and in the end gives you a rating out of 5. The below graph shows the link between grit level and life satisfaction:

Screenshot 2019-02-23 14.17.20.png

Taken from Duckworth, 2016

You can check out your current grit level in accordance with the grit scale here.

Remember the player Fabio Paim? The player that Cristiano Ronaldo said “If you think I’m good, just wait until you see Fabio Paim.”

What went wrong? Here’s what Fabio Paim said:

“At one point, I could do more than him (Ronaldo) but I did not have what he had, which is the strength and desire to be what I wanted to be. He had a great work ethic and I didn’t have that.”

“I had the quality, at least as much as him, but I did not have the rest.”

“I would have preferred to have less quality if I had more of the other part. I would have been one of the best in the world. But, no one is born perfect. I thought having talent was enough but it’s not.” – GloboSport, 2017

So what does this tell us? Firstly, that Fabio Paim would have been happier to have gritty attributes such as desire and work ethic than to be talented. Talent is not enough, whether it be football, business or learning. ‘Talent’ (whatever talent might me) may get your foot in the door, but without grit to persist with your goals when the inevitable setbacks in football and in life occur then you will never get the rest of your body through that door.

More and more we are starting to see Academies looking for more than just the ability to strike the ball with sound technique or the talent to be quicker & stronger than the rest. Scouts are now looking towards the psycho-social aspect.

Staff at Bayern Munich analyse the many ‘non-talent’ aspects for their young players, such as: character, the ability to handle difficulty while absorbing skills, confidence and sensibility. –  Townsend, 2015

Sport, science and technology expert Amit Katwala’s (2016) suggested as much in his book “The Athletic Brain”:

“Maybe instead of searching for sporting IQ or the million-dollar brain, scouts need to find the young athletes with the grit and determination to put the hours in, even if they’re not very good at first.”

To conclude, being gritty is a very strong predictor of success, and more importantly of happiness, fulfilment and wellbeing. In a world where mental health is affecting more and more people, coaches are urged to educate and encourage their players to increase their grit.


1. Create a Gritty Culture: Each persons grit enhances grit in others, therefore you, the coach, needs to lead by example, ensure your staff do too. Great time for this is how you respond to a loss, go back in to training and have the same energy and desire as is more akin to when teams win, show the players that setbacks are going to happen, and how you deal with them may be the most important thing in whether you succeed or not.

2. Praise Gritty Actions:  A player persist with a challenge even when difficult? Praise it! A player creates a routine for themselves and sticks to it? Praise it! A player fails and tries again? Praise it!

3. Share Stories of Inspiration: Use examples of current or past players in your team or who you’ve coached. Use examples of famous sports people, Michael Jordans reaction to being dropped from his high school basketball team; Beckhams reaction from being the most hated footballer in England to being an international captain and hero. The sporting world is full of examples.


1. Hard Thing Rule (via Angela Duckworth’s book ‘Grit’): This has three parts:

  • Find something challenging, something hard that requires daily deliberate practice.
  • You can quit. But you can’t quit until the month/season/year is over. You must, at least for the interval to which you’ve committed yourself, finish whatever you begin. (in other words you can’t quit on a day when your coach yells at you, or when you lose a match heavily or you had a boring session)
  • And, finally, the Hard Thing Rule states that you get to pick your hard thing. Nobody picks it for you because, after all, it would make no sense to do a hard thing you’re not even vaguely interested in.

2. Assess Your Grit Score regularly: Like most things, ‘Grit’ is something that can be improved on, note down what’s been working for you, and use it to track your progress.

3. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: “We get stronger when we test ourselves” (Wooden, 1997). Theres small ways that you can practice this off the pitch: For example, if you’re not used to speaking to people on the phone then phone up to order a takeaway instead of doing it online. Speak to your parents on the phone instead of messaging. Ask a favour that you know will be rejected*

*For some creative and amusing ways to get out of your comfort zone read Jia Jiang’s book ‘Rejection Proof’. Or view his YouTube channel.


Reference List

  • Baker, J & Cote, J (2003) Resources and Commitment as Critical Factors in the Development of ‘Gifted’ Athletes. High Ability Studies, 14, 139-140
  • Duckworth, A (2016) Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Ebury Digital  
  • Duckworth, A; Peterson, C; Matthews, M & Kelly, D (2007) Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 6, 1087-1101
  • GloboSport (2017) Sob a sombra de CR7, Fábio Paim queria ser brasileiro: “Deveria ter nascido aqui” [online] Available Hereaccessed 28/05/2020
  • Jiang, J (2015) Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible, One Rejection at a Time. Harmony Books
  • Jordet, G (2016) Psychology and Elite Soccer Performance, Chapter 16 Soccer Science: Using Science to Develop Players and Teams Edited by Strudwick, T Human Kinetics, USA.
  • Tough, P (2013) How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
  • Townsend, J (2015) Ascendancy Comes in Many Forms: Bayern Munich Report. Nscaa Soccer Journal. September – October, 2015. 
  •  Wooden, J. and Steve Jamison. (1997). Wooden. New York: Contemporary Books.

Author: coachphilp

Masters Degree in Fútbol with Real Madrid Universidad Europea (Voted #1 Football Masters Degree in the World) 16 years coaching over 3 nations. “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have laboured hard for.” - Socrates

2 thoughts on “Grit: Successful Footballers And Happier People”

  1. Hi Phil, I really liked your new post, and you are very right about what it is about and I felt represented in what you say about the perseverance and dedication to achieve the objectives. greetings from Argentina.

    ________________________________ De: Coach Phil P Enviado: lunes, 1 de junio de 2020 14:09 Para: Asunto: [New post] Grit: Succesful Footballers And Happier People

    coachphilp posted: “Gritty People – Successful Footballers & Happy Individuals Grit is the perseverance and passion for long term goals and an unswerving dedication to achieving that mission (Duckworth, 2016; Tough, 2013). This character trait is the difference between”


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