Mental Equipment Syndicated Column  – Dr. John F. Murray – Performing your absolute best is no easy task. Success is often accompanied by large doses of stress, setbacks, and adversity. It’s hard to imagine coping with everything alone, but many athletes try this without realizing the invigorating effects of social support. This month, the benefits of social support are examined with advice offered to make sport more enjoyable, less stressful, and, hopefully, more prosperous too.

No Athlete is an Island

Having adequate social support means being involved in social relationships, connected with other people, and feeling understood and cared for. Essentially two forms of social support exist: (1) caring and emotional support, and (2) help and guidance. Whereas the first type provides the athlete a valuable sense of being understood and appreciated, the second offers specific information and direction needed to thrive in a competitive setting.

Research has documented the tremendous value of social support. Benefits include stress relief, increased perception of control over events, decreased health threatening behaviors such as substance abuse, fewer illnesses, and a longer lifespan. My own research suggests that social support led to more positive mood states following injury among members of the 1996 national champion Florida Gator Football team. It appears that social support is even more important than I had previously realized.

Although social support is needed by everyone, athletes in individual sports including tennis lack the large social support resources found in team sports. This may leave them particularly vulnerable to stress when the going gets rough. Needless to say, I believe all athletes would benefit from the services of a qualified sport psychologist in enhancing social support.

Lean on Others

Many athletes consider it a sign of weakness to seek out help, isolating themselves when distressed. Common sense and empirical evidence indicates that “a little help from your friends” is a much better solution.

Here are some suggestions to enhance social support in sport:

Share your problems and goals with your colleagues and teammates. Rather than being criticized for your openness, you will probably find that disclosing aspects of yourself is very well received. If an issue is too sensitive, share it only with those closest to you, or seek professional counseling.

Offer social support to others when they need it. The listening and sincerity you provide them will be amply reciprocated when it is your turn for a mental equipment checkup.

Seek out a support group away from sport. Athletes often become severely distressed following retirement from sport. Alternative social networks provide great balance and help ease the transition away from sport to a new career. Pre-retirement counseling programs are also of great value.

The message this month is to realize that we’re all in this great game together, and that relying upon one another for support is both fun and wise. Have a party!