Athletes, Media, And Mental Health
“Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.” –Bill Russel
One of the most common routines in an athlete’s life is having to deal with the media. From sports interviews before and after games to appearing in the news regardless of their performance (good or bad), to having to deal with the paparazzi, there’s always something media-related to deal with.
Many studies discuss how various aspects of an athlete’s life affect their psychology and athletic performance, but not many studies look deep into the effects that the media has on the mental health of athletes.
Trust me, there are quite a few.
In today’s article, I want to take a look into the lives of athletes to show you just how the various types of media, from TV to social media, have an effect on athletes’ lives— and what can be done about it.
How the Media Affects Athletes’ Mental Health
The relationship between an athlete and the media can in many ways affect their mental health, which in turn affects their athletic performance.
The Media can be a distraction
Firstly, to address who exactly the media is, the media is any individual or organization that publicly reports or makes statements about an athlete’s performance. The media could range from TV reporters to radio broadcasters, paparazzi, newspaper critics, fans on social media and blog critics, or other online platforms. With athletes having to deal with reports and news put out about them from every type of media outlet, it gets easy for the athlete to be distracted and lose concentration. Concentration is a vital part of athletic performance. It is the mental ability of an athlete to be able to focus on the task they are about to carry out.
When they are unable to concentrate, they won’t fully commit their athletic abilities to perform the desired action, which leads to poor performance. Distractions are not only present when the media beats down on an athlete’s performance, but also when it is overhyped.
The Media Causes Overconfidence
Usually, the media has a way of magnifying athletes’ victories making them feel more confident than normal. For example, according to a report from China Daily in 2004, many newspaper platforms and TV stations in China predicted massive wins for Chinese athletes following a few unexpected wins in the Olympics. Unfortunately, many of those predicted to win gold didn’t even make it to the award stand. After the Olympics, one of China’s divers, Peng Bo, confirmed that it was indeed a case of overconfidence due to the pressure from the media hype that caused them to get distracted and perform poorly.
The Media Causes Stress and Anxiety
Constant attention from the media can cause heightened expectations in athletes that cause them to struggle with fear of failure, stress, and anxiety. These factors can lead to underperformance. The athlete becomes hypersensitive to how their performance is perceived by the media and their fans, that they may start to doubt their abilities.
The Media Can Cause Low Self Esteem
Audience perception and expectations from the athlete through the lens of the media, also affect other areas of their athletic life, including their appetite, and body image. Some media outlets present athletes as having the “wrong” size or body type for their games, which may also lead to body image distortion.
Negative media and consistent media scrutiny can affect the way athletes see themselves, and cause them to worry about how they measure up in the eyes of the media and fans they’re trying to please. They may struggle with low self-esteem or low self-confidence.
How to handle media attention for improved mental health
Mental toughness is key in helping you keep a grip on your mental health when dealing with the media. This is why it is necessary to seek the help of a psychologist who understands the effects the media has on athletes to work through it together.
Your psychologist or therapist will help you tackle negative thoughts and regain your confidence, shut out the noise, and remain concentrated on your goal so that you can achieve peak athletic performance.