The power of social support when training

In this second post in my Motivation Series for the Precision Hydration blog, I look at the impact of social support on your training. (If you haven't already, check out the first article in the series on how to take a DNF/DNS in your stride!)

Are you self-motivated? Are you driven by external rewards? Are you someone who likes to train alone, with others, or both? Who’s in your social network, how can they help you?

Reflective questions like this can help you build metacognitive skills (effective thought processes, self-awareness).

Metacognitive skills can act like a compass: they can help you identify motivations, and help you plan strategies that encourage progress and achievement (of goals).

 

Look around you 

Talking to a friend/fellow triathlete, Jane, after an early morning swim recently, it struck me how powerful your social network can be when it comes to training…

Jane’s hamstring injury means no running for a few months and, while she’s been trying to swim and ride more, she’s increasingly bored and over her sport; she’s self-motivated and usually trains alone, but joins in weekend club rides and swims.

The rides aren’t working out though, as Jane feels frustrated watching some blast up a hill or speed off the front, while she takes it easier due to her injury. It’s the same in the pool - and although people mean well by asking how her injury is, she finds she’s often talking more about her injury at training, instead of swimming!

On reflection Jane realised that while she craved connecting with her tri club mates (her second family!) she found that being around non-injured triathletes left her feeling frustrated.

She actually felt demotivated around what has always been such a positive environment.

So, she found a compromise...

Towards the end of the season, she organised a social open water swim with a few close tri friends who she didn’t often train with, followed by a coffee in the sun. And she called on some of the bike-savvy friends who ran a bike tech session instead of a ride.

This helped Jane re-focus, take the pressure off herself, and gave her that push she needed to continue exercising despite her injury - and critically, to continue enjoying her sport and stick to her rehab.

Jane realised the social side of her sport was actually a stronger motivator than achieving results; and maintaining a balance of performing and connecting with others is what really drove her to keep training.

The social benefits of sport can be subtle, yet powerful in terms of motivation and adherence.

 

The power of shared experience

Research strongly suggests that training together - and even racing together - has a positive impact on performance.

That's not just in terms of results, but also motivation and sense of achievement.

Some suggest it’s due to sharing the pain (of an intense session), others report the higher levels of relatedness and empathy among a group of athletes can simply motivate you to put more effort in - perhaps it’s that sense of ‘collectivism’ that’s encouraged by being in a group.

Once Jane made a conscious switch from focusing on the frustrations related to her injury to the resources she had which would help her cope with the injury, she saw her social network with fresh eyes: “I guess I just focused on feeling sorry for myself.

I realised that injuries happen for everyone at some point and, actually, when I was really honest with myself, I realised that having friends and family around you who are like-minded means they’ll naturally encourage you to keep going.

This is because they get it - exercise is part of their life. The truth is, the more friends and circles of people you know who exercise, the more opportunity you have for support, all I had to do was change my attitude - and be a bit strategic with my social network.

This might simply mean you meet for a group session or meet a friend for walk, or just catch up with a friend for a cuppa who can empathise, which means they’ll actively listen (which makes you feel better and brighter).

Also, I find my friends offer really constructive suggestions in terms of ways around barriers to exercise (like injury, time/family pressures).”

 

Top tips for getting social with your training

  1. Organise social ‘sessions’ outside of scheduled/club training sessions
  2. Draw a mind map your social network (e.g. members of your family, work, sport, friends). Study it. Who haven’t you seen for a while? Who’s likely to want to catch up through exercise?
  3. Plan a session somewhere new (e.g. cyclopark, Olympic Pool, coastal trail) then go as a group
  4. Who’s currently injured? Who might like a bit of support? Give back.
  5. Events/training camps are great to do as a group, so plan one if you can! 

 

I hope this helps...

 

Evie Serventi is a Sport and Exercise Psychologist (BPS Stage 2), triathlete and editor. When she’s not by a river coaching triathletes, or trackside with runners/cyclists, you’ll find her talking to whoever is willing to listen about how we can help athletes rehabilitate successfully and return to their sport (her latest research project!).

She’s all about helping athletes not only develop the skills and attitude that helps them reach top of their game, but to stay on top when they get there. And they do. You can get in touch with Evie at sportpsych@evieserventi.com

 


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