The modern media environment makes sport a very different experience for athletes. They don’t just perform and maybe chat about it afterwards with a journalist. They have to behave with the media in mind at all times. I researched this a few years ago and interviewed 10 Olympic athletes as to their experiences.

I discovered that the media environment has changed the way athletes feel they need to behave and perform. I found six key insights:

  • There is a need to ‘perform’ at all times. No opportunity to switch off and relax as there is always someone watching, an Instagram post to do or someone who might see you and post a photo.
  • The media increase expectations so the athlete feels they have more to life up to and far higher pressure.
  • There are sponsorship requirements which may take time out of recovery and training and mean you need to be ‘switched on’ and performing.
  • The focus in the media is on medals and stories – the athletes can feel they have been reduced to a commodity.
  • Both social and traditional media can feel very intrusive, asking questions you would rather not answer and making you constantly question is this is the ‘accepted’ way to behave.
  • It reduces the distance between you and others. In some areas this is brilliant – social media can keep you much closer to friends and family. But it also gives trolls and journalists instant access to you.

I found that these pressures have a distinctive impact. For some they facilitate great performance – they love the way it motivates them, helps build team cohesion and sets them up for jobs in the future. For others though they see the media as debilitative; distracting, threatening and adding additional competitiveness. Knowing which type of athlete you are can be very helpful to navigate round the challenges successfully. The full paper is here if you would like to understand more on this subject.