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Journal of Sports Sciences
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Facebook use and its relationship with sport
Kim Encel, Christopher Mesagno & Helen Brown
To cite this article: Kim Encel, Christopher Mesagno & Helen Brown (2017) Facebook use
and its relationship with sport anxiety, Journal of Sports Sciences, 35:8, 756-761, DOI:
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Facebook use and its relationship with sport anxiety
, Christopher Mesagno
and Helen Brown
Faculty of Health, Federation University, Ballarat, Australia;
Faculty of Health, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia
Social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) use has increased considerably since its inception; however,
research examining the relationship between social media use and sport has not progressed as rapidly.
The purpose of the current study was to explore the prevalence rates of Facebook use among athletes
around and during sport competitions and to investigate the relationships between sport anxiety and
Facebook use. Two hundred and ninety-eight athletes of varying levels completed measures for sport
anxiety and Facebook use, which included descriptive information about Facebook use prior to, during
and following competitions. Results indicated that 31.9% of athletes had used Facebook during a
competition and 68.1% had accessed Facebook within 2 h prior to competition. Time spent on
Facebook prior to competition was significantly (and positively) correlated with the concentration
disruption component of sport anxiety. Furthermore, regression analyses revealed that having push
notifications enabled on an athletes’phone predicted 4.4% of the variability in sport anxiety. The
percentage of athletes who accessed Facebook within 2 h of, or during, a competition is somewhat
alarming considering the importance of psychological preparation in sport, which may compromise
optimal psychological readiness and may lead to increased sport anxiety.
Accepted 3 May 2016
Social media; pressure; sport
The 2012 London Olympics was dubbed “the social media
Olympics”(Kwek, 2012). This unique title may be due to the
growing popularity of social networking sites (SNS) among
athletes interacting with their fans and allowing the public
some insight into their lives during the Olympics. Social media
use in general can have positive social benefits such as keeping
in contact with friends or family (e.g., maintaining relationships
offline; Ellison, Vitak, Gray, & Lampe, 2014); however, many
British coaches and officials believe that SNS may have dis-
tracted some athletes, which may have led to substandard
performances (Miah, 2012). Emily Seebohm, an Australian
swimmer, was expected to win the 100 m backstroke final but
achieved a silver medal. After the race, Seebohm was deva-
stated with the silver medal and attributed her placing to social
media stating, “I don’t know, I just felt like I didn’t really get off
social media and get into my own head”(Ottesen, 2012). The
reasons for the negative performances are yet to be deter-
mined, but the use of social media may contribute to an
increase in sport anxiety especially considering the intrinsic
relationship between social anxiety and sport anxiety (a sub-
class of social anxiety) (Leary, 1992). Elevated sport anxiety has
been linked, and contributes, to decrements in sport perfor-
mance (Martens, Vealey, & Burton, 1990; Masters, 1992).
Facebook is currently one of the most popular SNS
(Cotterill & Symes, 2014; Nadkarni & Hofmann, 2012) with
over 1 billion users worldwide (Facebook, 2015). As
Facebook use has expanded, researchers (e.g., Nadkarni &
Hofmann, 2012; Seidman, 2013) have begun to investigate
the reasons for Facebook use. For example, Nadkarni and
Hofmann reviewed 42 studies on psychological factors of
Facebook use and explained that using Facebook was moti-
vated by a dual-factor model of basic social needs (i.e., the
need for belonging and self-presentation), with the two social
factors acting independently of one another. The need to
belong is a strong desire to form and maintain enduring
interpersonal attachments (Nichols & Webster, 2013), which
can be facilitated through SNS because it enables users to
connect with more people (Seidman, 2013). Self-presentation
is the process by which people attempt to control and moni-
tor how they are perceived and evaluated by others
(Schlenker, 1980). When people believe they have not
achieved a desired self-presentation goal, they experience
social anxiety (Schlenker & Leary, 1982). Self-presentation is
driven by the need to create the best possible impression to
others, which can be manipulated through Facebook by dis-
closure of positive, or omission of negative, facts about oneself
(Nadkarni & Hofmann, 2012). If an individual is a frequent
Facebook user, their offline social interaction may reflect
their online social interaction unless they are trying to com-
pensate for any perceived or actual differences they experi-
ence in daily life (Nadkarni & Hofmann, 2012).
Researchers have also investigated the relationship
between Facebook use and social anxiety. For example,
Anderson, Woodnut, Fagan, and Chamorro-Premuzic (2012)
found that individuals who have high social anxiety use
Facebook more than lower socially anxious individuals
because they seek connections with others. Individuals who
are more socially anxious also post more information on their
Facebook profiles than less socially anxious individuals
(Fernandez, Levinson, & Rodebaugh, 2012). Increased time
CONTACT Christopher Mesagno email@example.com Faculty of Health, Federation University, P.O. Box 663, Ballarat, Victoria 3353, Australia
JOURNAL OF SPORTS SCIENCES, 2017
VOL. 35, NO. 8, 756–761
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
spent on Facebook (Anderson et al., 2012) and increased
Facebook posts (Fernandez et al., 2012) are associated with
higher social anxiety, and Facebook use is also related to need
to belong and self-presentation (Nadkarni & Hofmann, 2012).
From this we could infer that athletes increased Facebook use
could correlate with concepts related to self-presentation (e.g.,
sport anxiety) because they are associated with social anxiety.
The use of social media has also extended into the sport
domain (Pronschinske, Groza, & Walker, 2012), which may
allow researchers to investigate and apply the underlying
motivating principles in mainstream psychology, such as
belongingness and self-presentation (Nadkarni & Hofmann,
2012), to “online”sport anxiety research. Competitive anxiety,
which is a sport-specific class of social anxiety (Leary, 1992), is
defined as an individual’s tendency to perceive competitive
situations as threatening and respond with an increase in state
(situational) anxiety (Martens et al., 1990). Leary (1992) stated
that athletes risk conveying a variety of negative images of
themselves during competition to an array of evaluative
others. Sporting events provide a social situation where real
and imagined self-presentation concerns are abundant and
perceptions of threat increase competitive anxiety. Anxiety
that an athlete experiences in sport competitions may result
from fear of negative social evaluation (Martens et al., 1990;
Mesagno, Harvey, & Janelle, 2012; Norton, Burns, Hope, &
Bauer, 2000). This fear of negative social evaluation is under-
standable considering that Leary also suggested that sport
anxiety may be linked to self-presentation concerns, related
to the inability to handle pressure, current athletic form, or
being incompetent (Williams, Hudson, & Lawson, 1999; Wilson
& Eklund, 1998).
Proposed theoretical relationship
It is proposed that sport anxiety and Facebook use can be
related through the idealised virtual-identity hypothesis (IVIH;
Manago, Graham, Greenfield, & Salimkhan, 2008), which is
founded within self-presentation theory (Schlenker & Leary,
1982). Researchers who advocate the IVIH explain that users
of SNS attempt to create and communicate to their public
audience an idealised, rather than actual, self-image when
interacting online and they may use Facebook for self-presen-
Linking IVIH, social anxiety, and sport, athletes may use
Facebook more often to promote an “ideal self”to their online
social network to make positive impressions on others. In their
self-presentation model of social anxiety, Schlenker and Leary
(1982) explained that social anxiety is elevated when people
are motivated to make a desired impression on others but
doubt they will be successful. When athletes are concerned
about what others think of them and reveal doubts about the
creation of those desired impressions, they behave in ways
that might influence others’impressions especially if they are
a part of an important ego-relevant community like sport.
Increased time spent on Facebook (Anderson et al., 2012)
and increased Facebook posts (Fernandez et al., 2012) are
correlated with higher social anxiety. Based on these general
social anxiety results and considering the intrinsic relationship
between sport anxiety and social anxiety (Leary, 1992),
athletes with higher sport anxiety may attempt to present
“idealised selves”to online friends through more frequent
online communications compared to those with lower sport
anxiety, which may be a direct reflection of self-presentation
behaviours. Thus, from this framework, we believe that higher
sport (or social) anxiety may lead to increased frequency of
Facebook use in order to present the ideal self to their social
Purpose and hypotheses
Thus, the aims of the study were to explore the prevalence
and timing of Facebook use prior to, during and after compe-
tition and determine the relationship between sport anxiety
and Facebook use. It was hypothesised that the number of
times Facebook was accessed and the number of minutes
spent on Facebook per day would be positively associated
with total sport anxiety and sport anxiety subscales. Whether
push notifications was enabled was also hypothesised to be
positively associated with total sport anxiety and its subscales
because, based on self-presentation theory, participants that
are more concerned about other impressions will be more
interested about what is being said on Facebook and push
notifications enabled will allow athletes to respond quickly to
others Facebook comments.
Participants included 298 (135 females and 163 males) English-
speaking adults aged 18 and over (M= 28.09, SD = 11.35) from
13 countries, six different ethnicities and 30 different sports.
Participants from local (n=147), regional (n=56), state
(n=32), national (n=49) and international (n=14) sport
levels were recruited with 60.7% competing in team sports for
1 to over 15 years.
A self-report questionnaire was developed to determine the
age, gender, ethnic background and country of residence of
The researchers created a sport characteristics questionnaire
for the purposes of this study. The questionnaire contained
four questions, which included: What is the main sport you
play? What level of sporting competition do you compete in?
How many competitive years of experience do you have in
playing this sport? and What is the main sporting club or
organisation that you are affiliated with?
For the purposes of this study, Facebook use was considered
in terms of both the number of minutes spent on Facebook
and the number of times that Facebook was checked per day.
These Facebook use items were developed through analysis of
JOURNAL OF SPORTS SCIENCES 757
salient components of related Facebook use questionnaires
(e.g., McCord, Rodebaugh, & Levinson, 2014; Ross et al.,
2009) and each question was answered based on minutes
and number of times per day Facebook was accessed for
each participant. It contained 28 self-report questions, which
included 19 multiple option questions about participants’
general Facebook use behaviours (e.g., How many minutes do
you spend on Facebook per day?). Items assessing the number
of daily Facebook checks, Facebook friends and minutes spent
per day on Facebook by athletes were assessed by selecting a
number range (e.g., 20–30) corresponding to the number of
times athletes accessed Facebook on average per day,
Facebook friends that they had and average minutes spent
on Facebook per day. The item assessing whether athletes had
push notifications enabled (i.e., a sound or vibration alert
when activity occurs in an individual’s Facebook account)
involved selecting a response (i.e., yes, no or unsure) relating
to their mobile phone’s settings. The other nine Facebook
questions (developed by us) were devoted to assessing parti-
cipants’Facebook use related to sport (e.g., What was the
amount of time before competition that you accessed
Facebook?). The items relating to the average time before
and after competition Facebook was accessed required a
number range (e.g., 60–90 min) to be selected, reflecting the
The Sport Anxiety Scale-2 (SAS-2; Smith, Smoll, Cumming, &
Grossbard, 2006) assessed participants’trait levels of sport
anxiety whereby participants are asked to describe how they
generally feel before or during a sport competition. The SAS-
scale ranging from 1 (not at all)to4(very much). Five items
are included in each of the following subscales: worry (e.g., I
worry that I will not play well), somatic (e.g., my body feels
tense) and concentration disruption (e.g., it is hard to con-
centrate). Composite scores could range from 15 to 60, with
each subscale score ranging from 5 to 20, with higher values
on total sport anxiety and its subscales corresponding to
higher levels of sport anxiety (Smith et al., 2006). The SAS-2
demonstrates strong factorial and construct validity (Smith
et al., 2006). Cronbach’sαreliability coefficients are accep-
table, with all subscales exceeding 0.80 (Smith et al., 2006).
In the present study, the Cronbach’sαreliability coefficients
were α=0.92forworry,α= 0.91 for somatic anxiety,
α= 0.91 for concentration disruption and α= 0.95 for SAS-
Individuals known to the researchers who participated in
organised sport at least once a week were invited to partici-
pate. Prior to data collection the study was approved through
the Human Research Ethics committee and participants were
then recruited through various sport organisations, personal
contacts, the university’s undergraduate participant pool and
convenience sampling of friends and acquaintances via adver-
tisement on Facebook (including sport and psychology
Three methods of recruitment were employed. Initially,
individuals known to the researchers within sporting organisa-
tions were contacted by phone or email. These individuals
were sent an email outlining the purpose of the study and
appointments were made to approach the athletes with the
sporting organisation’s consent. These participants then com-
pleted the hard copy battery of written questionnaires, which
were given to participants and completed at the same training
Online recruitment was conducted by inviting Facebook
friends of the research team to participate via a Facebook
advertisement. To increase sample size, public Facebook
groups relating to sport, psychology and sport psychology
were searched for in a “Facebook Graph Search”and the
advertisements were posted in these groups. Participants
recruited via online methods (e.g., Facebook) were provided
with a link to the questionnaire to complete once online.
Online data collection was open and completed during a 5-
month period with only athlete data collected.
Additionally, students enrolled in first-year psychology
were registered with the university’s undergraduate partici-
pant pool. Students who selected to participate were sent a
link to the questionnaire and, once completed, received
course credit for their participation.
The prevalence rates of Facebook use among athletes and
between level of competition prior to, during and following
competition were analysed. Descriptive information indicated
that almost one-third of (31.9%; n= 95) athletes had used
Facebook during a competition, with one-half (50.0%; n= 149)
of the total athletes competing in individual, compared to
team, sports. Furthermore, more than two-thirds (68.1%;
n= 203) of athletes used Facebook at least 2 h prior to
competition. The Facebook use after competition mirrored
the Facebook use prior to competition with nearly three-quar-
ters (71.9%; n= 214) of athletes accessing Facebook within 2 h
of the competition finishing.
Linear regression analyses were performed to assess the
association between Facebook use and sport anxiety (see
Table 1). These analyses were conducted for each of the SAS
subscales and the SAS summed total score, and all models
were adjusted for covariates determined a priori (sex, age,
individual/team sport, level of competition). Where more
than one Facebook predictor was associated with a given
outcome, an additional model was tested including all signifi-
Push notifications being enabled were significantly asso-
ciated with SAS-2 concentration disruption, SAS-2 worry and
SAS-2 sum predicting 4.4% of the variability in sport anxiety
(see Table 1). Additionally, Facebook use before a competition
was significantly associated with SAS-2 concentration disrup-
tion and SAS-2 worry was significantly associated with
Facebook friends (see Table 1).
When both the time before a competition that Facebook
was accessed and whether push notifications were enabled
were entered as simultaneous predictors of SAS concentration
disruption, push notifications being enabled remained
758 K. ENCEL ET AL.
significantly associated but time accessed before completion
was not (see Table 2).
To date, minimal research has investigated the relationship
between Facebook use and sport anxiety. Thus, the purpose of
the current study was to explore the prevalence rates of
Facebook use within sport and determine whether relation-
ships exist between sport anxiety and Facebook use.
Two pertinent descriptive findings were that 68.1% of the
athletes accessed their Facebook account within 2 h of sport
competition commencing and 31% used Facebook during
competitions. This result should be concerning for coaches
and sport psychologists because Facebook could act as a
distraction from optimal psychological preparation and con-
centration on the task during the game.
Facebook use near competitions and sport anxiety
The length of time before a sport competition that Facebook
was accessed was related to concentration disruption
reported, with the closer to the beginning of the competition
an athlete accessed Facebook, the more concentration disrup-
tion they may experience. The current study focused on sport
anxiety from a trait anxiety measurement perspective where
researchers have found that concentration disruption may
cause interfering thoughts within sport performance, which
may be a result of increased state anxiety (McCarthy, Allen, &
Jones, 2013). When concentration disruption occurs prior to,
or during, a competition, the effectiveness of an athlete’s
mental preparation may decrease (Baker, Cote, & Hawes,
2000). Poor mental preparation may increase the state anxiety
an athlete experiences before competition. Due to using a trait
anxiety measure, conclusions drawn from these results should
be interpreted with caution. Furthermore, due to the explora-
tory nature of this study, caution should be used when inter-
preting the direction of the relationship between sport anxiety
and Facebook use because if higher levels of concentration
disruption are reported before a competition, these athletes
may use Facebook to distract themselves. Ultimately, future
research should be undertaken to draw firm conclusions about
Facebook use and sport anxiety correlates
We also expected a relationship between Facebook use and
sport anxiety, yet, there was no relationship found between
Facebook use and athlete sport anxiety. The results of the
current study have not supported a relationship between
sport anxiety and Facebook use for the numbers of times
checked, the minutes spent or the number of posts made on
Facebook on a daily basis.
The results of the current study could illustrate that the
relationship between Facebook use and social anxiety may not
be applicable to athletes despite sport anxiety being subclass
of social anxiety (Leary, 1992). Although limited research has
focused on the relationship between Facebook use and social
anxiety, Fernandez et al. (2012) and Anderson et al. (2012)
found that individuals who exhibit high social anxiety post
more content on Facebook and spend more time on Facebook
compared to those with low social anxiety in order to seek
connections with others. This could have occurred due to the
different ways in which Facebook use was measured com-
pared to Anderson et al. and Fernandez et al. The current
study measured athletes’Facebook use through self-report
both through minutes spent and the number of posts made
per day, whereas the Anderson et al. and Fernandez et al.
studies gained access to individuals’Facebook pages, which
is an objective measure. The current study relied on more
subjective, self-report data that could be affected by social
desirability bias rather than obtaining objective measures by
monitoring participants via their Facebook accounts and could
possibly explain the differences between these sport anxiety
and social anxiety studies.
Regression analyses were conducted to further reinforce
the proposed relationship between sport anxiety and
Facebook use predictors. While the majority of these
Facebook related variables did not predict sport anxiety,
push notifications being enabled on an athlete’s mobile
phone predicted total sport anxiety, worry and concentration
disruption. Further multiple regression analyses concluded
that push notifications predicted the concentration disruption
that an athlete may experience.
The relationship between having push notifications
enabled on an athlete’s mobile phone and their sport anxiety
Table 2. Significant results for SAS concentration disruption placed into a
multiple regression model.
SAS concentration disruption β(CI)
Time before competition −0.013 (−0.042 to 0.002)
No. of push notifications 0.211* (−0.162 to −0.372)
Adjusted for sex, age, individual/team sport, and level of competition.
*Significance P< 0.05.
Table 1. Linear regression analyses examining relationships between Facebook variables and sport anxiety scales.
SAS-2 sum SAS-2 somatic anxiety SAS-2 worry SAS-2 concentration disruption
Facebook variables Β(95% CI)
Time before competition 0.015 (−0.033 to 0.004) 0.000 (−0.022 to 0.022) 0.021 (−0.044 to 0.003) 0.160* (−0.091 to −0.038)
Time after competition −0.016 (−0.033 to 0.001) −0.005 (−0.026 to 0.016) −0.021 (−0.043 to 0.002) −0.129 (−0.080 to −0.040)
Minutes/day 0.011 (−0.016 to 0.038) 0.010 (−0.022 to 0.041) 0.009 (−0.025 to 0.043) 0.010 (−0.101 to 0.096)
Push notifications enabled 0.092* (−0.150 to −0.034) −0.067 (−0.137 to 0.003) −0.115* (−0.188 to −0.041) −0.515* (−0.522 to −0.019)
Facebook friends −0.004 (–0.005 to 0.001) −0.008 (−0.001 to 0.016) −0.101* (0.001 to 0.124) −0.032 (−0.007 to 0.001)
Facebook daily checks 0.001 (–0.024 to 0.025) 0.001 (–0.027 to 0.029) 0.002 (–0.029 to 0.033) −0.173 (–0.125 to 0.047)
Adjusted for sex, age, individual/team sport, level of competition.
*Significance P< 0.05.
JOURNAL OF SPORTS SCIENCES 759
levels has not previously been researched. Although Facebook
use (as defined and measured in this study by the number of
minutes spent on Facebook or the number of times that
Facebook was checked per day) was not associated with
total sport anxiety, worry and concentration disruption,
when push notifications are enabled it predicted total sport
anxiety, worry and concentration disruption. It could be pur-
ported that push notifications are enabled to cater for an
athlete’s need to belong and self-presentational requirements.
Individuals predisposed to worry may use Facebook as a
means of self-presentation behaviour, and enabling the push
notifications allows them to monitor other Facebook friends’
activity and respond immediately to friends’posts in order to
promote a positive impression and decrease anxiety. Because
of the possible increased concern for other’s impressions, an
athlete with push notifications enabled will be more inclined
to have their concentration disrupted during competitions.
Although it is difficult to determine why push notifications
and concentration disruption are linked, if basing these results
on self-presentation theory (Schlenker & Leary, 1982), perhaps
having push notifications enabled is linked with worry about
other perceptions and possible fears of negative evaluation
may also be somehow connected to an athlete’s general
limited concentration levels. An alternative explanation
might be that push notifications, fear of missing out (i.e., the
desire to stay connected with other individuals continually;
Przybylski, Murayama, DeHaan, & Gladwell, 2013) and concen-
tration disruption are all linked. This correlational and predic-
tive study does not provide strong and direct links to this
explanation, but provides somewhat weak, indirect links to
these possible explanations. Considering this initial investiga-
tion, future research could provide more robust links to these
Due to the current research being of a correlational nature,
claims cannot be made regarding causality links between the
relevant constructs in the current study. The correlational
relationships suggested were all of a weak to moderate
strength (Pallant, 2011). To determine whether causal relation-
ships exist between the variables of Facebook use and sport
anxiety, further analysis and research are needed.
For the purposes of this study, a respondent was consid-
ered an athlete if s/he participated in organised sport at least
once a week. The sample in this study was skewed towards
lower-level athletes; however, if a similar proportion of skill
level was represented, then the results could have potentially
been different. This skill-level representation may have led to a
greater relationship exhibited between Facebook use and
sport anxiety levels. Thus, further research is needed with
more elite and experienced athletes.
The sport anxiety measure used for this study was a trait-
based sport anxiety scale. Thus, when athletes completed the
questionnaire, they reported their sport anxiety on a general
trait-based level. Using this as a measure gives appropriate
results for the purposes of this study; however, in relation to
Facebook use and its impact on sport anxiety, a state-based
measure may be more appropriate to determine the
relationship between Facebook use and state-based sport
anxiety. By not measuring state sport anxiety, direct links
cannot be made between Facebook use before a particular
sport competition and the degree of sport anxiety felt by the
athlete during that competition. Future research should show
the links between state anxiety and Facebook use.
Future research and conclusion
The current study was the first known study to investigate the
relationship between Facebook use and sport anxiety. Further
research should focus on examining whether causal relation-
ships exist between Facebook use and sport anxiety in a more
heterogeneous sample of level of competition (e.g., club
through elite levels). Facebook use could be assessed both
before and after a sport competition to determine the effect
that Facebook use has on an athlete’s state sport anxiety
around sport competition times especially considering concen-
tration disruption was linked to Facebook use. Alternatively,
research could be conducted to determine whether having no
access to Facebook before, during or after a competition could
increase an athlete’s sport anxiety levels.
Two concerning descriptive findings were that 68.1% of
athletes access their Facebook account within 2 h of sport
competition commencing and that 31% used Facebook during
competitions. This percentage is alarming because mental
preparation for sport may be compromised by using social
media during or too close to competition, as was evident from
Emily Seebohm’s quote, “I just felt like I didn’t really get off
social media and get into my own head”(Ottesen, 2012).
Finally, even though sport anxiety as defined in this study
did not correlate with Facebook use, push notifications being
enabled correlated with sport anxiety. This initial investigation
sets up future investigations on social media use in sport to
develop an understanding of how social media may influence
state anxiety and sport performance.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
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