Performing your absolute best is no easy task. Success is often
accompanied by large doses of stress, setbacks, and adversity. It's
hard to imagine coping with everything alone, but many athletes try
this without realizing the invigorating effects of social support.
This month, the benefits of social support are examined with advice
offered to make sport more enjoyable, less stressful, and, hopefully,
more prosperous too.
No Athlete is an Island
Having adequate social support means being involved in social
relationships, connected with other people, and feeling understood
and cared for. Essentially two forms of social support exist: (1)
caring and emotional support, and (2) help and guidance. Whereas the
first type provides the athlete a valuable sense of being understood
and appreciated, the second offers specific information and direction
needed to thrive in a competitive setting.
Research has documented the tremendous value of social support.
Benefits include stress relief, increased perception of control over
events, decreased health threatening behaviors such as substance
abuse, fewer illnesses, and a longer lifespan. My own research
suggests that social support led to more positive mood states
following injury among members of the 1996 national champion Florida
Gator Football team. It appears that social support is even more
important than I had previously realized.
Although social support is needed by everyone, athletes in individual
sports including tennis lack the large social support resources found
in team sports. This may leave them particularly vulnerable to
stress when the going gets rough. Needless to say, I believe all
athletes would benefit from the services of a qualified sport
psychologist in enhancing social support.
Lean on Others
Many athletes consider it a sign of weakness to seek out help,
isolating themselves when distressed. Common sense and empirical
evidence indicates that "a little help from your friends" is a much
Here are some suggestions to enhance social support in sport:
The message this month is to realize that we're all in this great
game together, and that relying upon one another for support is both
fun and wise. Have a party! Until next month ...
- Share your problems and goals with your colleagues and teammates.
Rather than being criticized for your openness, you will probably
find that disclosing aspects of yourself is very well received. If an
issue is too sensitive, share it only with those closest to you, or
seek professional counseling.
- Offer social support to others when they need it. The listening
and sincerity you provide them will be amply reciprocated when it is
your turn for a mental equipment checkup.
- Seek out a support group away from sport. Athletes often become
severely distressed following retirement from sport. Alternative
social networks provide great balance and help ease the transition
away from sport to a new career. Pre-retirement counseling programs
are also of great value.