Introverts Need Exercise, Too. How Can Sports Brands Up Their Game With Us?

Biles, Osaka, Asics lead the way

If my PE teachers had spent less time yelling at me as I ran round an icy field wearing nothing but a t-shirt, sports skirt and hot pants (thank you, '90s education system), I might have discovered my love for fitness before my 20s.

To be fair, I don't think any amount of great marketing back then could have persuaded me to enjoy athletics in the way I do now. But from my new, more enthusiastic perspective, I still don't feel like sports brands are talking to me. 

That's because I'm an introvert. I love running, swimming and cycling. But I'm hesitant to attempt a triathlon—not so much for the training and commitment it would require, but owing to the social engagement it would demand from me. I don't want sports to become "a thing" where I have to talk to people, smash that PB or worry about how good I'll look in the latest crew content for the 'gram. 

I'm not a runner who thrives on "bro energy" or needs a whooping squad to get me through the last 100 meters. What motivates me to lace up my shoes and hit the streets is that running is essential for my personal well-being.  

I trained for a marathon after quitting a mentally abusive relationship and poured all my grief, anger and frustration into every mile. Don't get me wrong, there are moments when I love to cheer friends on at marathons or to train together under floodlights. But that's once in a blue moon, not every Tuesday. Showing up in those spaces drains my social batteries.

I love to buy premium sports gear, but I don't savor having to navigate a store that doubles as a night club. Brands show me extroverts, infallibility and excellence. I'd prefer to see the struggles and vulnerability behind the success. And yes, this can still be beautifully executed. Reality deserves a high level of creative execution, too. 

That's why Simone Biles' new Powerade campaign speaks so truthfully to me. The ad cries out that it's OK to be vulnerable, to step back from the pressure and the noise. At a time when only the biggest brands can afford to play in prime-time spots, this approach holds extra power, and Biles is a brilliant choice to bring that message home. 

In fact, athletes are more willing than ever to open up. Tennis champ Naomi Osaka has spoken about her mental health break, and Team GB swimmer Adam Peaty—a triple Olympic gold medallist—recently discussed burnout, loneliness and the challenge of being at peace with himself while battling in the pool. 

Alas, for big brands, the narrative is usually built around pushing yourself, being the best and celebrating the team. 

So, how can they show up for the quiet movers without alienating extroverts? 

Swiss footwear brand On is having a more honest conversation with a wider audience: the runners who haven't always obsessed about running, the grey-haired ones, the ones who aren't afraid to say they find some of the social stuff really awkward. And they are reaping the rewards for taking the road less-traveled. 

It's a road that Asics has owned for far longer. For Asics, it's about removing the perfection, because the connection between body and mind is reflected in the company's name (Anima Sana in Corpore Sano is Latin for "healthy mind in a healthy body"). 

I'd like more brands to be this vulnerable with their content and less filtered in how they speak to audiences. There are many opportunities to reach out to introverts, people who relate more to sports as an antidote to anxiety than as a way to add 10 years more to a life that’s already noisy and often overwhelming.

If we only see the "after," we can't connect to the "before" and "during." Which, for so many of us, make up the longest stretches of life’s bumpy road. 

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