From Adam Peaty’s nan, to Chad La Clos’ dad it’s in no doubt that family and friend play a huge part in making an Olympic champion, but did you know there actually loads of scientific research out there that says having close family and friends can actually have a positive effect on an athletes psychology at a major games. Here I outline how friends, family, teammates and coaches can help the athletes become Olympic champion.
Social support probably one of the most frequently cited and researched psychosocial resources within sport. The love and warmth that we get from those close to us provides an emotionally satisfying aspect to life. This support is a pretty useful coping resource when dealing with the pressures of performance, relationships, disruption to performance routines, and depression. In addition to this research has support the fact that social support actually buffers against the stress of training and potentially injury.
Each of the people involved in the social support process will have certain personal characteristics. Common to all of them we would normally find that a person providing support to an athlete would be a good listener, would be able to identify personal differences with the athlete, would be able to know the difference between effort and mastery of techniques, and would probably have some knowledge of what it takes to provide good social support. The best social support providers know that it is their job to provide support to their athletes.
The research describes at least 10 different types of support that others can give to athletes and you will find that many of these resonate well with athletes, friends and family alike.
Esteem support – These are behaviours that are used to improve self-confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of competence. Usually this is done through the use of good, positive feedback.
Listening support – Actively listening to athletes whilst not giving any advice or judging them can be a stress buffer. This happens when athletes and their family share stories, thoughts, and feelings about performance.
Emotional support – When family and friends give impartial help during emotionally challenging times athletes feel comfort. Support providers demonstrate this by accepting, encouraging, and showing empathy with their athletes. This is especially useful when facing a disappointing result.
Emotional challenge support – As a little bit of an extension to the emotional support above, this is when family and friends challenge their athletes to overcome goals, to push that bit harder.
Shared social reality support – By giving a reality check to athletes family and friends can actually give their athletes a sense of normalisation with the extraordinary experiences that they are going through.
Technical appreciation support – This is when coaches, family and friends show that they acknowledge their athletes’ achievements, and reinforce the amount of effort that they put in to training and competition.
Technical challenge support – Family, friends and coaches encourage athletes to always achieve more, to be excited about doing more, and to seek knew ways to train. This can really help when things get tough in training or when an athlete plateaus.
Personal assistance support – Family, friends, coaches, and teammates provide advice, guidance, and assistance to their athletes. They give skills, knowledge and expertise on challenging events within a career, which can help an athlete to feel they aren’t the only ones going through it.
Material assistance support - This is the one that will resonate most with parents of athletes. This is when family and friends provide things like transport, financial support, help with chores (e.g. ironing), all of which increases an athletes’ chance of becoming an Olympic champion whilst taking away the stresses of life.
Motivational support – This is simply when family and friends provide the encouragement to keep going when those barriers are raised.
As you can see social support can really help an athlete and most athletes will require a different selection of each of these social support processes. Most of the time athletes will have a wide social network and will have identified specific people to help with different areas of social support. Their social support will have been nurtured and developed over a long period of time, and will not be just put together as a reaction to crises but will have been developed as an on going program of psychological support.