Thursday, February 14, 2013

Social Media and coaching

We have the most wonderful tools available to us to aid in our communications and community building.  So hi-tech, so convenient and SO DANGEROUS.

Don't fool yourself; social media IS an issue you need to consider as a coach.  It can be a helpful tool but it has to be tended to like a fire ... at a level to keep you warm, but controlled so it doesn't burn your house down.

At your disposal you have everything you need to post an online schedule, share pictures, post technical and fitness information for parents, etc.

But some coaches don't stop there, get carried away or let their ego takes over. As do players and parents.
  • They start to post game pictures.  When that gets boring, they start to add crazy captions.
  • If they are feeling down on the way home after a loss, and decide to publish a post-game report that is not very nice.
  • A parent is frustrated and confronts the coach.  And the coach hits back, online.
  • Parents start a Facebook community, and crazy conversations start that identify players and be critical
  • Online forums for leagues and age groups are war-zones for players and parents of competing clubs.  Stupid things get written and can't be taken back.
  • Coaches start blogs and get careless with people's feelings (and privacy)
  • Somebody does a "reply all" by accident and writes something stupid about somebody else.
I've seen teams break up over online stupidity.  And so have you!

As a coach, I think you need to have some kind of guideline for online conduct when it comes to your team.  Do you have the right to establish a policy?  As a volunteer or a paid professional you not only have the right,  it's your duty.  Your prime concern is the players and their ability to enjoy the team environment.  Anything that interferes with that has to be dealt with.

Here are some clubs that mention "social media" in their conduct policies:

As a coach I have a few personal guidelines:
  • I NEVER accept friend requests from children.  My personal policy on Facebook is that I have nobody under 19-years-old as friends.
  • I limit my team's online presence to a plain and simple schedule.
  • I don't set up online chat forums for my team.
  • I have a section of my team meeting to remind parents of online conduct.  It's never been a problem once it's brought to everyone's attention.
  • I never publish a child's picture for wide open access.
As a coach, you need to be vigilant about what's going on in cyberspace.  It may seem like an extreme thing to state, but a simple, mature and direct set of guidelines for online expectations can save you a lot of headaches.  Parents can get carried away online, unintentionally, and you need to address that during your parent meeting and be clear about what you expect.

Let's be clear about one thing.   There is NEVER justification for a team adult to post ANY comment or opinion about ANY child on a team, and that might include their own.  A lot of parents write proud things about their children and the wording is very responsible.  A lot, but not all.  Sometimes even a sincere congratulatory message can cause jealous comments.  Sad, but true.  Consider some of the replies some of these comments might generate:
  • "So proud of my daughter who scored 2 goals in our 7-3 loss today."
  • "I wish our kids would pass more"
  • "If we could avoid goals against we would do better"
  • "We need to work on defending"
  •  "Exactly where is our team money going?"
As a volunteer your might think "I don't need this extra hassle" but it can be a non-issue if you're careful yourself and you don't ignore the possibilities.  Be knowledgeable and clear so you can turn your efforts to coaching.

You also need to address how your players involve the team environment in their online interactions.  Especially as teenagers.  The negative effect can be devastating.  A grade 8 teacher told me a few years ago "What happens in my classroom today depends on what happened on MSN last night."

An "old-schooler" might tell you that you are over complicating things, but it's part of the new reality for coaches that includes multi-home families, asthma puffers, peanut allergies, new social attitudes towards hazing and bullying, etc, etc, etc.

Social media has been a good thing in a lot of situations.  It has also damaged a lot of relationships. In a potentially hot-headed environment like sports where there are numerous relationships involving competitors, social media might not be a good mix if guidelines aren't set.

Some good articles about social media and sports: