Youth Sports and Social Media: Blessing Or Curse?
When used properly, social media can be a great tool for players, coaches and parents.
OK, let’s take a quiz. Don’t worry, it’s only one question and nobody has to know your grade. I’ll even make it multiple choice.
When was the last time you checked or posted on your Facebook, Twitter or other social media accounts?
A. 10 minutes ago.
B. 5 minutes ago.
C. Just now
D. Not in a while.
If you answered D, congratulations! You obviously have better things to do with your time. For the sake of transparency, I answered C, because I just now checked my Facebook page.
Social media has revolutionized our society in almost every way imaginable. Sports is certainly no exception. What parent or grandparent doesn’t feel proud to take pictures and videos of their child in action and put them on public display? I did it myself several weeks ago when I went to watch my grandson play soccer for the first time.
Athletes use social media to promote themselves, get recruited or build a brand. (And yes, some high-profile athletes sometimes do it for the wrong reasons).
But like any innovation, there is a down side. Some use social media to humiliate or bully friends, teammates or opponents. Others flood their followers’ feeds with too much information, sharing dozens of articles or videos on everything from cats to political propaganda. It can be a great tool or a destructive weapon, depending on how it’s used.
Here are six ways players, coaches and parents can use social media to their advantage without causing harm or heartache.
According to a Consumer Reports study several years ago, 78% of parents helped set up their child’s Facebook page, and 7.5 million users are under age 13. Most of us are familiar with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but there are plenty of other platforms you may not be as familiar with such as Instagram or SnapChat.
It may seem difficult to be up to speed on every outlet. But parents, coaches and teachers need to arm themselves with as much knowledge of the social media landscape as they can. It’s important to not only monitor what kids are posting, but protect them from dangers such as sexual predators and identity theft.
Don’t Allow Your Devices to Control You
Addiction is not limited to drugs or alcohol. The explosion of smartphones and other social devices has allowed children and adults to text, tweet and post to social media anytime, anywhere. This can be distracting, since many of us constantly check our phone during meals, family time or at games. (Yep, I’ve been caught doing that myself). It can also be dangerous, especially when driving.
In a 2018 USA Today article, executives from Google and Omnicom warned that teens are “addicted to likes.” The same article points out we spend an average of five hours a day interacting with approximately 88 apps on smartphones and video games.
Parents should set boundaries for themselves and their kids, and make sure phones are turned off during important activities including family time. Many coaches forbid their players from checking their phones during practice and at games.
Use Social Media to Promote and Communicate
Social networks like Facebook are great tools for coaches to interact with parents, family members and the community. Posting schedules, game results, and other information is a quick way to keep everyone in the loop.
According to former softball coach and business leader Paul Langhorst, coaches should use Facebook as a means of communicating with parents. Kids still use Facebook, but are gravitating more to other platforms like Instagram to interact with one another.
Praise, But Don’t Brag
It’s easy to get carried away with using social media to tell the world how many home runs Johnny hit today, or that Haylee scored 30 points in almost every game. It was all I could do to contain myself from boasting that my grandson scored every goal for his team during the soccer game. He’s only four, and they don’t even keep score in his league, so it would have been way over the top.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with publicly praising a child for a major accomplishment, too much of it on a regular basis can be annoying.
Bestselling author, speaker and former attorney Carey Nieuwhof says people who constantly brag are self-absorbed and only celebrate their own victories.
“If you can’t share the spotlight, genuinely delight in the accomplishments of others, and not get jealous when others do “better”, pride might be gaining some real estate in your heart,” Nieuwhof writes on Parent Cue.
Players should follow the same rule of thumb. Parents and coaches need to teach young athletes the difference between healthy self-promotion and boasting, and lead by example.
This has become a sensitive issue, particularly with recent stories of inappropriate relationships between coaches and young athletes. ResponsibleSports.com suggests coaches create a document outlining their social media policies and share it with players and their parents at the beginning of the season. Make sure everyone is clear on how you intend to contact your players on social media.
It’s also a good idea for coaches to maintain separate personal and professional accounts including email addresses, Facebook and other social media platforms.
Use Fan Pages and Channels for Your Team
Posting pictures, videos and stats is an excellent way to make fans, family members and friends of your team feel like they have a front row seat. Some teams even stream their own game action or use services like AthletesGoLive, FloSports and BallerTV. Be sure to get permission from your school, league and parents before posting or streaming. Designate someone who is familiar with the platforms you use.
Social media isn’t going anywhere. If used correctly, it can be a great advantage for players, coaches and anyone else in all walks of life. As Nieuwhof says, “social media isn’t good or evil; it simply reveals and amplifies what’s already there.”
Hot Takes and Great Reads
Last summer, college athletes were finally free to make money off their name, image and likeness (NIL). It’s a topic I wrote about in an earlier Better Young Athletes, and hundreds of players are already cashing in.
One athlete is using NIL in an impactful way. Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Jalin Hyatt decided to auction off the jersey he wore during his team’s appearance in the Music City Bowl game last month. The proceeds will be split between Knox County Parks & Recreation and Richland County Parks & Recreation youth programs.
Hyatt, a sophomore, played football and other sports in Richland County, located in South Carolina. He caught three passes and a touchdown in the game, and the jersey is the actual one he wore.
“I believe that getting involved in team sports can positively impact the lives of the youth,” Hyatt told SI.com. “I want ALL kids to have the same opportunity to experience the life lessons, healthy lifestyle, and fun experiences that come with being a part of youth sports.”
Kudos to Hyatt. I hope many other athletes will follow his example and give back using the revenue streams they’ve waited so long to get.
Perfect Game, a company that organizes youth baseball camps, is adding softball to its sports roster.
The company, founded in 1995, has hired former Arizona head softball coach Mike Candrea as an adviser for on-field programming and athlete recognition. Olympic gold medalist and softball icon Jennie Finch is also on board as an educational ambassador.
The softball program will host tournaments, combines and mentoring sessions for players along with online storage of performance data and video highlights.
I’ve had the pleasure of talking with both Candrea and Finch on several occasions, and I can’t think of two better individuals to represent the company in its new venture. Check out the full Associated Press story here.
Texas has become the latest state to ban transgender youth from sports programs. According to the Dallas Voice, transgender athletes may no longer participate in school sports on the team properly aligned with their gender identity. The new legislation went into effect in mid-January and is one of dozens to pass through state legislatures in 2021.
The issue of transgender athletes playing in youth sports has caused heated debate across the United States. The group Equality Texas calls the ban “cruel, dehumanizing and harmful,” pointing out that the debate alone has led to increased bullying, calls to suicide hotlines and even physical assaults.
There is no easy solution, but hate and violence is certainly not the way to get to the root of the issue. Unfortunately, it’s not likely to ease up anytime soon.
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