Social pressure is everywhere in sports. Between social media, tight-knit race communities, and a naturally competitive environment, there’s no avoiding it! In a lot of ways, social pressure is what makes competition enjoyable and binds us all together as athletes, but in some cases it can actually hurt your progress. Let’s take a look at some common pitfalls athletes experience through social pressure, then address a method to turn each one around.
More is Better Mentality
We wouldn’t be human (or competitive athletes) if we were not driven to compare ourselves with our peers. “People are virtually incapable of judging their own abilities without reference to some criteria, especially the abilities of others” says Simon Marshal, in The Brave Athlete. This is why we love to compete, but it can also be detrimental.
When comparing their training to others, “More is Better” seems to be the most common mistake people fall prey to. We feel like what we are doing is never enough compared to our peers, so we add workout sessions, increase volume, increase intensity, and whatever else it takes to keep up. Unfortunately if we don’t keep our eyes on our own paper, this can lead to injury or overtraining.
So try to push your feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness aside when you begin comparing your training to others. Instead, find humility and encouragement to get feisty and strive for your own peak state rather than drowning in the harmful emotions caused by comparison. Not only will this make your training feel more sustainable, but it will help you stay healthy and perform better.
Seeing that podium photo, start list, or travel post can quickly make you feel like you missed out on the big race or opportunity of the year. It’s great to feel inspired by your community, but race FOMO can also cause athletes to register for races they are not ready for, or ones that do not align well with their annual training plans. We think it will be so much fun to have the accountability and camaraderie, but if you’re not ready for the demands of the race, it’ll only make for a stressful and negative experience.
Fortunately this one is pretty easy to avoid. Before clicking submit on your next race registration, simply consult with your coach or take a closer look at your annual training plan to determine if you have a reasonably ambitious goal or just a bad case of race FOMO. Setting realistic goals will make you stronger in the long run, and before you know it you’ll be inspiring FOMO in others!
We’ve all been there: you see that gorgeous new bike your buddy posted to Facebook or Instagram, and suddenly you’re checking your credit limit or selling all your used stuff to justify N+1. High tech gear evolves on a constant, and we live in a society of planned obsolescence. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind, or that the time and energy you’re investing in your training will be wasted if you don’t keep up with your gear as well.
But stressing out about gear can sap your confidence, and even take your focus away from training. It’s important to be able to distinguish whether the shiny new toy you’re coveting will really change your life, or if you can find the same advantage without opening your wallet. Beginner to intermediate level athletes, for example, should probably place a higher priority on learning from perceived exertion before upgrading to a fancy and expensive power meter. And that new TT bike won’t help you much if you’ve got a terrible pedal stroke and no core strength. Resisting the pull of new gear takes some honesty, and sometimes humility—but it makes upgrading feel like a luxury when you do decide to go for it!
Every athlete experiences social pressure in training and racing. Whether it’s race FOMO, training anxiety, or feeling like our gear isn’t up to snuff—it’s what makes us human, and what makes it so fun to compete! But it doesn’t have to derail your own progress—the most successful athletes are the ones who can be aware of their competitors while trusting themselves.