Social Media and the Athlete

Social media is beneficial in a lot of ways.  If there were no social media, I may have a much harder time sharing this article or sharing the things that Desin Sport Psychology has been up to.  I think that it allows for new connections and sometimes even inspiration, but there's no doubt that it hides a dark side.  That dark side can wreak havoc on the mental performance and mental health of an athlete if the proper perspective isn't in place.

When working with young athletes, we often have to have discussions about expectations.  How do you perceive the expectations of others?  Coaches, teammates, parents, etc.  Also, what are your realistic expectations of yourself?  All with the purpose of bringing athletes to the realization that a "self-focus" is the only way to be at your best mentally.  Sometimes we need help in developing expectations, but it takes the focus off of what we can't control and places it on the things that we can.  In my opinion, many aspect of social media fight directly against that.

There are plenty of studies out there that show relationship that dopamine has with how many "likes" someone gets on a post.  Dopamine has a similar relationship to drugs, alcohol, and gambling.  To be as direct as possible, there's a big-time risk for addiction.  And when athletes become addicted to the likes and the comments, the negative ones hurt that much more.  So now the athlete who has been working on building self-efficacy and confidence puts real stock into something superficial.  That eventually bleeds onto the field or court, where players are genuinely worried about what their coaches, teammates, family, and other peers think about their performance.  This adds perceived pressure, which negatively affects mental abilities and well-being.  Does this happen for every athlete?  Absolutely not, but it may contribute for some.

Now let's talk about the team aspect.  Coaches are now citing social media as an inhibitor of positive communication on teams.  The more we communicate exclusively using smartphones, the worse our real communication skills become.  Every coach should desire to have a relationship with their team and want their players to have a relationship with one another.  Those relationships can't be built over the phone.  Building relationships with teammates and coaches takes real discussions that build trust over time, and that can't be accomplished in 2 hours of practice every day.  This is why team-building is so crucial.

Antonio Brown has been on an interesting journey this season.  If you don't know, I urge you to look it up.  He has had a tumultuous relationship with the Oakland Raiders and a scandal that has essentially knocked him out of the NFL.  All of those variables aside, his use of social media has surely not helped his situation.  Brown seems to be "over sharing" his experiences, many of which should be kept to himself.  Not only do people seem to regularly criticize him, but he has responded many times.  I'm no social media expert, but this seems to show a strong need for approval and a false sense of reality.  This is an extreme example, but it seems to me to be a symptom of the bigger problem we will continue to face.

If anyone is interested in a little advice from a mental performance coach, just be careful with what you do on your phones.  You only have so much mental energy to expend on a daily basis, and I'm hoping that you're saving enough for the times you're called on to perform.  Although people love to celebrate the accomplishments of others, there are also some that love to tear others down.  Choose a self-focus, a team-focus, and try to be the only one who's in control of your mindset.


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