Staying Healthy Through Education and Prevention (STEP)

Coaching Session 8: The Value of Social Support and How To Create It


This coaching session will review the Session 7: Take-Home Challenge on Barriers to Physical Activity and Problem Solving. The concept of social support will be introduced and information will be presented about the importance of social support in changing one's behavior. The group will discuss ways to seek social support and identify people who can offer it. Participants will brainstorm about creating their own social support network tailored to their needs. The Take-Home Challenge will reinforce this discussion by asking participants to seek social support during the week and reflect on the experience.


  • Staff must be familiar with:
    • Content of Session 7 and 8.
    • Content of the Session 8 handouts, including:
      • Social support, identifying what kind you need.
      • Keys to successful partnerships.
      • Building a supportive team.
    • Content of Session 8 Take-Home Challenge.
  • Print/copy Session 8 handouts and Take-Home Challenges for each participant.

Session Objectives

Participants will be asked to:

  • Review and discuss Session 7 Take-Home Challenge on barriers and counteracting them.
  • Learn about the value of social support.
  • Learn the steps needed to build an effective social support system.
  • Discuss Session 8 Take-Home Challenge.

Session Outline

  1. Welcome/Review of Session 7 and Take-Home Challenge
  2. Social Support
  3. Identifying Social Support Needs
  4. Questions/Take-Home Challenge

Session Content and Sample Script

I. Welcome/Review of Session and Take-Home Challenge
  • Review Session 7 Take-Home Challenge. Ask participants to share their answers, and encourage group discussion and problem solving on their perceived barriers.
  • Summarize and reinforce the problem-solving strategies they mention. Suggest additional or alternative strategies.


Last week your Take-Home Challenge asked you to identify barriers to your physical activity and to brainstorm regarding possible counteractions to those barriers.

What barriers did you encounter regarding exercise and physical activity in the past weeks? What strategies did you identify to help you counteract or overcome these barriers?

II. Social Support


So far, we've talked about several tools and thought patterns that are critical to becoming a physically active person. These tools include tracking your physical activity, focusing on positive self-talk, identifying barriers to physical activity, and finding solutions to these barriers.

Another very important factor often involved in the success of a physical activity program is Social Support.

We can define social support as the people or personal networks you use regularly to help you achieve a specific "outcome." STEP focuses on good exercise behavior as the outcome but social support networks serve a variety of purposes in our lives. Sometimes it is easy to forget how much our social networks influence our behaviors in positive or (sometimes) negative ways. If people around you are active, especially people close to you, you tend to be more active. Similarly, if some people in your network like to discuss their feelings and others like to discuss sports, you probably have more conversations related to feelings with some people and sports with the others.

During this process, as you strive to change your habits and exercise behaviors, social support can have a very positive influence. People often think of social support as something that is passive. For instance, we think, "Either you have it or you don't." Fortunately, however, Social Support Is Active. You can create it.

Today I want you to think about the kind of support you have and the kind you need as you work toward your exercise goals. Then we're going to take a hard look at our social networks and get active about pursuing the support we need. In fact, this is a great example of self-monitoring (identifying the support you need) and problem solving (seeking the support you need).

Let's look at the Social Support handout, What Kind of Support Do You Need? to understand the different kinds of social support out there. As we read through, feel free to put checks by the descriptions you think fit people in your life; you can even jot down a name if you want.

  • Read the "Social Support" handout as a group and discuss certain "personalities" or types of social support as you go. Answer questions as they arise. Next, read through the "Keys to Successful Partnerships" handout together.

Encourage group participants to share ideas about the social support they already have in place and ways that others could help them. They can also ask someone in their existing network to fill a new role or seek out someone new to meet an unfulfilled need.

The STEP Physical Activity Program is an example of a social support network that is helping you become a physically active person. The relationships that you have already built through exercise and the group sessions are a great form of support. We want to help you identify the social support networks you are already using and learn how to create new ones so you have all the support you need to be physically active.

Let's talk about how you can use social support to help you accomplish your physical activity goals.

First, it is important to identify what your goals are regarding physical activity. Next, brainstorm about the amount and type of support you would like to have available. Then, approach a friend or family member for support. Talk about the STEP program and your goal to stay mobile by taking control of your physical activity patterns. Discuss the idea of social support and ask the person to be part of your social support network. After you get agreement to help, ask the person what he or she thinks will help you in this process. Let your friend or relative know your specific goals regarding your physical activity and how you think he or she can help. Ultimately, the most important thing is open communication. So make sure the people you identify to ask for support are people you can talk to openly about your needs.

Some of you might wonder how many people you should have in your support network. It varies from person to person. You will surround yourself with the amount of support that you need to be successful, whether that number is 2, 12, or somewhere in between. Also, remember that you don't necessarily need a large group of people you can talk to; a handful of strong supporters may be all it takes.

We place a lot of emphasis on talking, and it is important, but look back at the handout from a minute ago. There are many other roles to fill. You also need people to give you encouragement, or people to exercise with you. For example, do you go on walks with friends on a regular schedule? Do you meet a STEP group member for meals or other activities? If you do any of these things, That's Great! You already have some strong social support established.

It will also be beneficial for you to seek out some different forms of social support, maybe some that you currently don't use, to increase your success.

III. Identifying Social Support Needs
  • Distribute "Building a Supportive Team" handout to each participant.


Now that we've had a chance to talk about all the components in a strong support network, we should start reflecting on our individual networks and building our "support team".

Building a Supportive Team

Let's look over the "Building a Supportive Team" handout to organize our thoughts. Notice that the handout pulls together all the elements we've been talking about: It asks you to identify what you need help on, the kind of support you want, whom you can ask, how they can help, and how you can ask for help.

Note: Encourage participants to share ideas on completing the handout. You may want to fill out the top row of the handout as a sample (call: sister/friend, ask for: encouragement, etc.) but remind them to be specific. They should pick a particular friend for one type of support and a particular family member for another type of support. Another way to encourage discussion is to ask the group what they think a typical participant would need help with and how that person might complete the form. In this case, participants should complete their handouts at home with the Take-Home Challenge.

IV. Questions/Take-Home Challenge


Great discussion. It sounds like you have some good ideas about building a social support team and the people you would like to approach. I'd like you to take some time at home completing the "Building a Supportive Team" handout based on your needs and goals.

After you have completed this handout, try to use one of the different social networks you feel will positively influence your physical activity this week. For example:

  • Walk with another person during exercise at the STEP program, someone new whom you have yet to talk with during exercise, or
  • Ask a friend to give you a call to see how your activity is going during the next week.

Then, before our next session, complete the Take-Home Challenge. It will ask you to consider how using this new social support helped you reach your goals for the week. So, for next week you need to identify your social supports (using the in-class handout), contact one or two of them for support, and then� let them support you! Afterward, reflect on this experience with the Take-Home Challenge.

Since this is a multistep process, set yourselves up for success by starting right away. I would recommend completing your social support handout tonight while our conversation is still fresh. Then, when you wake up tomorrow you'll be ready to call your contacts and set up support for the week.

If you find yourself stuck at any point in the process, remember your self-monitoring skills: pull out your old handouts on examining your feelings, overcoming barriers, and using positive self-talk. Work through whatever hesitation you have about asking for help and then reach out to your support network. You can even ask for help asking for help! We will discuss this experience during our next session.

Before we leave—any questions? Feel free to seek me out if anything comes up during the week.

Also, don't forget to keep walking most days and to record all of your exercise time on the tracking sheet so you can keep track of how well you are doing.

Good luck gathering social support this week.

Page last reviewed October 2014
Page originally created February 2011
Internet Citation: Coaching Session 8: The Value of Social Support and How To Create It. Content last reviewed October 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.