How Athletes Can Use Social Awareness To Excel In Their Sport

Social awareness is a key component of an athlete's success. Learn why this is and how you can develop a high level of social awareness.

We shouldn’t worry about what other people think. That’s a given. Concerning yourself with the judgments and opinions of those around you is a direct path to low confidence and many other negative ways of thinking.

Few positives can be gained through continually obsessing over the thoughts of others.

But is there a way you can use the concept of focusing on the mindset of those around you to your advantage as an athlete? Can worrying about what other people think actually be beneficial?

It’s true, giving too much attention to the opinions of others opens us up to negative thinking, for the most part, it proves detrimental to the performance of an athlete.

However, by understanding a concept known as social awareness, you no longer have to fear what other people are thinking. Instead, you can use this to help you excel within your sport.

Are you ready to see how? Let’s dive in by first addressing a question that has probably formed in your head…what exactly is social awareness?

What is Social Awareness

To gain a solid understanding of what social awareness is, we need to first take a step back. Social awareness is one component of a broader idea known as emotional intelligence, or EQ for short.

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of IQ. Typically reserved for the classroom, IQ involves an individual’s intelligence. It’s also used to describe the level of smarts an athlete has towards their respective sport.

For example, growing up I would hear coaches say stuff like, “He’s got a great baseball IQ,” or “He understands the game.”

When a coach describes an athlete as having a high IQ within their sport, they mean that player has deep knowledge about the game. They understand the ins and outs of how to play, and not only how to play, but how to play well.

While IQ encompasses an intellectual understanding, EQ refers to emotional intelligence, or the knowledge a person has on an emotional level.

EQ is divided into four different subcategories: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Each one covers a different level of an individual’s mastery over emotions. You see, emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions, along with recognizing, understanding, and influencing the emotions of others.

Each attribute acts as a rung on the ladder, with the top part being high emotional intelligence. Knowing this, let’s now see how social awareness plays into the mix.

Social Awareness Explained

Social awareness refers to our ability to accurately understand the emotions of other people and empathize with them.

Self-awareness is the same definition, just targeted towards ourselves. But, the importance of self-awareness for athletes is a topic for another article.

Being socially aware involves suspending purely selfish thinking for a moment and considering the impact your actions and thoughts have on those around you.

Not only that, but social awareness also deals with understanding the motivating factors behind the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors of other people.

A key word I always emphasize when defining social awareness is consideration.

Being a socially aware individual requires you to keep consideration for others at the forefront of your mind. Involved in this is examining on a deeper level why people act the way they do, and how certain situations impact their emotional state.

I hope you are beginning to see the difference between social awareness and constantly worrying about what others are thinking. The latter is derived from a selfish standpoint. We worry about what others think out of a desire to gain their approval for an increase in our own feelings.

While the former involves a consideration of other’s emotions, out of empathy for them. The fourth aspect of EQ is relationship management, which becomes much easier once an understanding of the emotions and desires of another is gained.

Knowing social awareness is not a negative attribute, unlike an unhealthy concern for others opinions does not reveal why it’s so powerful to athletes. For that, let’s take a look at all the ways social awareness can be of an advantage to you as an athlete.

“Being a socially aware individual requires you to keep consideration for others at the forefront of your mind. Involved in this is examining on a deeper level why people act the way they do, and how certain situations impact their emotional state.”

Why Social Awareness Is Important For Athletes

Are sports a singular act, involving you and you alone?

The answer is no!

Even if you play an individual sport, let’s use golf as an example, it does not only involve you. Yes, on the day of a match it can feel like it’s only you involved in your success. Though, leading up to competition, many people played a part in whether or not you perform well.

For team sports, it’s an easy and definite no! From your coaches, to the teammates around you on gameday, you’re aware of the impact others have on your performance.

The social nature of sports makes social awareness the level of importance it is.

As an athlete, there are many ways becoming skilled in social awareness will help you excel. Here are a few of the main benefits to help you understand the importance of developing this skill within yourself:

Social Awareness Helps Form Stronger Relationships

I put this one first because, as an athlete, relationships are huge. Now, this is a fact that dawned upon me later in my career. I failed to realize just how vital relationships are to your success as an athlete.

Think about how many different relationships there are as a player. You have relationships with your coaches, your teammates, parents, trainers, teachers, friends, and so many more.

Let’s simply examine the relationship you have with your coach as an example.

Building a stronger relationship with your coach immediately impacts your level of play in a few ways. For one, as much as I hate to admit it, a coach who has a better relationship with a player is more likely to play them, and keep giving them opportunities after a mistake.

If you have a poor relationship, the first mistake you make may sadly be your last. Also, a stronger relationship with your coach means they will be more receptive in helping you improve.

This means they will give you more feedback and take greater interest in your development as a player. Now, you may be thinking, “Shouldn’t a coach do these things anyway?” Well, yes, in a perfect world a coach should try to help all players improve, no matter their relationship.

But, coaches are human too, and we all have biases towards certain people based on relationships.

I firmly held to the belief there was little point in working on improving my relationship with my coach. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Realize the importance of the relationship you build with your coach.

We didn’t even get into the many other forms of relationships that work to the benefit or detriment of you as an athlete. However, I just want you to realize, high social awareness forms strong relationships.

Strong relationships mean greater chances of success for you as an athlete!

Social Awareness Makes You A Better Leader

Even if you don’t see yourself as a leader on your team, the truth is you are. Everyone is a leader because their actions influence the other members of the team.

Some people are more obvious leaders than others, and if that’s you, then social awareness is even more important. But we all are leaders in some way within our teams.

Leaders come in two distinct forms: a vocal leader and a quiet leader. One leads with their voice, motivating and inspiring others, while the second leads through action. Either way you go about leading, understanding the emotions and desires of those around you will prove beneficial.

Social awareness helps you gain insight into what makes someone tick. Knowing their emotional state provides you with understanding as to how they’re feeling at certain times. This means you will be more effective in interacting with them.

People respond to failure and adversity differently. We all have our own ways of coping with anxiety and pre-performance nerves. Through high social awareness, each individual’s natural ways of responding become clear to you.

With such information, you can help motivate and inspire them in a way more tailored to their personality. This in turn will improve the effectiveness you have as a leader.

Social Awareness Helps You Respond To Feedback More Positively

Off the bat, this benefit may seem a tad strange. How is the understanding of another’s emotional state going to be of any benefit to us in responding to feedback?

Well, what is the number one way feedback is handled negatively?

I would say the majority of time, feedback, especially from coaches is perceived as a personal attack. It’s easy to take what a coach or teammate says too personally. If you do, something that was meant to help you improve works to derail your confidence.

Through this concept, if we had a better understanding of where the intentions were coming from, don’t you think feedback would be taken more constructively?

That is exactly what high social awareness provides. It gifts you insight as to why the coach got so angry, or why your teammate just jumped down your throat.

If you are skilled in taking the perspective of another person, which is basically what social awareness is, you will have an easier time relating to their reaction.

As a result, their feedback won’t be taken so personally, and you put their words to good use, taking strides to improve yourself and your performance.

“I would say the majority of time, feedback, especially from coaches is perceived as a personal attack. It’s easy to take what a coach or teammate says too personally. If you do, something that was meant to help you improve works to derail your confidence.”

How To Improve Social Awareness As An Athlete

Social awareness is a core component of emotional intelligence. Gaining this skill will prove beneficial to any athlete looking to excel within their sport. The question now becomes, how can I build social awareness?

This is a tricky question really, mainly due to the confusion addressed at the beginning of the article. We are seeking to use social awareness to improve athletic performance, not inhibit success through distracting ourselves with what other people are thinking.

For that reason, improving social awareness is more of a mindset shift, rather than a set technique. It’s the way you go about approaching situations and responding to people. This will incrementally improve the awareness you have of others emotions.

In saying that, here are three tips to keep in mind that will help you develop a mindset tailored to the development of high social awareness.

Listen To Understand NOT Respond

One of the best ways you can begin improving your social awareness skills is to become a better listener. Listening is a skill just like any other. Yet, it’s one we often don’t recognize the importance of.

Be honest with yourself, how often do you listen to respond rather than listening to understand?

Look, I do it many times a day. I find myself listening to someone, just waiting for them to stop so I can spit out the words resting on the tip of my tongue.

That’s no way to gain insight as to how someone is feeling, or what their true motivations and desires are.

If you want high social awareness, you must begin listening to understand, on a deeper level, what the other person is saying to you.

Ask Yourself, “How Would I Respond In A Similar Situation?”

This one’s for those of us who struggle with taking feedback and criticism too personally. Or perhaps we find ourselves being overly judgmental, jumping to quick conclusions about other people.

All of this is due to our inability to stop for a moment and ask ourselves, “How would I respond if I were in a similar situation?”

If you were your coach, how would you react to the mistake you just made? How would you respond to a teammate seeming to be unmotivated or slacking off?

Asking yourself this question forces you to examine the underlying driving force behind people’s actions. You will get a better understanding of why your coach, teammate, or whomever gave you criticism/feedback.

Pay Attention To Body Language

We tend to convey more through the way we hold our bodies than the words we say.

To become more skilled in social awareness, you must begin looking past the words someone says and pay attention to their body language.

What kind of message are they delivering through their body?

This can be extremely helpful in terms of becoming a better leader. Through the development of perceiving the way someone is feeling based on their body language, you obtain a greater ability to influence them in a positive way.

Final Thoughts

Social awareness is the third attribute of emotional intelligence. If you are looking to become a well rounded athlete, one who reaches their potential, EQ is something you need to cultivate.

One way of doing so is focusing on the development of your own social awareness. Understanding the emotions and desires of others is not a distraction, but rather powerful too.

This skill helps form stronger relationships, makes you a better leader, and provides you with the ability to respond to feedback/criticism in a positive manner.

Building social awareness is best achieved through a shift in your mindset. Begin listening to understand, put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and pay attention to their body language and you will find the skill rapidly grows within yourself.

How socially aware are you? Do you have any other tips that could help build social awareness? Let me know in the comments below.

I hope you enjoyed this article and if you did, please feel free to share it with your friends.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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