Twitter and Facebook have been around for less than a decade, but they're two of the most visited websites for some internet surfers.
The keys on a keyboard are more powerful than the ink of a pen when it comes to how quickly thoughts can be shared and to how many it can be shared with. It is a global thought, one that cannot be tossed into any digital trashcan.
With this in mind, coaches and athletes have a couple questions to consider. Are social media websites offering opportunities for web users to benefit in the world of mass communication or serving up a plate of dangerous consequences for those who use it irresponsibly? Are student-athletes who use social media websites considering the repercussions of all their posts?
Derby High School assistant football coach Caleb Smith is a frequent Twitter user, and says social media can be helpful in the world of athletics, but should be handled with care.
"Social Media is a great tool for coaches to communicate with parents, fans, and players about important dates and other announcements," said Smith. "We also use it to post pictures and videos. It creates a lot of excitement with everyone involved in the program. When it comes to our athletes being on it, it's important for them to understand the consequences of everything they post."
Smith believes educating athletes to use social media correctly could potentially save them from losing out on big opportunities.
After all, athletes who post recklessly are an easy target.
"We talk to them about being smart and how people are looking at what they say because they are athletes," said Smith. "People that want to see them fail will be waiting for them to post something they shouldn't and make sure administration and coaches know about it. Information moves easily and quickly so they have to be smart about their choices in life."
Mike Church, head wrestling coach at Heights High School, agrees that social media can be used as a communication device for athletic teams, but can also be considered a double edged sword.
"As far as status updates,” said Church. “This can be a great tool for individuals to update on participation in events, academic and athletic accomplishments. However, some people can't handle that responsibility and at times, status updates can harm reputations of programs, individuals, families and others involved in a social media users life."
One key to using social media succesfully is knowing when to, and when not to post a thought to the web. A common mistake for young athletes is posting how they feel in moments they should probably keep their opinions quiet.
Even though Church can't monitor every one of his athletes on a constant basis, he knows the Heights community will let him know if something inapproporiate has been posted. He also relies on the parents of his student-athletes.
"When it really comes down to it, this is a parent responsibility," said Church. "In today's American culture, many parents have lost track of what their child is doing in their social and social media life. In some aspects, the parents are taking part in just as much inappropriate postings of status updates as well. This will be an uphill battle until the end of times."
Another aspect high school student-athletes must consider is how social media can change the mind of a college recruiter. One tweet or status update can change a coach’s perspective of a recruit.
"In a sense, social media can be a sort of job resume,” said Church. “We all know employers along with college and professional coaches are seeking your Facebook and Twitter accounts to get a hint on what type of a person you are. Inappropriate content can make you look like a poor investment, and poor decisions in life and in social media can take away everything you have worked so hard for with the push of the "Post" button."
Social media gives a student the advantage to appeal to coaches and employers instead of harming their own reputation. The key is to use the free service to shine positive light on yourself.
"College recruiters are looking to invest money," said Church. "They are going to do as much research as they can to invest it wisely. If that coach is worth his paycheck, he not only cares about athletic performance, but the image of his program in the community as well. Kids are posting anything and everything these days. When they hit post, they better be aware that their language, actions, pictures, and words could come back to cost them character points in the eyes of those who hold the checks for college. It's about finding the best talent along with the highest character when building successful programs."
Some college coaches are stricter than others when it comes to social media restrictions for their teams. Mark Potter, head coach of the Newman University Men’s Basketball program, says he is willing to work with student-athletes on the recurring issue.
"I would hope to educate that athlete on what to and not to post on Facebook or Twitter," said Potter. "The social media has gotten out of control. I do understand that it is a necessary evil, but it needs to be used in the correct way. I think it can be helpful or harmful depending on what the status says. I just wish all of us would think about the consequences of writing something in a status that may get us in trouble. We see it over and over again where a player has talked bad about another player or one of the coaches."
Newman has an internet policy that they follow as a university, but Coach Potter has chosen to implement his own set of rules for his team because social media has been so regularly misused.
"This is the first year that I will have a special section in our player’s handbook about this very topic," said Potter. "We have always talked about it, but I have taken it a step further this year because it only takes one bad apple to ruin the reputation of our team, our athletic department, and our entire university."
Like never before, student-athletes have a soapbox at their fingertips. They have the opportunity to help further their careers, but also have the ability to hurt their reputation.
With coaches, parents and even recruiters watching what they say and do online, student-athletes today have the power to help, or hurt themselves. The key is using social media to your advantage.
So what are the do's and don’ts for posting to Twitter and Facebook? Below are a few tips from Caleb Smith, Mike Church, and Mark Potter.
1. Do: Use social media in a positive light to create excitement and chemistry with teams and friends.
2. Do: Be humble and stick to making positive remarks about your team, family, fans, peers.
3. Do: Post what would market you in a positive way.
4. Do: Post pictures that involve clean content.
5. Do: Stick to telling the facts without attacking a certain group or a particular person.
6. Do: Think about what the post might do negatively to someone.
1. Don’t: Use profanity.
2. Don’t: Post anything you should not say it a group of peers, adults and coaches.
3. Don’t: Post pictures or status updates about parties, drugs and alcohol.
4. Don’t: Talk about your "intimate" life.
5. Don’t: Verbally abuse, bully, or gossip.
6. Don’t: Brag on yourself or your team.
7. Don’t: Trash talk your competition.
Compare the coaches’ opinions to the NCSA Top 20 Best Practices for student athletes living in a social world.