Athletes’ uneasy relationship with social media and how it can help you achieve your goals

It’s no secret that the Aussie Olympians dropped the ball in the pool in London last year (apologies for the mixed metaphor). With several of the brash youngsters touted as sure things for medals it came as some surprise when Australia flew home with only four gold won in the pool (all claimed by the women’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay team).

Recent controversy suggests dry land misbehaviour was to blame for the poor performance. However, rumours have been floating around for a while now that social media may have been the real culprits behind Australia’s severe gold shortage at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Backstroker, Emily Seebohm, was so inflated as a result of reading comments on Facebook and Twitter that she went into the 100m final over-confident and ended with a disappointing (but still incredible, really) second. Her response: “I obviously need[ed] to sign out of Twitter and log out of Facebook a lot sooner than I did”.

And who could forget the gun-toting bad boys of the Aussie swim squad, Kenrick Monk and Nick D’Arcy? After a photo of Monk and D’Arcy posing with high-powered pistols and shotguns was posted to Facebook, the duo were reprimanded and banned from using social media for four weeks. D’Arcy agreed that logging in to Facebook and Twitter would only “serve as a distraction”.

Swimming Australia certainly takes social media seriously. They produced these guidelines in an attempt to prevent Facebook et al from distracting swimmers, coaches and anyone else remotely involved with Australian swimming.

A mate of mine, Verity Hosken, recently commented on the fact that English footballer Marvin Sordell sought treatment over his Twitter addiction.

NFL running back, Arian Foster, announced this week that he’s shutting down his Twitter account, despite having more than 375,000 followers.

The common denominator? All of these athletes agree that if they want to focus properly – and achieve the lofty goals they set for themselves – social media must go.

And while the effects of too much social media might be heightened for top-level athletes (according to more than 80% of fans juggle watching sports on TV with browsing social media sites, and over 9,000 people per second tweeted when NFL player Tim Tebow threw an unexpected touchdown), the dangers of over-indulging are as real for us as they are for the physically elite (and I don’t just mean mental dangers – check out how English boxer Curtis Woodhouse dealt with this keyboard-happy Twitter troll last week).

Take a look at your social media consumption. Are you maintaining a healthy diet? Or are you gorging yourself; becoming so bloated with tweets, likes and hashtags that you’re sending other (potentially more important) tasks and responsibilities to the bench?

If you can’t eat breakfast before you’ve checked your Facebook messages or can’t wait for a traffic light to change without retweeting your favourite comedian’s latest witty quip you might have a problem. And if you’re spending more time ‘connecting’ on LinkedIn than you are actually working, it’s probably worth asking yourself whether social media is helping you achieve your goals or if it’s serving as a distraction.

To be clear, I strongly believe social media to be an extremely useful (and positive) tool – if it’s used correctly. But if any of the above is hitting home with you, consider taking some steps to improve your social media health.

  • Start small. Designate an hour each day as social-media-free time.
  • Make an effort to connect with your friends and loved ones in person instead of online.
  • Remove social media apps from your smartphone and/or tablets. If the temptation isn’t right there in front of you it makes it a lot easier to resist.
  • Prune your social media tree. Do you really need a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Vine, Path and Foursquare account?
  • If your case is serious delete your account, or have a friend change your password. Remember, you can always start again.

Follow these tips and you’ll be back in social media shape in no time. And if you’re finding it too hard to quit, remember what Oscar Wilde said: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” After all, who ever said athletes are better role models than writers?

Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.



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