Social media has become a reality of life for high school football coaches. Players, parents, fans and assistant coaches all participate and many high school programs have team accounts. It can become a great way to promote your football program. Social media can also be a football coach’s worse nightmare.
Most student athletes have left Facebook and moved on to other media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram. Students like Instagram because they love to take pictures and see how many “likes” they can achieve. The problem comes in when they take an inappropriate picture. Students often push the envelope because those are the pictures that get the most attention, therefore the most likes. Twitter limits the author of the tweet to 140 characters but still allows both pictures and videos. Beside the picture and video issues, Twitter causes concerns because there is often inappropriate language, bullying and criticisms of others.
It is important that athletic programs have a social media policy that they cover with not only their student athletes but also the parents. It is a great topic at team meetings. Coaches must be proactive in discussing the issues with their players and teach appropriate social media behavior. Many students don’t have a great deal of knowledge about Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. They only know how to use them. Students often learn from the mistakes of others and coaches should not hesitate to discuss past problems without calling out students. There are a lot of social media policies. Coaches should study and discuss them with administrators and come up with a policy that is best for that team. Students who criticize their teammates for poor play, coaches for a bad coaching move or officials for a bad call will cause internal issues on their team and send a terrible message about what kind of person authored the post. Parents who do the same cause tensions on the team from the outside, and often embarrass their child as well as the team. The policy should also include times that are inappropriate for students to have their phones out, like at halftime of a game. Coaches should talk to players about when it is okay to use their phone and when it is not.
It is important for students to remember a couple of important laws of social media. 1) Nothing is ever private or temporary. Even if you take it down, someone has taken a screen shot and shared it forever with others. 2) If you retweet it, you own it. Just because someone else was the original author doesn’t relieve the student of the responsibility when it is passed on. If an athlete retweets an inappropriate picture, he is as guilty as the author of the original post. If you would not want these words and this picture printed in the local newspaper with your name on it, you shouldn’t post it. Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt spoke to a group of students in 2014 and suggested that students read their post and check that photo “95 times” before posting it to the world.
Student athletes should draw up their own social media beliefs. They must have some rigid rules that they refuse to compromise to help guide their posts. They should also decide what kind of things that they will send out on their account- the kind of pictures they will post, thank you’s, inspirational quotes, encouragements for teammates, congratulatory notes, etc. This content strategy that is decided ahead of time makes decision making concerning social media much easier.
Everyone who uses social media should remember that they are creating their “brand”. A person’s reputation online is created by the sum of all of their tweets, retweets, facebook and instagram posts. Whether it is coaches, players or parents, a person is a representative of that team and should take that responsibility seriously. Posts that are racially sensitive, sexist, vulgar and use profanity should never be associated with team members.
There are many positive things about social media. Team social media can be a great way to communicate information to players and parents. Practice changes, team itineraries and arrival times can be sent out to all team members and parents. A coach can create a positive image for his team with inspirational quotes, team pictures, game updates and motivational videos. It is a great way to promote events and send a positive message out to fans and parents. Coaches should separate their team and personal accounts.
Football coaches should study the latest in social media and strive to know more than their players. Head coaches should not hesitate to discuss this with the staff. They should discuss what kind of posts are proper concerning students. Many coaches have lost their jobs over their posts and pictures. We live in a day and age that often before hiring a coach or giving a student a scholarship, an administrator or committee will check a person’s social media accounts to get a real picture of that individual.
Ignoring social media can have some dangerous consequences. Coaches must be proactive and set forth a policy that allows their team to continue to function without interruption from these outside forces and use the social media to better their team.