Social media has had a tremendous impact on high school athletics. Coaches, players, parents and fans have all been affected. News & Observer high school sports editor Tim Stevens and the community newspaper sports editors weigh in on social media.
What can be done so that social media has a positive impact on high school athletics?
Stevens: For starters, it’s tough. The legal system trails society by a few years, and the courts still are sorting out what coaches and administrators can do in relation to social media. Where does the freedom of expression verge into conduct detrimental to the school?
The courts are clear that if conduct is disruptive of school, administrators can take action, but, from my understanding, the options that coaches and administrators can take have for something like criticizing your coach or your teammates are less clear.
Schools need to have written expectations. Players and parents should sign the agreement, but legally I don’t know if a coach can toss a player from the team for something said on social media.
W.E. Warnock, The Durham News: Tim is right. The schools, teams and coaches will have a more profound impact on this issue than the state. Most teams have a kind of “at-will” membership, and coaches can usually dismiss a player for whatever is deemed detrimental to the team. (“Failure to follow team policy” covers a broad area.)
That being said, each head coach should establish a policy about social policy and cover it in a team meeting. And a lesson or two about etiquette wouldn’t hurt.
Aaron Moody, Eastern Wake News: It’s pretty scary, if you think about it. How do you regulate the use of (potentially) hundreds of cell phones fans carry to the most highly attended sports events? I think if you try to with a hard-core enforcer vibe, you will likely only conjure negative attention.
Coaches and administrators clearly can set rules for their players, keep tabs on and discipline students who take it too far on social media. But as we’ve seen before, such actions are likely to only trigger more tweets and more posts.
Policies should be in place. School staffers can promote fun and appropriate uses of social media – use it to their advantage as much as possible. Beyond that, I suppose we are to hope coaches have enough sway that their teams’ followers will have a little class when using their mobile devices.
Should coaches monitor social media accounts?
Stevens: I heard a national high school athletic official once tell me that coaches should stay away, that there was nothing there that they wanted to see. But players communicate through social media. A tweet is a much quicker way to tell the team about a schedule change.
J. Mike Blake, The Cary News: If I were a coach, I would monitor it as much as my busy work-life schedule would allow me. You don’t need to go through every player’s tweets and posts, but if something comes across your timeline that needs to be taken down, step in. We’re seeing people ruin their lives over tweets and posts that could be avoided. This is a teachable moment for a kid that they probably won’t get from mom or dad (because mom and dad are probably blocked in their privacy settings).
D. Clay Best, Smithfield Herald: Coaches are going to become more and more active in social media, even more so than they are now, just as every other aspect of communication moves in that direction. Part of me wonders how a team’s members (coaches, players, etc.) can keep up with what’s going on, be informed without the use of social media these days.
I wouldn’t pore over every player’s tweets, either. But I’d encourage the use of the medium as a positive aspect of a team environment. If you didn’t get a chance to tell your teammate they did a great job in person after the game, tell them on social media or thank your coach for their hard work getting you ready for that big playoff win you just registered.
Warnock: Trying to be a one-person NSA would be a thankless and never-ending task. A coach could go mad spending endless hours of their already stretched time trying to keep up with even a dozen players, let alone the 40-50 one might have on a football team. Better to cultivate good relationships with your players. (Think Dean Smith, or Bear Bryant.) If your players know you care about them, you’ll hear soon enough if one of them is straying into a problem area, even online.
Moody: While that would be a full-time job, this is the direction we’re headed. I’m with J. Mike on this one – drop in and take a look around on a regular basis and make sure there is nothing that needs to come down.
How should players, coaches and fans handle social media?
Stevens: Behave. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t be willing to say in person. Remember that high school players are children. They behave childishly at times. Also remember that most coaches are doing the best they can. When fans criticize coaches, the fans may be jeopardizing the coach’s job, his livelihood.
Moody: They should use it positively and to their advantage and steer clear of humiliation. That means thinking how a post will be received by others before you click the button – would you still own that prospective, snarky comment in a couple days when you are off your soapbox and the dust has settled? When used properly, social media is an amazingly useful tool for sharing sports updates and building a sense of community among the local athletic programs.
Blake: Venting on social media has become our nation’s favorite pastime, but since the days of LiveJournal and AOL Instant Messenger, it never leads to anything good. If you have to vent, call a friend. Coaches should use social media to promote and inform. Players should use it to communicate directly with others and share information. Fans should use it to encourage these young athletes and the underpaid, overworked educators we call coaches.
Best: There’s no better use of social media – especially Twitter – than keeping up with what’s going on in multiple places during Friday night football or a night full of playoff games in multiple sports. That’s one of the most informative uses we can get from anybody around high school athletics using social media.
Coaches, players and fans need to remember what separates traditional, old school media outlets (newspapers, magazines, TV stations) from everybody else out there with the open platform that is online communication of any form: We have editors. There’s somebody else who is going to read what we’ve written before it gets distributed to the public. So there’s somebody else to say, “Clay, that’s ridiculous,” before it gets out.
Self-editing is a must for anyone who wants to keep the use of social media positive. Follow the ideas Tim and J. Mike have set forth: Don’t put it out there if you wouldn’t say it in person, and keep it encouraging.
There are plenty of life application lessons that prep sports offer. How to use social media is a new one, but maybe one of the most important these days.
Warnock: Some of the better coaches I know, like former Chapel Hill (now Pamlico) coach Tod Morgan, are themselves very active on social media and set a good example for their players. Athletes are more likely to emulate the behavior of their coaches than they are to follow only what a coach says. If a coach stomps on a chair, don’t be surprised to see a player follow suit one day. Conversely, a calm coach is likely to cultivate a calmness in an athlete.
Good tweets beget good tweets, albeit even the most sincere of posts can produce an on-line war if opposing fans want to jump onto a comment.
The best thing a coach can do with social media is use it to promote the success of his or her athletes and team. This works especially well with alums. Not only can coaches note wins or tough games, and thereby help keep fans up to date, they can use social media to follow athletes/alums birthdays, births and travails. One coach can send out a dozen congratulations in an hour or less, something that used to take all day via pen, postcard and post office.