We live in the social media era. In 2021, more than 4.26 billion people—that’s 54% of the world’s population—were using it in some capacity, and that number is expected to increase to almost 6 billion by 2027.

So, it’s no surprise that you probably use it too.

As an athlete, it’s part of the culture: you can find news, insights, and information about your sport and use social media to stay connected and engaged.

But it’s also a double-edged sword. Social media can selfishly take too much of your motivation, which is far too valuable to waste. You need to develop habits and guidelines for how you use social media to make sure it’s beneficial to you rather than detrimental.

Here’s what you need to know.

The Benefits of Social Media for Athletes

Social media offers a lot of benefits to athletes.

It can help you access information that you can use to enhance your performance, from physical training to mental training, game highlights, and coaching analysis.

And it can also provide you with abundant inspiration and help you feel even more connected to your sports. 

Passionate athletes think about their sport in their spare time. When you’re trying to improve your game, spending time thinking about your sport is a great thing, and social media lets you see what the best in the world are doing today.  

3 Common Pitfalls of Social Media for Athletes 

Social media is fast. 

For all of its positives, social media can take a toll on your mind. When you use it in excess, it becomes a deeply ingrained habit that might be hurting you in the long run. 

Here’s why.

1. Social Media Usage Comes with an Opportunity Cost 

Your motivation is directly related to your daily habits and your desires. And by its very nature, social media is designed to make you want more of it. 

But there’s a problem with anything that changes your behavior in a way that you don’t control: it can take your focus and energy away from the things that really matter. Using social media will motivate you to use it more. 

In order to use social media as a tool, you need something to counteract the pull of going back to it over and over.

Think about it this way: what else could you be doing instead of spending too much time on social media? 

If you spend three hours per day on social media, that’s three hours you’re not dedicating to something else—like improving your skills, mastering your sport, or giving attention to your mental well-being. 

The issue is that social media is generally an easier choice to make, but easy doesn’t always mean good. 

When you learn something new from social media, you still need to put it into practice in order for it to be beneficial. Understanding an idea you saw on social media is much different than actually putting it into action. 

If you’re learning something from social media and then putting it into practice, that’s where the magic happens—but you have to be sufficiently motivated to do so. 

Your greatest motivation and the best results will always come from within. You can use social media to amplify your motivation and ideas for your sport. But if social media is your only source of inspiration, you are losing out on your best motivation… and your best results.

2. Social Platform Algorithms Promote “Norms”

Social media is all about creating norms, and it does so by focusing on what’s most popular for “people like you”—not necessarily what’s actually beneficial to you.

While everyone sees their own tailored content, most of the stuff you see—the popular stuff—is just that. It’s popular. 

And that’s a trap in itself: it can put you into a cycle of tethering your sense of self to what everyone else is doing rather than focusing on what’s best for you.

If you’re a serious athlete, though, being true to yourself is one of the greatest keys to your success. And that requires discipline. 

In the same way that how you spend your time is an active choice, so is the act of deciding whether you’re going to take the easy route or the harder, more rewarding one. 

Be warned: taking the easy route can have negative consequences for your motivation, your sense of self, and the way you perceive the world of sports. 

But you probably already knew that. 

3. Social Media is Everyone’s Highlight Reel 

It’s important to remember that social media isn’t always an accurate reflection of people’s real lives. It’s a curated collection of people’s best moments and biggest achievements—it’s their personal highlight reel. 

So, when you see players who are gaining success, signing with college teams, getting brand opportunities, or achieving a certain status in their respective sports, it’s easy to forget that they’re also going through their own individual struggles. They’re just not sharing those aspects online. 

And seeing their highlight reel (and everyone else’s) can hurt your own confidence and motivation. You will feel small and insignificant if you’re constantly comparing yourself to what you see on social media because it can make your own achievements feel less relevant.

In their book, The Gain and the Gap: The High Achievers’ Guide to Happiness, Confidence, and Success, authors Dan Sullivan and Benjamin P. Hardy explore an interesting concept.

They explain that the way you evaluate your own success has a direct impact on your overall happiness and sense of success. 

If you’re living in “the gap,” you’re constantly comparing yourself to an ideal—what you think you should’ve achieved or what other people are achieving—and, as a result, your own success loses meaning.

But if you’re living in “the gain,” you’re comparing yourself to where you’ve come from while still chasing your ultimate goals. Being in “the gain” lets you feel happy, fulfilled, and proud of where you’re at while still keeping the valuable context of what you can ultimately achieve.

The same applies to social media: if you’re constantly comparing yourself against someone else’s highlight reel, you’ll find yourself in “the gap”—and it can negatively impact your motivation and self-worth. 

While most athletes compare themselves to other athletes to some extent—either those who are doing better than them or those who aren’t doing as well as them—looking inward is the most valuable gauge of where you’re at, where you can go, and what you need to do to get there. 

How to Shield Yourself from the Dark Side of Social Media

Let’s be clear: social media isn’t a bad thing. It’s not your enemy, but it is a force. It can be incredibly valuable to you as an athlete.

But in order for it to benefit you, you’ll need to put some guidelines and filters in place in your own mind. 

There are a few main ways to do so. 

1. Focus on Real-Life Rewards

If social media is one of your main rewards for your achievements, you’re ultimately overextending your reward system.

Rather than rewarding yourself by sharing a highlight on social media, the most valuable form of reward should be derived from the effort you put in at practice or in a game, in the gym, or after you watch game film and learn something that can help you get better. 

The real-world results of your effort are the priority, so make sure to enjoy them when you’re successful. When you have a good game, soak it in without turning to the team highlights right away. If you want to learn more, neuroscientist Andrew Huberman explains how to get away from dopamine draining habits.

Remember, the real magic comes from action, not ideas. So, these action-oriented behaviors need to be protected. That means protecting your dopamine baseline. 

You can use social media for ideas, but it’s important to make sure you’re focused on what’s real rather than what’s theoretical—on the reward of positive outcomes created by real action rather than what you put on your social media highlight reel. 

2. Evaluate Yourself Against Facts (Not Opinions) 

Social media is often rooted around attention and opinion, and less so about facts. Remember, it’s built around catering to norms.

It’s a great place to get information, learn, and find how-to’s, thought-starters, analysis, and opinions—but much of it is based on other people’s opinions. 

As an athlete, it’s important for you to be able to cut through the clutter. You must be able to focus on what you decide is important… not what social media says is important. 

And this starts by understanding yourself—your motivations, your strengths, your opportunities for improvement—and basing your feelings and actions on only what you can control.  

That’s why tools like My Mental Game exist: to help you understand yourself on a deeper level and then transform that insight into action and, ultimately, better outcomes—in your sport and in your life. 

When it comes to using social media, you should be clear on what you’re getting out of it and why. And that requires you to get introspective.