When athletes talk about the progress that they make, their achievements, their celebrations or how they have overcome challenges and setbacks they often talk about the importance of the support that they had around them through the journey.
Briton Goldie Sayers will belatedly receive her 2008 Olympic javelin bronze medal in front of a home crowd at next month’s Muller Anniversary Games.
“It means so much to me to be able to share this special moment in front of friends, family, coaches and teachers who all supported me for so many years during my athletics career.” (BBC Sport)
What is social support?
“An exchange of resources between at least two individuals perceived by the provider or recipient to be intended to enhance the wellbeing of the recipient” (Shumaker & Brownell, 1984, p.13).
Support provided from coaches, parents and peers in sport has been identified as an important resource for athletes. The quality and type of social support an athlete perceives and receives has been linked with (Bianco & Eklund, 2001; Holt & Hoar, 2006; Rees, 2007):
• recovery from injury,
• youth sport participation,
Structural support – the extent to which a recipient is connected within a social network, like the number of social ties or how integrated a person is within his or her social network. Family relationships, friends, and membership in clubs and organisations contribute to social integration (Bianco & Eklund, 2001)
Functional support – looks at the specific functions that members in this social network can provide, such as emotional, educational and tangible support. Data suggests that emotional support may play a more significant role in protecting individuals from the deleterious effects of stress than structural means of support, such as social involvement or activity (Lakey, 2010).
A closer look at types of support…
Emotional support –
• Individuals such as family, friends, and significant others provide emotional support such as listening and advising.
• They help you cope with the frustrations and negative emotions experienced in sport.
• Some individuals can help you cope with injury by educating young athletes about the specific injury and the rehabilitation process.
• Coaches and teammates can provide educational support by informing you of important team matters.
• Educational support can also be particularly important for young athletes as they go through a lot of learning to develop and progress within their respective sport environment
• This social support provides you with the day-to-day assistance within sport.
• This may be in the form of lifts to and from training and matches.
• Financial support to participate in the respective sport
Have you ever thought about the support network you have around you? Or the support that you provide for others? Many young athletes may not appreciate their support network initially, but they will recognise the value of the support around them as they gain more experience and are encouraged to become more independent in various environments.