Sport special: How athletes should cope with media pressure

Date: 21 Mar 2012


An athlete may stumble on the track and yet be able to recover. But putting a foot wrong with the media can do irreparable harm to a young sportsperson’s career.

With the Olympic Games around the corner, our sporting hopefuls will soon be trading their early morning training sessions for the hope of a place on an Olympic pedestal. But once there, they may be vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous Fleet Street.

The press is not always kind to those in the public eye. ‘They put you up there, and then they try and knock you down’, was reportedly the view of football star David Beckham some years ago. Whether that will be the fate for the newest team of superstars, now just in the starting blocks of media careers, will to a large extent depend on their ability to follow the glowing example of some forerunners, and to avoid the potholes into which others have fallen.

Their ability to survive the media may also depend on the level of the success achieved. We the public, served by the press, admire the Corinthian spirit, but not the craven. And this is perhaps why young footballers, earning weekly the sorts of sums that none of we mere mortals could aspire to in a year, have come in for such a rough media ride. Adoration, celebrity and wealth at an early age is a heady mix and it is no wonder some fall under its spell. Young footballers face a barrage of wine, women and song and the papers are full of stories exposing their fashion faux pas and their off-side antics. A young amateur athlete, by comparison, is less likely to become the victim of the press’s poisonous pen where he or she is not also the beneficiary of huge sums of cash.

There have been many causalities along the way. But a few, including Beckham, have picked themselves up from their falls from grace and have ultimately learnt how to play the media at its own game, by becoming brands too large and successful to fail.

Those engaged in the 2012 Games may never be as revered or remunerated as those who play the beautiful game. And those engaged in minority sports that the public only remember exist every four years, may never achieve the status of footballers, racing drivers or even tennis players. But the examples of those in more mainstream sports who have faced the media music and survived – and those who have been trampled in the process – should serve our Olympic hopefuls well when they are packing their kit bags for London next summer.

Top Tips
The media is not your enemy

The watchdog and bloodhound of society will not bite unprovoked. But it can cause hurt in the pursuit of a good story and any Olympic hopeful with a skeleton in the closet should beware that a tenacious reporter when onto something will be as likely to leave it as a dog with a bone.

The media is not your friend

The Olympic Games are big news and the media will be ready to swoop on every scoop, angle and twist. Those unused to the honeyed tongues of the media should beware that press flattery can become as addictive and potentially dangerous as the substances banned by the IOC.

Keep your guard up

A sudden rush of Facebook fans and Twitter followers may be hard to resist for the formerly unknown athlete. But while support is important for any sportsman, those who open up their private lives on social media may find that they cannot later close the door to the media when they come calling.

Stay true to you

Temptation may be around every corner for the sport personalities of the future, with promises of fame and fortune high on the list. Those who have successfully navigated the media obstacle course are those whom the press admire for their sporting prowess but also report as being gracious and popular, respectful of their colleagues and true to themselves.

Listen up

The path of an Olympic hopeful has been trod many times before. Our line up of sporting hopefuls listen to their coaches – they should similarly take advantage of a team of advisers who can see the trips ahead, shout warnings from the touchlines and be there to pick them up should they fall.

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