Facebook is the second most popular social networking site in the world with over 1 billion active users. With Facebook it is essential to choose how you would like to use it; as a personal communication tool to stay in touch with friends and family (especially if you spend lots of time away on training camps or competitions), or as a way of promoting you and your sport. If you want to use it for promotion you can either make your regular page open to everyone (which has lots of risks) or you can set up a fan page which can be used for more general social media posts.
A fan page means you can separate out private and public information, and build a more external focused community. There is a limit on the number of friends you can have on a regular page, but no limit to the number of likes a fan page can have. These pages are also indexed in search engine results, so they can be found more easily. You can make someone an administrator of a page on your behalf so they can post for you if you are in competition mode and trying to get into the bubble and staying away from all social media. It will allow you to reach thousands of potential fans by creating a large base of followers, which in turn can help you get funding and sponsorship.
- When you set up your fan page the most important thing is to use your name or, if it is taken, differentiate by using your sport. My sporting ability is not worthy of a fan page however if I was significantly faster in my sport it would be Josie Perry Triathlete.
- Once the page is created make your profile a professional picture, your cover picture a great action shot and make your biography relevant and up to date. Include links to your other sites (Twitter, Instagram, blogs or website). Make sure you have the right to put up the pictures you do so you don’t end up with a large copyright bill.
- Many Facebook pages look unprofessional, are out of date or just look like they were set up to try to get sponsorship. So doing yours properly will make it stand out positively. Great content will get you more followers (or Likes) so really focus on creating value for followers so they feel they get lots of benefit by following.
- Decide what you would like the tone of your content to be. Do you want to be seen as funny and entertaining? Factual and interesting? An expert on your sport? A commentator on your sport. Choosing this tone early on helps you put out suitable content straight away.
- Take people behind the scenes – what more do they learn from following your page that they wouldn’t see without it. The daily routine of training may be dull to you but the life of an athlete is interesting to many people. If you are travelling to competitions shots from the country you are in are great, and any insight for how things are done differently in the country you are visiting.
- Put up your schedule of matches or races – with links to buy tickets or ways to get involved (even race themselves).
- If you have any tips or information you have been taught or told by the experts who support you (physios, psychologists, strength and conditioning experts, nutritionists) then share these. This technical expertise will be really well received.
- You can upload video directly to Facebook so it plays automatically in your friend’s news feeds. Facebook’s algorithm likes videos which are directly uploaded so they will get more exposure. Think about what might be of interest; particularly training or prep before competitions. A highlight reel of matches or races. Something which works well for this is a video diary around big events so people can see how your training is going leading up to your competition or big event. If you have a high enough profile you can host a Q&A to answer live questions yourself or for you to interview experts you work with.
- If you want to give extra thanks to sponsors and more value for their sponsorship you can give them some space on your page with their logo, reviews of their products and how you use them, run a give-away of their products, put up posts with discount codes, put up videos of you using their products or speaking to their staff at company days, thank them for their support. You can use your page to thank others who support you like your coach, physio, strength and conditioning coach, psychologist or nutritionist.
- You can share other people’s content: You can set up a Google Alert to find out if anything is posted about you online (it will send you an email if your name is mentioned on a website) and then share that. You can also use a website called Mention (mention.com/en/) to tell you if anything comes up online about your sport so you have access to the latest news and information on your sport to be able to share with your followers.
LinkedIn used to just be thought of as the site for job hunting but it is now used much more widely; particularly by journalists and conference organisers so if you are looking for ways to promote yourself, get sponsorship or have a platform for finding work when you retire being on LinkedIn could be really helpful. It has over 500 million members and is the fourth most popular social media site so there will be a lot of people on there who could be helpful to you. Think of it as your online CV.
To get your profile looking professional you need to follow the following guidelines:
- Professional profile headshot for your picture – no holiday snaps – you want to show you could do a great job as an ambassador for a company.
- Add in a background photo of something highlighting what makes you special; could be of you in competition, or on a podium or meeting school children.
- Put in current responsibilities or expertise – this is the first thing people read.
- Think about the key words people might use to find you. Athlete, runner, footballer, spokesperson, leader. Drop these into your text where it works.
- Have you got any videos or photos of your competing? These would be great to add. Also add any press cuttings or interviews you have done.
- Filter the skills and endorsements so they match what you want to be known for.
- Try to customise your LinkedIn URL so you are easier to find. If firstnamelastname is already taken add ‘athlete’ or your sport to the end.
- Make your summary stand out. 2000 Characters. Use them well. Think about the key words people are likely to search for or the search words you want to be found by. Add in anything which makes your expertise or experiences significant.
- Build your network quickly by adding friends, other athletes, competition organisers, college or university alumni (if you attend / attended), leaders and influencers in your sporting field, your sports governing body staff and key clubs in your area.
- Join some groups. Pick some for interest and a few to get involved with. You will then pick up on interesting debates, wider connections and if you are a member of the same group as another user, you can bypass the need to be a first-degree connection in order to message them. When you connect with someone it is not just them, it is their network. So use it wisely. And be careful when you receive requests from people you don’t know.
YouTube is a great way to create on online visual portfolio of your sporting career. It can show sponsors or coaches how dedicated you are to your sport and how passionate you are about it. Videos are also a great way to show off any specialist skills you have.
- Don’t feel you need to follow tick boxes on YouTube – videos can be as long or as short as you want. But start off with a couple to get your channel up and running. You don’t need brilliant video editing skills. You can usually do everything you need on your phone or laptop.
- It sounds very simple but think about the name you pick for your channel. It needs to be fairly sensible if you are to be taken seriously as an athlete. What may be funny now won’t be if a sponsor decides it is too out there to represent their brand effectively.
- Keep what you post fairly tame – no changing room shower shots, controversies, or outspoken rants. It isn’t worth the fall-outs of potential sponsor rejection.
- Think about the title you use for each video so it is easy for people to find it when they search.
- Leave really positive, encouraging comments on other athlete’s videos and they may come watch yours. Engaging on other people’s YouTube feeds will help highlight that you also produce great content. So be active with creating content and commenting
- Use your other social media channels to link to anything you put up on YouTube.
- YouTube is all about creating great content that people want to watch. If you have a team mascot then you can have great fun doing races or games with them before or after a competition and posting the video.
- If you have a tough strength and conditioning workout do little ‘shots to camera’ throughout it explaining what you are doing and why and post it up afterwards.
- If you have good nutrition then videos of you baking healthy sports specific food can be helpful for people. Making your own sports drinks or energy bars can give other people great ideas and is valuable content.
- Short video diary extracts for any announcements you make about your sport, matches or competitions or injury breaks you are taking will also be of interest.
Instagram is brilliant for athletes as what you are doing every day creates fabulous aesthetics. It can give a behind the scenes peak into your daily life as an athlete with the ups, the downs and all the hard work. Here are 10 tips to get the most out of time on Instagram.
- If you feel sub-conscious or too shy promoting yourself perhaps think about it as not promoting yourself as a person but as an individual doing your sport to try to inspire others and bring more people into your sport.
- Set up a professional looking profile. The pictures can be the same as your twitter pictures with your headshot picture being you in kit and your background picture being a mid match or competition shot. In your biography you should include your sport and club and link to your club’s Instagram feed.
- Rather than think of Instagram as an online photo album it can be more effective to think of it as a way to tell your story – sharing videos of your training or straight after competitions will give some insight and help people see the journey you are on with your sport. This helps inspire and build a genuine connection.
- Remember our stories won’t always be perfect. In fact they almost never are. Our lives don’t travel in a nice straight line. We all have ups and downs and you will connect much better with people if you show this. Don’t do it to the detriment of your career (ensure you don’t post anything which gives your competitors one-up on you) but, where you can, be honest about the struggles and loses you have, and about the learnings and wins. This will make you a much truer ambassador for your sport and show you as an authentic athlete.
- Use hashtags so your shots can be found easily by people not yet following you.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously – have fun with it. Make beautiful pictures which authentically show your life – both the fun side and the hard working side.
- Follow others. This will help build up your followers and give you great ideas on what to share. It also helps you see great content you may want to share with others. Key people to search for will be other athletes, nutritionists, exercise experts (rather than influencers), psychologists, coaches and physiologists.
- Use filters. They make a big difference to how frequently they are viewed. A research project through Yahoo Labs found filtered photos are 21% more likely viewed and 45% more likely to have a comment made on them. So use them liberally.
- Every month or so look back through your posts, see which ones received the most likes and comments and tailor your future content more along these lines.
- If you struggle to think what content you could post consider including:
- Photos from workouts and exercises – these can give people examples and ideas
- Meals you eat which are great for supporting your training – with the recipe on another picture so other athletes can try making it too.
- Quotes or tips which have helped you see things differently or inspired you.
- Travel pictures of where you are training or competing.
- It can be nice to sometimes have a theme to your pictures such as having your club mascot pop up in some shots or taking shots from a certain angle.
- Join in ‘days’ such as Medal Monday, Transformation Tuesday, Throwback Thursday, Flashback Friday or SelfieSunday.
- Follow other athletes in your team or club, athletes on the national team for your sport or other athletes in your sport you admire or are interested in their career path.
- Follow the governing bodies for your sports; at local, national and world level.
- Think about the companies whose products you currently use and companies you would like to be sponsored by and follow then, join in competitions and engage with them.
- Follow the media organisations and journalists who cover your sport, your local area or your hometown (if you have moved away) and retweet with comment any relevant stories they publish.
- Follow coaches and support experts in your sport – retweet any great articles they share.
- For all these people tweet them to say you have joined twitter and ask if there is anyone great you should be following. People often enjoy being asked for advice and offering tips.
- Check the big organisations in your sport, see who they follow, who are they retweeting and who they interact with and follow them.
- When you see anything of interest to others in your sport retweet it, sometimes offering your own comment.
- Put your twitter handle on your website, Facebook page, email signature and any printed material you do with sponsors so you can continue to grow followers.
- Do your twitter yourself. Some high profile athletes have an agent or manager tweet for them but this can feel unauthentic and followers realise they are getting something corporate and filtered rather than the actual views and perspectives of an athlete.
If you are going to use just one social media site make it Twitter. It is a great way to publish information, engage with fans (your own and of your sport), to market yourself and appeal to potential sponsors. While most of the 1.3 billion people with accounts won’t see your tweets, if you work hard to build a great content feed and grow your followers you can make an impression on the people who can help your sporting career. Here are 10 tips to help use twitter effectively as an athlete.
- Have a professional profile name – not a comedy name you gave yourself years ago and thought would be a giggle. Your twitter name should be as close to your real name as possible as this is how people will look for you. If your name is already taken you can add your sport to it. The easier you are to find the more it will be used in the media and so you’ll great more followers.
- Have your profile picture be a professional headshot of you in your sports kit. This is often the shot a journalist would use or a company you are speaking for may pick to put on any information about you so it needs to be one you really like.
- Use hashtags as these are easily searchable and it means more people will find your tweets if they are trying to find out more about a subject. To find the best hashtags to use there is a tool called Hashtagify (hashtagify.me) helps you decide. You type in a keyword that stands out from whatever you are sharing and it gives you other important related hashtags.
- If you have any type of public profile in your sport put out news on your social media first. This means people follow you to hear news first and you reward those who follow you with exclusives.
- Decide on your twitter tone and stick to it. You need to be yourself and authentic so let your personality and humour shine through, but ensure you don’t alienate anyone or be rude to others. Some what ‘not to do’ ideas from professional athletes who have screwed up can be found here. https://performanceinmind.co.uk/2016/09/28/the-ten-social-media-mistakes-athlete-make-most-often/
- Having a good variety of positive, professional and interesting posts is key. These could include information on kit or sponsors, charity or awareness campaigns you are involved with, match or competition comments, community work, training, nice comments about team or club mates, the build up to matches or competitions and thank yous to people for coming to watch you.
- Join in other people’s conversations. Only get involved in things you know about or want to learn more about but this will help you show you are an expert in your sport as well as competing in it. Learn from others and offer your opinions and sporting expertise.
- Use photos (they get on average 35% more retweets), videos (28% more retweets), quotes (19% more retweets) and hashtags (16% more retweets). If you have professional photos taken at competitions or matches and they go up online retweet them or ask to use them. These are striking and get followers attention.
- If you want to get the best engagement there is a tool called Buffer (buffer.com) which looks at all your tweets and measures what time people interact with you most. Then you can schedule tweets for these time periods.
- To make great content, take people behind the scenes of your life and your sport. Think about how you can be useful to your followers. Insight into your sport, interesting facts or figures, comments on competition will all be of interest to sports fans. Show people what it is like to do your sport. Changing room photos or videos (but these must not embarrass anyone else), training shots, little videos of gym routines can all be of interest.
I attended a week long workshop a couple of years ago at the English Institute of Sport and one of the people leading it was Steve Ingham. He had some great advice on how to build our skills as applied sport scientists so I bought his book as soon as it came out. And then it spent a year sitting in my reading pile as it felt like it would be too heavy and ‘grown up’ to read.
Today I finally got a chance to read it and it was so easy to read I finished it in an afternoon. It was not at all what I was expecting. I bought it thinking it would give me lots of things I could do with athletes to make them better – what it gave me was lots of ideas and approaches I should be using with my attitude to be a better practitioner. This is far more valuable. It doesn’t tell you how to be a good practitioner – but it really makes you think about your practice, the questions you ask and the way you ask them. He is really clear that often it is not what you know but how you know it. He suggests that sometimes you have to question your grounding thoughts to build yourself a firmer evidence base and think critically around what you read. He is also clear that often it is not about the facts and figures but about the ‘so what’ – what should athletes do with the information you give them.
It is incredibly honest. There is no ego bursting out of the spine of the book here. Ingham is very open about all the mistakes he has made and how he would behave differently now. This gives a real authenticity to the book and all the suggestions he proposes.
I loved his advice for those already on the journey – here are a five nuggets which I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing:
- Before you aim to build rapport and trust with your athletes ask for feedback from people you trust about how you come across.
- To work well in a team then only push the ideas you are passionate about if they are something you would pay for yourself.
- To think critically question everything including, and especially, the literature, and start to build your own evidence base.
- To be truly accountable think about who your key relationships are with, what their needs are and what keeps them up at night.
- If you are trying to influence others use reflective thinking and find someone you trust to share some of these thoughts with before you share wider.
If you work in any area of sport science or coaching; in fact with athletes in any way there is so much you will learn in this book. It will set your brain off on new adventures and force some really positive reflections. It should be on the reading lists of all practitioner courses.
Within my sport psychology practice I’m getting increasingly interested in how athletes can use mindfulness to become more aware of their thoughts. I’m not convinced meditation and mindfulness techniques as a whole work universally, and some of the research starting to come out is suggesting that while they can have a really positive impact for some, for others they can even be harmful. But what I do love about the mindfulness process is the moments of relaxation they give you and the ability to start to notice your thoughts better and become more aware of what is flittering around inside your head. Often these are the things we’ve been trying to squish and ignore but are actually holding us back, filling us with a little bit of dread. Acknowledging them and accepting they are there gives us an option to do something about them.
I was really interested when I saw that William Pullen had bought out a book on Mindful Running. From his work with individuals requesting therapy he has managed to combine some of the benefits of running with the benefits of talking openly and feeling like you are being really listened to. He has turned this idea into; Dynamic Running Therapy. As far as I can see no academic or peer reviewed studies have been run on it but the grounding for it feels sensible. There is a lot of research on the positive impact of running on mental wellbeing. There is a lot of strong research on the benefits of mindfulness. This therapy pulls them together but can feel fairly anecdotal for those approaching it from an evidence-based background.
Pullen’s idea is that the movement of your body helps you get closer to what is going on inside you so you can understand it more and process it better. Depending on the issue you are dealing with; depression, anxiety, relationships, anger or decision making, Pullen offers a bunch of questions for you to ponder while running. These feel helpful as a way to approach mindful running, to give you something to actively chew over. Alongside this, Pullen suggests you keep a diary to track your progress. Training diaries or even daily life diaries can be so beneficial for keeping us aware and switched on with what we are feeling. I also really liked the reminders Pullen included about how we are working to notice our thoughts but that we are not our thoughts. When we get into a negative place it is often difficult to remember this so setting out on a process with this front of mind is helpful.
I feel after reading Pullen’s book that this could be really helpful for some people but it comes with two caveats. Firstly, as a sports psych, most of the people I work with are athletes, and so setting out on run is rarely ‘just a run’ with the option of having enough head space to actively become aware of your thoughts. Even with that as an aim, experienced athletes will be noticing pace, niggles or registering times and heart rates. So this is perhaps not suitable for those who take their running seriously as years of training will have taught them to subconsciously read their bodies, not their minds. Secondly, I think this will be personality dependent. I felt; partially due to the subject matter and partially due to how he writes, Pullen makes dynamic running therapy feel like a hug on the move. Cosy and welcoming for some, off-putting for others.
So if you are interested in how you can use running to increase your mental awareness and potentially wellbeing, and are not already a runner, this maybe an approach for you to consider.
January provides the obvious opportunity to assess where we are in life, and where we want to be. We may have had some time over the Christmas break to reflect and we may have set resolutions, or goals for the new year. This can be really positive and give us a feeling that we’ve got a fresh start coming. But it can also mean we realise there are some things that need to change. And change can be hard, and sometimes requires some difficult conversations. Those conversations may be with a partner, or a relative, or even someone you work with like a boss, a team member or a coach. They are usually really daunting and nerve wracking which means we get flustered, we feel under threat and what we want to say can come out wrong.
Here are eight of tricks to put yourself in the best place to have those difficult conversations:
Your physical positioning: Rather than sitting face to face with someone which can feel rather confrontational, being side by side can feel much easier and can take some of the emotion and threat out of the situation. Side by side during a walk or car journey can work well.
Preparation: Write yourself a short note of what you want from the conversation. This helps when you get flustered to keep the tone positive and proactive, rather than becoming an opportunity to throw angry points around. You may want to yell and scream but keeping in mind what you actually want from the conversation will make it a lot more productive with fewer implications if you say something you can’t take back. Use this ‘goal’ as your mantra to keep you on track if you get tempted to pour out everything you are feeling.
The right timing: Make sure there is enough time for the conversation needed. The worst thing is for it to be squeezed into a small gap and the other person to get called away and you having gone through that worry and preparation and not having an outcome.
Know where you will compromise: There is no one universal truth, we all have our own versions, from our own perspective, so it is rare that a difficult conversation ends with a black and white, yes or no or simple outcome. Instead think about your boundaries and where you are prepared to flex them in advance so you don’t feel on the back foot if someone pushes you back.
Try to talk early in the day: If we are nervous about a tough conversation we will wind ourselves up over the day until we are in a great deal of stress. This stress puts our body in a ‘fight or flight’ mode where the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking gets hijacked and we find it much harder to have the conversation we want without tears or frustrations or anger creeping in, ramping up the feeling of conflict within the room.
Use a breathing technique: To calm yourself down before a tough conversation try colourful breathing. This is where you breathe in red (or choose a favourite colour) air for four counts through your nose, hold deep inside you for two counts and then breathe out blue air for six counts through your mouth.
Let the other person vent: Sometimes we just need to have our views listened to, and acknowledged as valid, before we can even think about working on a solution. Playing the grown up in a tough conversation and letting the other person have their say can actually speed up the process and get you both to a resolution much quicker.
Use breaks strategically: if you find yourself getting too worked up and too much emotion creeping into the room excuse yourself for some water or a bathroom break to get yourself calm again. Keep it positive though (rather than looking like you are running away!) so say something like: “I’m so sorry but I could really use some coffee before we continue. Would you like one too?”