Robert Griffin III probably thought social media was the key to his connection to his growing fan base when he first came to Washington. He happily shared his thoughts about his opportunity to play for the Redskins, his workouts, his expectations for himself. His Twitter followers gobbled up every tweet and responded with overwhelming positivity, encouragement and support. At the mention of his pending nuptials, fans everywhere flooded his home with gifts from his and his fiancee's bridal registry. The humble and grateful gentleman hand-wrote hundreds of thank you notes to his generous fans.
When the unthinkable happened and Griffin found himself under the knife, fans rallied on social media with words of encouragement. Griffin shared his personal recovery timetable, goals and struggles. I, too, was very interested in his discussion of his mental recovery (RGIII's Mental Game).
Social media, however, can be a double-edged sword. Even as it nurtured and lifted the bonds between favorite athlete and appreciated fans, it soon served as a method of slow, methodical destruction when the going got tough.
As Griffin's return proved more difficult and a second injury and rehabilitation effort hampered his efforts to be the exciting dual threat as per his billing, comments and debates ensued. Negativity grew. Griffin, for all of his humility and affability, could hardly hide the hurt he was beginning to feel with the backlash. He is human, after all. Study after study shows negative comments far outweigh positive when it comes to what our human brains attend and hang on to. It takes at least 10 positive comments to soften the blow of one negative.
For Griffin, the positives fell far short. The change in Griffin's once engaging and humorous larger-than-life personality had become painfully evident. If only we could tell ourselves, "Who cares what people say or think" of us. But sometimes that is a bell which cannot be un-rung.
[Full disclosure is warranted here: I am a lifelong Washington Redskins fan. And while not wishing to disclose my age, I did cheer for the Fun Bunch, the Hogs, and had a schoolgirl crush on Joe Theismann. I actually got to meet him once at the old Redskins Park after a practice. You could actually get close to the building back then. It was a great day I still talk about. I got an autograph and had a nice little chat which I will always remember--I'm sure he does too. OK maybe he doesn't. Still...I "knew" Joe Theismann just from watching him play. This was long before social media. How would things have been different then? How about a tweet to NY Giants Lawrence Taylor after the game which ended Theismann's career? "Man, LT, we were just wishing u luck when we said break a leg LOL" But I digress...]
Athletes who elect to put themselves out there on social media need to prepare for the inevitable bad that goes with the good. Prepare for how to handle and process what come in. Ideally, refraining from reading comments would keep negativity away, but we all know that is nearly impossible. A bit of perspective is required.
Remember that for the vast majority of "followers," social media affords an anonymous identity through which anything can be said without consequence. But for the celebrity athlete, such anonymity does not exist. Responses and reactions to negative anonymous postings should be kept to a minimum.
Athletes should strive to portray themselves in a positive light. Social media is a great way to do this, if done properly. And while it is great to feel the fans love, it must be taken for what it is--anonymous, conditional, and often, fleeting.
Athletes must decide who in their lives are truly important to them, whose opinions matter, who is really there for them. Anything and anyone else cannot be of great influence. It is the only way to protect oneself from mental anguish in bad times.
RGIII will bounce back. He is a proven warrior, who has beaten the odds with his style, and has impressed and entranced thousands of fans with his humanness. But the only one he really needs to fully support him is himself.
My gym has done the unthinkable. It has challenged us, the members, to go where we never dared before. We've seen the infomercials for the DVD, frowned or cringed at the carnage on the screen and promptly turned the channel, shaking our heads and thinking, "those people are insane. If I did that DVD, I'd definitely have a finger on the pause button. Often." Now suddenly we are being beckoned, dared to be "those people." Like rubberneckers at the scene of a bad accident, an overflow crowd of us had to check it out. Up close. For no other reason than to be able to tell the tale, "Guess what I saw today!" Trouble was, getting close meant having to participate. I quickly found myself justifying it in my head--"Couldn't be that bad. They wouldn't offer it here if it was really that bad. Right?" The music began. Pleasant enough. The instructor, I think her name was Sergeant something; at least that's what I came to call her, flashed a big smile and invited us to march with her. "This is your workout," she entreated us in a sing-song voice. "Go at your pace. But push yourself, even just a little, and you'll get something out of the class." No problem. "Today we'll focus on form," Sergeant Sweet continued, "Use proper form even if it's slow. Just have fun." Not so bad at all. This is going to be fun, she just said that! Happily marching, several of my fellow rubberneckers and I chatted excitedly about how we had been so worried. Silly of us.
Then suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped from someplace very far below the Earth, Sergeant Sweet began to change. Not a subtle change, but a head-turning-360-degrees change. "FASTER! You need to PUSH IT! I do NOT want any of you coming to me after class saying you didn't even SWEAT! DON'T waste your time! Come on! Show me MORE! Jump! JUMP!" Our chatter ended. The fact that oxygen was now at a premium was probably a factor in that. 30 seconds of this move, 30 seconds of that move, suck in air, towel off the sweat. At last it was over. Oh, that was just the warm-up.
"Let's GO! MOVE! MOVE! I'm watching YOU!" Sergeant Torture bellowed. During the precious few 30-second breaks, no one dared even glance at one another, lest we be held as an accessory to what was happening. The prosecutor would no doubt ask, "Why did you do nothing to stop it?" I'll plead lack of oxygen, extreme dehydration.
After 50 minutes, we were mere shells of our former selves. Broken and really really sweaty, we stood stunned, realizing the music had stopped. Sergeant Sweet was back, the doors were open--we were free to go! Well, once we could actually move, that is. We shrieked at our good fortune. We survived! "So what did you think? Did you love Insanity?" Sergeant Sweet asked. One woman replied, "I think you should change the name of the class to 'Don't Go'!" We all laughed nervously. Please, Sarge, don't hold that against us next time. Did I say next time? Heck yeah, we're coming back. We feel invincible! We have been pushed to the brink and survived! We are still a little out-of-it, oxygen deprived, dehydrated, beaten and nearly broken. OK, not thinking straight, either. And yet, we all have an unspoken agreement to meet here again next week. To endure together. Share our misery. Enjoy our company, no matter how insane. Better than suffering alone to a DVD. And yet...do they make a "pause" button for real-life? I think I'll look into that before next week.
I recently started a profile on LinkedIn. I hadn't done it earlier because I guess I didn't quite get it. You make all of these "connections," hoping for--what? It's not like Facebook where these people are your friends and you post pictures of your adorable kid's latest exploits or your vacation to the Grand Canyon. It's really more of an online resume crossed with an opportunity to proudly display work accomplishments and subtly put feelers out for future employment opportunities. It's our "other" persona, beyond family life. It's that identity that most of us use to define ourselves. Go to any Happy Hour and you will hear over and over, "So what do you do?" Who we are and what we do are often one and the same in our minds.
I was hesitant for a long time to put myself out there on LinkedIn. Probably because before Personal Best Sports, I couldn't really define who I was--at least not through a particular profession. But now, I'm in. And it's actually been fun and exciting. Who accepted my invitation today? My network grows, people all over the world view my profile and find me interesting or worthy of potential assistance enough to "Accept."
It got me thinking about the power of connection. And it is a powerful thing. Humans are social creatures. We thrive with company. We like to interact and share. We are boosted when we receive praise, as well as when we give it.
Sports enables us to have connections. We are fans who celebrate together the thrill of victory, or join in suffering the agony of defeat. We are teammates who share the struggles of vigorous practice drills and swell with pride holding the trophies. It's all better when we do it together.
For any endeavor to be successful, a key component is connection. Take starting a fitness or diet program, for example. Numerous studies have shown the people who enjoy the most success have someone to work out with, or to be accountable to. Knowing someone is counting on us makes us more determined to continue. "Going public" by sharing our goals with someone almost guarantees adherence to the plan.
Connections can also breed healthy competition. LinkedIn is a constant reminder of what great accomplishments my network has achieved. It makes me determined to keep up my end of the bargain. I will not let my network down. I will let them know I am contributing to our collective strength as well. Strength in numbers, right? Silly? Maybe, but think about it. Have you ever felt any motivation to produce for others? Colleagues, bosses, teammates, coaches? Where did that come from? Your singular desire to do your best? Or maybe in some small way you wanted to prove something to others?
So what is my take-home message? First, consider your personal "profile." Who are you now? What are your skills, abilities, accomplishments? Go beyond work. Get personal. Raised three healthy kids? Organized a family reunion? Built a tree house? Lost 50 pounds? Who helped you get there? Can you pay it forward somehow? Where do you want to be? What do you want to be able to add to your profile in the future?
Second, get linked in. Not capital "L" linked, necessarily. Just make connections that can help you achieve the goals you desire. Connections can be professionals who would be a source of information or assistance for you. Family or friends with whom you share your goals and who keep you accountable. Or friends, colleagues, teammates, who are willing to actually get in the trenches with you.
Anything you put your mind to is possible. Remember that. And more minds can make the journey to possible that much easier. Invite connection. Accept invitations to connect. You'll be amazed by what you can accomplish.
"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."
Personal Best Sports
The sports world is filled with stories of perseverance, failure and success, personal struggles and public triumph. Each story provides insight into the mental side of sport and activity.