How to support runners at mass participation sports event

Over the years the team at Massive have worked hard to understand how to motivate people to take part in mass participation sporting events and what they get out of it. 

Ahead of this year’s London Marathon and other events where runners and charities can expect big crowds supporting runners, we spoke to Sophie Gibs-Nicholls Sports Psychologist at Plymouth Marjon University about her research into the role crowds, fans and supporters play in the overall mass participation sports event experience. And asked when it comes to sports events like The London Marathon, if you’re supporting a runner – what’s the most useful thing to be shouting?

The team’s research backs how valuable cheering, clapping and high fiving runners is in helping runners cope with the physical and mental demands of an event and also highlights the role crowds play in the overall event experience.

They found that participants don’t just connect with and share their event experience with their fellow participants, they also connect with the crowd as well.

92% of runners the team spoke to, said that how they interacted with crowds played a significant role not just in their emotions and performance on the day but also how they rated the overall quality of the event experience after the event.

Interestingly even those who didn’t interact directly with supporters experienced positive emotions through just seeing and hearing fellow runners interact with the crowd and receive support.

“There’s a lot to be said, for the energy of people kind of yelling and the noise and the sound and seeing all these faces. I always feel like there’s just energy in the crowd. And I think that energy that kind of then goes through to you”.

So for friends, relatives, charities and event organisers, how can supporters get it right and offer the best possible support?

Sophie and the team’s research recommends 6 key factors to consider when thinking about what to shout to runners 

  1. Make it INSRUCTIONAL – “Run Tall” “Keep your Pace”
    Provide encouragement to complete the distance or give useful information (this especially useful for slower runners) 
  2. Make it MOTIVATIONAL –  “Great effort” “Dig Deep” Praise their participation and effort so far, show belief in the runner and their ability 
  3. Make it PERSONAL – “Keep going Jo” “Good running Carl”
    Make eye contact, use names or charity, club, team or company represented to make people know it’s them you’re connecting with
  4. Keep it AUTHENTIC “that’s an amazing charity you’re running for”
    Say things you genuinely mean, even 10 miles in runners can tell when you don’t mean what you say 
  5. Help build CONFIDENCE – “you’ve got this” 
    Show your belief in the runners to give them belief in themselves
  6. TAILOR what you say to where you are “You’ve got 1k to go”
    Be specific about distance or terrain be specific and don’t get it wrong!

Our insight