Twitter: “to utter a succession of small tremulous sounds, as a bird.”
It’s the perfect name for short, personal communications, in 140 characters or less, meant to be sent quickly to our friends, perhaps with a photo or a video for impact and emphasis. That sounds nice. What harm could a few tweets do?
It doesn’t take long on Twitter (or any social media these days) to find out. Kids will assure you it’s just a little harmless fun, but a lot of them are out there sharing a lot of themselves. They are tweeting, retweeting and favoriting all sorts of stuff.
This issue even cropped up in the household of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s head coach, as Jurgen Klinsmann had to publicly reprimand his son Jonathan after the promising youth national team goalkeeper, who will begin his NCAA career at Cal next year, taunted Landon Donovan in a tweet posted shortly after Donovan was left off the USMNT’s 2014 World Cup roster.
And women’s soccer fans may the remember the name Stephanie McCaffrey, from an incident at Boston College two years ago.
Now, if you were a college coach, looking to fill your upcoming recruiting class, what would you think if some of your top prospects’ Twitter, Facebook or Instagram feeds were littered with nudity, violence, explicit sexual material, tasteless obscenities and the like?
If you were a top-notch college prospect hoping to get noticed by college coaches, what would possess you to use social media this way? Would you post this stuff if you thought a college coach was looking?
Question for youth coaches/parents: What’s the worst example you’ve seen of young players making bad decisions/impressions on social media?
— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) November 11, 2014
@cboehm was a white player from NJ who went to Bradenton. I checked out his twitter. He had N word all over. Told him that was a bad idea…
— Derek (@derek_525) November 11, 2014
@cboehm he deleted all of them and never said thank you.
— Derek (@derek_525) November 11, 2014
@cboehm Not directed at me, but if I’m a coach and my player says ni**a on Twitter, it’s 1st time warning, 2nd time suspension, 3rd time out
— Daniel Robertson (@DRobertsonFCD) November 11, 2014
Turns out, an increasing number of coaches are looking. Some are using it conservatively.
“If we’re starting to seriously consider an offer for a player, I’ll sometimes just do a Google search, and see what comes up,” Brendan Bourdage, assistant men’s coach at William and Mary, told me by email.
“On a couple of occasions, that’s led to a Twitter feed, and I’ll check it out. Not something that I always do, but I think if we had already seen a red flag elsewhere, we might look to confirm/deny that impression with Facebook/Twitter/etc.”
For others, this is part of the regular recruiting strategy. Sarah Strickland, at Appalachian State, told me they absolutely do “check Twitter, Instagram and everything we can find. But we do tell them during the recruiting process that we will be checking, in order for them to know what we expect from our players.”
There were coaches who told me they weren’t much for social media and didn’t use it to assess recruits, but most acknowledged that the practice of using it as screening was increasing. Those who hadn’t yet were planning to step up their efforts.
“This is an area where we need to improve,” one wrote.
With limited scholarship money, few slots, and a bounty of talent in the youth ranks, coaches can afford to be choosy. They want to know what they’re getting. To build winning teams, coaches need a positive team culture. They can’t afford to spend team time with “problem players” who may disrupt team chemistry or challenge coaching authority, no matter how good their soccer is.
Twitter allows coaches to unearth what’s undercover sooner rather than later. It’s a secret weapon to see what’s going on behind the scenes, and athletes are leaving themselves exposed.
Obviously, some kids don’t seem to care, or maybe they think that the old-guard coaches are not tech savvy enough to catch up with them. Jay Martin, head soccer coach at Ohio Wesleyan since 1977 and the winningest coach in men’s college soccer history, knows his limitations and the value of character.
“I am a technological moron and not capable of doing this,” he shared in answer to my query about Twitter. “I utilize my tech-savvy captains and assistant coach to screen recruits using social media. We have actually stopped recruiting a few players the past few years due to inappropriate comments and pictures.”
He adds parenthetically, “It is strange that they would post some of these things!!!”
Strange, indeed. The thing about media, which these days is always social, is it communicates on all kinds of levels to all kinds of people. Words and pictures have tremendous power because they can be shared with thousands in an instant. And once they’re out there, they’re there to stay.
Why do kids do this? That’s anyone’s guess. The supposed anonymity makes them bold and the desire to impress apparently makes them stupid. Or at least tempts them to do stupid stuff.
Ironic that it’s the ‘smart phone’ that has made this so easy.
What Advice Can We Give Our Kids about the Use of Social Media?
- People are looking at what you post. What kind of an impression do you want to give?
- Don’t post pictures doing things you shouldn’t. If you don’t do things you shouldn’t your friends can’t tag you in these pictures either.
- Expect coaches, teachers and future employers to find you online. That’s where we all find things these days.
- What you share online is posted permanently. People may forget, but the internet will be with us for a very long time.
- Don’t post anything on twitter that you wouldn’t want posted on a billboard. [–> wisdom courtesy of my wise friend and fellow coach, Nicole ]
A friend once lamented that all of our kids are just two bad decisions away from a very poor, maybe even tragic, outcome. For some kids Twitter accounts are a constant stream of bad decisions, and they think no one is looking. Coaches are. They are looking for talent and athleticism but also for character and integrity.
What does character look like? Mia Hamm says, “The vision of a champion is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when nobody else is looking.”
These days everybody is looking, nearly all the time.
The best advice I have ever heard is: be the same “in every room” of your life. Perhaps that’s advice Nos. 6-10. Figure out who you are at home, at school, at practice, against your opponent, and online, and be that person 24/7. It’s so much easier than pretending to be who we are not, because somebody is always looking.
(Thanks to Jay Martin and his staff, this article also appears in the January/February edition of Soccer Journal.)