The story outlined some of the challenges Jodie has faced over the last half dozen years. An elite junior athlete, Jodie once went over 5 years between defeats, winning 151 straight races. Since beginning her senior career, Jodie has won European and Commonwealth medals, and represented Great Britain at the 2016 Olympic Games.
But she has also been subject to the critique of a multitude of pundits, commentators, fans, and social media ‘experts’; all of whom share one significant thing in common: they judge despite not knowing anything about the specific, subjective ‘Jodie experience’.
We are all guilty of this: we far too often judge a thing without understanding the circumstance from which it emanated.
From the outside, all we can see is the CONTENT. What we do not see is the CONTEXT. The content is ever-changing, depending upon time and circumstance – it is the WHAT. The context is the meaning, the intent – it is the WHY, WHEN, and WHERE.
The content of Jodie’s career doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. It tells us nothing about the context.
As Bloom writes, Jodie struggled to connect with her purpose, lost her motivation, went through periods of depression, and contemplated quitting the sport entirely on more than one occasion.
All we see from the outside are the numbers.
But numbers don’t tell stories.
At least not by themselves.
Numbers are the content.
They do not provide the context.
Also – there is a tendency to only share the positive numbers – ignoring all the instances where these numbers – the content of our stories – are not what we would hope for.
Think about how we tend to communicate these days: for most of us, the vast majority of our communication comes through social media – platforms that by design ignore context.
Generally, the version of our lives on social media is curated; we see only the best of people, and as a result, we are now seeing pandemic levels of depression among young people.
Studies have shown that there is a causal link between social media usage and negative effects on well-being – primarily depression and loneliness. Studies have also linked the use of social media to anxiety, poor sleep, lower self-esteem, inattention, and hyperactivity.
The curated ‘best-of’ nature of social platforms exists also in the sport performance world. Very few athletes, coaches, and performance groups are sharing instances when things go wrong – and it is leading to unhealthy ‘comparison shopping’ – where rather than learning from the others’ challenges, we continually ask how we are stacking up? These ‘upward comparisons’ are happening literally every time we go on social media, and our own ALTIS platforms are similarly guilty of perpetuating this.
We have not done a good job of highlighting our own challenges.
The reality is that being an athlete is hard – being a coach is hard – everything about sport performance is complex, and challenging – and we make mistakes all the time.
And this is OK! Because in these challenges – with these mistakes – lie opportunities for learning and growth.
At ALTIS, we speak a lot about ‘authenticity’; we offer unparalleled access behind the scenes of the coaching process – especially with our Apprentice Coach Programs (ACPs), where guests can observe the mistakes we make in real-time, and we can discuss them openly every day.
What we do not do a good job of, however, is transferring this authenticity over to our social platforms.
And being leaders in this field, we feel we can do better with this. We promote transparency but we are not transparent enough with our social media. The essence of our spirit is embodied in our ACPs. We should strive to instill all of our programs with this spirit.
Therefore, from now on, we will continue to celebrate our successes, but do a better job of highlighting our challenges. Perhaps through this, we can help to influence the social platforms in a way that we can all benefit. Perhaps through being more open with our own challenges, we can encourage others to do the same – and these platforms can evolve from the highly-curated, polished, picture-perfect experiences that currently exist into a more realistic picture of the messiness that is high performance sport.
We do not know yet exactly how we will do this, and we obviously have to respect any privacy wishes of the athletes we serve. Just know that we will do our best to share all sides of our stories – good and bad.
For now, Jodie is enjoying training and racing again. She has begun this season pretty well, running 2 of the top 3 100m races of her career, and this past weekend, setting a big personal best in the 400m. Everything is looking good so far – but Jodie’s path forward will not all of a sudden be smooth sailing.
Progress is not linear. Sport is hard. There will be difficult times – challenges through which Jodie will struggle, and competitions where she will not race as she expects.
She will occasionally question her commitment, her motivation, and her choices.
And this is quite normal.