Sport: how social networks transform the practices of young people


Technological advances have changed the relationship to the world and to human relationships . In a society of the image, marked with the seal of individualism, it is now a question of investing in an infinitely perfectible “capital” body , and one to be preserved. There has been an increase in maintenance and fitness activities since the health crisis, and more and more young people are going to gyms.

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

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

Communities of practitioners

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

More and more often, the athlete is part of an online community with which he interacts and socializes. 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 base of this digital evolution, we find telephones and watches which now accompany recreational sports outings. In 2022, 36% of practitioners used instruments for measuring physical activity , which make it possible to visualize their performance, their progress and then to immortalize their exploits via sharing applications.

However, if these practices may seem freer, new standards are emerging. The individual may be led to conform to the opinions of peer groups and to orient his behavior according to these issues of social influence . Applications and connected objects are becoming more and more essential to physical practice, removing spontaneity from outings or sports sessions. This use of measurement tools modifies the relationship to physical effort, encouraging individuals to compare themselves and running the risk of discriminating against users who are not performing well enough.

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

A staging of his performances

Adolescence bears witness to a period of self-construction, the young person seeking autonomy in relation to the adult . Social networks are spaces of identity, offering everyone the possibility of having control over the way in which everyone presents themselves. Teenagers 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 mass leisure society. He can thus 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, sports enthusiasts maintain ambivalent relationships. In running or bodybuilding, the athlete can just as much 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 object of strong advertising and media coverage, adolescents engage massively in egocentric practices responding to their narcissistic preoccupations. Bodybuilding, crossfitness or “HIIT” (high-intensity training method aimed at muscle building) are attracting more and more young people. The search for an idealized body makes those who deviate from this social norm feel guilty .

Retouched or distorted on social media, body image rarely matches 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 younger and younger audiences who are less and less aware of the risks they run .

New standards of sports sociability

Today we are witnessing an evolution in lifestyles (personal fulfillment, valuing 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 at home) reinforces the part of individualism in society.

New technologies accentuate individual activity and practice at home, distancing users from the sports club which is a place of socialization supervised by professionals. These structures face the challenge of building public loyalty. They are forced to reinvent themselves and to offer other methods for people who enjoy independent sports practice, 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 methods of practice to meet the habits of young people based on multi-practice (alone, in a group, supervised or free, in a natural or artificial environment).

In this universe of fitness and sport-health, young people must be accompanied and supervised by physical activity professionals. Faced with the omnipresence of standardized bodies on social networks, their mission is to help adolescents to (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 appearances.

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