Sport: how social networks are transforming the practices of young people


Technological advances have changed the relationship with the world and human relationships . In a society of images, marked with the seal of individualism, it is now a question of investing in a “capital” body that is infinitely perfectible and must be preserved. We have observed an increase in maintenance and fitness activities since the health crisis, and more and more young people are attending gyms.

However, they can get tired of a sport very quickly. Everything is consumed and experienced in “Netflix mode” . This sporting zapping testifies more broadly to a society of immediacy, in perpetual acceleration. For young people in search of meaning and values, sports practice appears to be a place of socialization, allowing them to express a certain way of being .

Young people like sport, but preferably without constraints. The traditional sports model is invited to make its revolution. Social networks have changed the sporting sociability of young people. Doesn’t connected sport practiced at home risk distancing young people from a certain learning of living together?

Communities of practitioners

We are currently witnessing a move away from traditional structures for practicing sport – clubs, federations – in favor of a more flexible and connected organization. If sport is an integral part of youth culture, a significant dropout is observed during adolescence within sports federations. Their sporting commitment persists, but in a less visible way and in a less conventional framework, through networks and digital platforms.

More and more often, athletes are part of an online community with which they interact and socialize. It is then possible to play sports alone at home and then exchange with other passionate athletes via a social network. Some applications also allow you to find partners or join a group partly formed in a sporting activity, such as running.

At the foundation of this digital evolution, we find phones and watches which now accompany fun and sports outings. In 2022, 36% of practitioners used physical activity measuring instruments , which allow them to visualize their performance, their progress and then immortalize their exploits via sharing applications.

However, while these practices may seem freer, new standards are emerging. The individual may be required to conform to the opinions of peer groups and direct their behavior according to these issues of social influence . Applications and connected objects are becoming more and more essential to physical activity, taking away spontaneity from outings or sports sessions. This use of measurement tools modifies the relationship to physical effort, encouraging individuals to compare themselves and risking discriminating against users who are not sufficiently efficient.

In addition, applications allow you to monitor your health, the number of steps taken per day, your heart rate, and even the calories burned. This centering of practices around sport-health gives rise to a form of control and surveillance of bodies. The search for performance, and sometimes excess, can lead certain individuals to more or less serious pathological disorders (compulsive purchasing of food supplements, anorexia, bulimia, depression).

A staging of his performances

Adolescence is a period of self-construction, with young people seeking autonomy from adults . Social networks are spaces of identity, offering everyone the possibility of having control over the way in which each person presents themselves. Adolescents can thus expose traits of their identity in the public space and reflect on the way in which they are perceived by others.

The staging of sporting life testifies to a form of narcissism . The young practitioner is then concerned about his performance, seeking to surpass himself or to confront others. Each individual is called upon to surpass themselves, to be competitive in their social and professional life, from school to business, from leisure to sport.

The free and autonomous practitioner is sometimes overtaken by a form of contradictory commitment specific to the society of mass leisure. He can thus just as much claim the possibility of practicing “à la carte” (personal objective, mode of membership, flexibility) and, at the same time, be concerned about his own performance (self-improvement, individualistic quest, competitive value) . Between the desire for individual freedom and conformity to social norms, recreational sports practitioners maintain ambivalent relationships. In running or bodybuilding, the athlete can also claim free practice and accept a certain number of constraints through regular training and participation in an organized sporting event (marathon, ultra-trail, obstacle course).

In a society where the body is the subject of strong advertising and media coverage, adolescents massively engage in self-centered practices that respond to their narcissistic concerns. Bodybuilding, crossfitness or “HIIT” (high-intensity training method aimed at muscle strengthening) are increasingly appealing to young people. The search for an idealized body leads to guilt among those who deviate from this social norm .

Photoshopped or distorted on social media, body image rarely corresponds to reality. The “filters” used can then create a dysmorphism syndrome and be a source of discomfort. This phenomenon results in a psychological gap between reality and the perception of one’s own body.

These trends are all the more worrying as they affect increasingly younger audiences who are less and less aware of the risks they run .

New standards of sporting sociability

Today we are witnessing an evolution in lifestyles (personal development, valorization of free time), which questions the relationship to time and space dedicated to sports practice (professional flexibility, practicing alone, at home). The evolution of the organization of working time (teleworking from home) reinforces the element of individualism in society.

New technologies accentuate individual activity and practice at home, distancing users from the sports club which is a place for socializing supervised by professionals. These structures face the challenge of building public loyalty. They find themselves forced to reinvent themselves and offer other methods for people who enjoy practicing sports independently, without a partner and without supervision.

For example, sports federations are taking up the issues of “sport-health”, developing new physical activities aimed at health . They bring together different types and modalities of practices to respond to the habits of young people based on multi-practice (alone, in groups, supervised or free, in a natural or artificial environment).

In this world of fitness and healthy sport, young people must be accompanied and supervised by physical activity professionals. Faced with the omnipresence of standardized bodies on social networks, the latter’s mission is to help adolescents (re)build a more objective and rational relationship with the body, encouraging them to evolve together in a social space of practice where mutual aid and tolerance are essential values.

There is an urgent need for society to take care of and accept all bodies, refusing to be governed by the dictates of a society of appearance.

Author Bio: William Dietsch is an Associate PE Teacher, in STAPS, UFR SESS-STAPS at the University of Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC)