If you’re a high school administrator or coach tasked with overseeing your student-athletes on social media, you’ve probably dealt with some touchy situations over the years. And the potential for these problems is growing.
Teens are flocking to social media in greater and greater numbers.
Armed with easy access to smartphones, tablets, computers, and gaming devices, America’s teens are increasingly active in online social networks. According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of teens report going online daily, and more than half of teens, aged 13 to 17, go online several times a day.
Many students simply don’t understand the power and reach of social media—or the problems they can cause for themselves and the teams they represent—with thoughtless, vulgar or negative social updates.
For student-athletes the stakes can be especially high.
Coaches use social media as an essential part of the college recruiting process. And, while coaches are not allowed to contact an athlete via social media until junior year, many describe checking social media profiles long before then. Scholarships, college acceptance, and athletic awards can hang in the balance if an athlete’s social media presence is deemed problematic.
“What you put out there is your brand and how you want to be perceived,” says Avon, Ohio, football coach Mike Elder. “Recruiters want to see what kind of person you are because they’re making a major investment in you. If you’re putting the wrong things out there, I can promise you, that recruiting will end.”
Problems are not limited to high school students or to recruiting.
Teens are influenced by the behavior of the athletes they follow, watch, and admire. Unfortunately, many college and even professional athletes also use social media without thinking about the consequences.
Case in point, Missouri quarterback, Maty Mauk, who was recently suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed transgression, recently made his situation worse by favoriting unflattering tweets on Twitter about his replacement. He deleted the tweets, but not before a reporter caught them and showcased them in a tweet of his own.
College athletes are using social media without training, according to a study released by Fieldhouse Media in May of 2015. Of the 1,000 respondents, 43 percent reported spending an hour a day on social media and 45 percent reported having no social media training. 41 percent of the survey respondents admitted posting or sending something inappropriate on Snapchat, and 37 percent reported regretting having posted something in the past.
Today many schools are going on the offensive.
Schools across the country are offering social media seminars for student-athletes. Educating teens about the use of social media is seen as essential. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) has added a social media training module to its coaching curriculum to help coaches keep their athletes out of social media trouble. “We focus on topics that are hot and current, and pride ourselves on staying ahead of the curve,” said Fred Balsamo, who heads the Connecticut Coaching Education Program. “Social media is blowing out of control.”
But what can you do if your school doesn’t offer social media coaching or seminars for its students? Whether your school holds such seminars or not, here are some tips and lessons to pass on to your student athletes.
Things to Avoid Doing in the Social Media Space
It’s really important for young people to understand that Google never forgets. Tweets can be deleted, and Facebook comments removed, but once you have posted to the Internet, your updates are out there—forever. Anything you post in the social media space should be considered public information. If you wouldn’t say something directly to someone’s face, don’t post it in social media. Here are things to remember:
- Don’t use social media to insult a former girlfriend, a teammate, or the opposing team.
- Those social networks that promise to delete photos and updates forever? Don’t trust them. In the blink of an eye, it’s a sure bet that someone may have already grabbed a screen shot of what you just posted.
- Think before you hit send. Is your comment, photo, or video going to cause trouble for you or for someone else? If your update might be construed as vulgar, cruel, racist, or inappropriate—don’t post it.
Use Social Media to Build Your Reputation, Not Ruin It
Social media can be used as a powerful tool for good and can help build a positive reputation. Here are some tips for using social media to help you stand out as someone coaches want to recruit and colleges want as their representatives.
- Say thank you. Thank the people who support you—your parents, family members, friends, coaches, teachers, and teammates.
- Share positive news and things that are appropriately funny.
- Be a good ambassador–support your teammates and your school.
- Promote school and community events.
Social media will continue to present challenges for coaches, student-athletes, and the rest of us. Using these simple and practical social media tips can help you and your athletes focus on the sport, not the backlash that might follow an ill-thought out social media update.