New study of social media use and athlete performance

Athletic performance at major sport events is unlikely to be affected by use of social media, new research shows.
Athletic performance at major sport events is unlikely to be affected by use of social media, new research shows.

Athletes who use social media during major sport events are not likely to be distracted from the task in hand when it comes to competition.

New research at Griffith Business School shows the use of platforms like Instagram and Facebook can potentially enhance athletic performance rather than work as a distraction, by nurturing positive thoughts and easing pressures.

However, without a one-size-fits-all finding, researcher Michelle Hayes suggests athletes should use social media how best it suits each individual and consult the guidelines of sports organisations.

Feel connected

Michelle, a PhD candidate at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management, has studied the social media activities of 57 Australian athletes competing at international level across a range of sports.

“Most people instantly see it as a negative, just another case of people on their phones all the time,” she said. “However, I found the main purpose of social media use by athletes is to communicate with their families while they’re away – often overseas – at major events. It helps them to feel more connected to family so it’s an important way to relax and escape from everything around them.”

The other main purposes of social media use that emerged were the promotion of sponsors and brands, highlighting PBs and providing competition results, and gathering information about the activities that are going on around the event itself.

“Athletes like to share photographs to show their family what it looks like. This is their way of showing their family, friends and supporters the glitz and the glamour of the event through their eyes.

“There is a misconception that this distracts them. On the day of competition it is not a good idea, especially if one athlete checks out the achievements of an opponent and this makes them anxious. But using it during down time can be beneficial in athletes relaxing.”

The majority of athletes (63%) interviewed were aged between 15-24, with a third aged from 25-34. Females (60%) made up the lion’s share of the interviewees.

Among the comments by athletes were the following:

“Would have had quite an impact as I used social media to keep in contact with my girlfriend while away as well as my family and coach. Keeping in contact with them helps me mentally so I don’t get too homesick and stay positive leading into the race.”

Support network

“Being able to switch off during competition mode is important for me to be able to perform at my best. Also I rely on my friends and family as my biggest support network therefore I need to be able to communicate with them.”

“It made me feel much more relaxed than at other competitions where I did a social media ban and was overwhelmed with the pressures to perform and be serious and focused at training.”

Michelle Hayes is continuing her investigation of social media use and social media distractions among elite athletes and invites anyone interested in participating to contact her at Griffith Business School. Email michelle.hayes3@griffithuni.edu.au