I came across an article in Running Times Magazine (Nov/Dec. 2015), “How Strava is Ruining Your Running,” by Philip Latter. One section in particular mentioned social facilitation and how runners posting performance stats on the Strava app got the sense of being watched and evaluated and, because of that, performed better. It made me think…but about the other end of social facilitation, the part that wasn’t covered in the article.

Social facilitation explains that, in effect, people in the presence of others perform tasks they are confident in with better efforts and results. But, and this is the part that interests me, that same audience can help degrade performance from that same person if they are performing a task they are not confident in.

Though I can’t say with any degree of certainty that I’ve seen social facilitation in action, the concept comes to mind when I witness or think back about clients shrinking away from whatever exercise their trainer asked them to do, giggling, seeming not to take it seriously, or either complaining in dramatic fashion about the hardship.

But what if they are taking it seriously and are just unable to perform at their best? What if the pressure of evaluation is a cause?

An audience can take many forms, and it depends on individual perception—an app can be an audience. Sometimes it’s only the feeling of being watched and evaluated. So it makes sense that even a one-on-one training session, whether it takes place in a gym or a park, can trigger anxiety, because the trainer him or herself is an audience. There is no way to avoid watching the client, but I think that patience and genuine encouragement positive encouragementgoes a long way to ease anxiety and perhaps increase effort and success at the same time. 

By emphasizing “genuine encouragement,” I mean that clichés have their place, but “no pain, no gain!” might sound flat to the ears of many. By knowing the client’s triggers, motivations, and real-life goals, in addition to fitness goals, as many trainers do, there is a real opportunity to personalize encouragement to maximize performance and be seen as an ally instead of merely an evaluating audience.

It might also go a long way to remind the client that the session is not a competition. Granted some might thrive in that environment, much like the competitive runners looking to knock their friends off the leader’s board on Strava. But I’m talking right now about those clients we work with who clam up when confronted with developing a new skill and suffer from degraded performance.

Let’s keep the conversation going. How would you go about getting the best from a client who you think suffers from performance anxiety?  

Tanisha Rule

Tanisha Rule has a BA in English and is a former Mad Dogg-certified Spinning instructor. She taught indoor cycle and boot camp and has now combined her passions as a full-time writer for the health and fitness industries, check out her site at www.ruleboutiquewritingservices.com. If she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found happily training for an endurance event, likely after having said, “This is my last one for a while,” because there is no finish line; there is only progress.