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:

Learning from other coaches, all coaches.

Don't ever think you only learn by reading articles and attending coaching courses.  Watching your peers in action and seeing what succeeds and fails is a very important part of your own personal development.

This week we had our fifth session with our club's U11/U12 development program.

The sessions have been going well with coaches Colum, John and Nilan helping out.  I have to say these three coaches have been very good for me as I am learning something from each of them in terms of relating to players.  They are also newer coaches in our rep/select program so I like to see how they're doing.

Coach John is a high school Vice-Principal and has 4 children.  Technically, in soccer, he is not overly experienced, but his approach with the players is warm and respectful.  He is not afraid to jump in and even out a small-sided-game that needs a player.  There is always a smile on his face, even when he's not smiling.  He is very experienced in sports, VERY experienced in dealing with young adults and understands everything we are doing so setting up and monitoring/adjusting is not a problem.  It's obvious to anybody watching that Coach John brings his experience as an educator to soccer.  John looks and sounds like a coach, and that's big.  Our conversations tell me that he is very comfortable with his philosophies and that is the biggest step to being a good coach.   I deal with Coach John on occasion during the day so we have a pre-existing relationship.

Coach Nilan is in law-enforcement and has experience with the game.  His voice is clear, his posture is confident and he comes to our sessions looking the part of a coach.  Nilan really enjoys coaching and the kids seem to sense that.  His change in voice at different times accurately relays his emotions and he is able to use that effectively with the players.  He can adequately demonstrate for the players and that  helps with his delivery.  I interface with Nilan at soccer and through work as he is a colleague of my wife.  He is a positive addition to our club's coaching ranks.

Coach Colum is a coach with whom I just started working.  We did not know each other before this program.  I have no complaints so far and I have to say I like his style.  He just assumed his position as head coach of our U11 girls team.  He comes to our sessions ready to work and he's not afraid to try and pump the players up during the exercises we're doing.  He is able to demonstrate and uses good soccer language when relaying information.  His body language is very positive and the girls are appreciative of his efforts. He looks, acts and sounds like a coach.

Seeing the qualities of these people, how can I walk away from a session and not gain something?  It may not always be technical, but it will always be something that strengthens my ability to relate.  Every session, before my eyes, I get three different approaches to the session's sequences and three streams of information to process.  It's been very enjoyable.

If you come to training with the attitude "You learn from me and that's that" you're not likely to be a very successful coach or engage the people you're working with.  I find myself gathering information from people all day long, a lot of do's and dont's.

As a coach I love to watch others coach regardless of the team, level or sport.  I often wander into the next ice-rink while waiting for my son's hockey game to watch a coach run their practice.  I watch their organization, teaching style, body language and how the players receive them.  In short, I am assessing them.

When you watch another coach, ask yourself the same type of questions as you would when reflecting after a session:
  • What did I like?
  • What would I change?
  • Did the players enjoy the session?
  • Did the players improve?
  • How was the coach's demeanour and appearance?
  • How was the organization? 
The assistants occasionally change my organization a bit for their own section of a drill.  That's OK because sometimes I adapt their idea for myself.

For your own development, make a point of watching other coaches using a coach's set of eyes.  It could be something completely new, something to reinforce good habits you have or plainly what NOT to do.

By the way,  all that is written above applies to every profession or occupation.  If you think you are done growing and learning, you're finished.