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Athletes: Control your social environment – do not let it control you!

By Theodosia Neofytou, APC Sports Consulting, Nicosia Cyprus

Usually, when one hears the word “environment”, the first thing that comes to mind is our ecosystem.

However, there is also the artificial environment that we create within our societies that encompasses anything that involves human and social interaction and affects our decisions and our personality. Our social environment consists of the daily interactions and contacts that we have with friends, family, coworkers and anyone else with whom we have formed some kind of relationship.

The factors influencing our social environment are numerous and not easily controlled. Think of football teams, for example, that choose to spend the night before a crucial match in hotels with only members of the team present; this way, athletes stay away—essentially in isolation— from any kind of interaction with their social environment apart from their teammates and coaches, in an attempt to minimize adverse distractions and maximize performance. In particular, isolating athletes ensures that they will avoid undue and unnecessary pressure from acquaintances, friends and family. The day before a game—especially an important one—can be very stressful and even a well-intended comment by a loved one can have adverse effects.

Social media has also become a considerable and expanding part of an athlete’s social environment.  The financial and public stature of an athlete is nowadays highly contingent upon social media. Athletes make a lot of money from collaborations, such as sponsorships with well-known brands.  To be in a position to do that, athletes need to be able to exercise social influence on their fans and they need to be socially acceptable and admired by their fans.  Having a socially acceptable behaviour means that athletes have to be mindful of all their actions, on and off the pitch, and they have to be aware that their every move or word will have an impact on their fanbase.

Stress ranks as one of the top factors affecting an athlete’s on-field performance. Athletes may follow emotional coping strategies to deal with stressful encounters, but it is usually a part of an athlete’s everyday life to come face to face with criticism, both constructive and otherwise, by sports commentators, the media and their fanbase.  

Athletes have to realize that criticism from the outside world is part of the prize they have to pay for ‘stardom’ and, therefore, they should take criticism calmly and handle it maturely.  Athletes need to accept all opinions; however, that does not imply that they should either internalise them or welcome them. Sometimes critique comes from a bad place, from bitter people, thus, athletes should only pay heed to those opinions that matter, such as those of their coaches.

Overall, a good performance outcome is linked to an individual’s well-being, which, in turn, is dependent on their social environment. Up and coming athletes always sacrifice their personal and social life, prioritizing long hours of training over spending time with their loved ones in order to achieve their dreams of becoming successful professional athletes. Athletes need to find a way to balance their sports, personal and social life, as they need all of these components to be in sync, if they want to be successful.

Rapid money growth and sudden wealth are like a magnet for the people surrounding athletes; especially when more than six or seven digits are involved in the wealth calculation. A situation of sudden wealth may sometimes make athletes feel “trapped” and feeling compelled to reciprocate, because certain people have supported them during their years of development and feel that they have to get some sort of a payback when the athlete strikes it big.  Sudden wealth, if handled properly, is a great opportunity for athletes to build long-lasting wealth, using their sudden wealth as a medium for achieving their dreams.

It is difficult to control your social environment but, at the same time, it is up to the athletes to surround themselves with trusted professional and experienced advisers, who will guide them so that a balance is kept between the fine line of family, friends and financials, and prevent them from acting on impulse and on the basis of emotion. Social media platforms can be a force for good or ill, depending upon how they are used and controlled.

If emotion prevails, then, inevitably, the athlete’s social environment is the one in control and such a case may have a long-lasting adverse effect on both the emotional and financial wellbeing of the athlete.

Athletes and their coaches take note!

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