As the first generation of professional athletes raised in the era of social media enters the national spotlight, the negative impacts of the constant ability to instantaneously send one’s thoughts out to the world has risen to the forefront.
The resurfacing of racially charged and offensive tweets from Major League Baseball pitchers Josh Hader and Sean Newcomb, for instance, has had serious, negative effects on both the players and the organizations they represent.
And while Hader’s story in particular could cause coaches of today’s high school athletic programs to be wary of their athletes’ activity in social media, head football coaches from around Hall County say the best way to address their teams’ social media usage is head on.
“We can try to hide from social media and we can talk about the failures of social media and all that sort of thing, but at the end of the day, this is the language that these guys speak,” Gainesville head coach Heath Webb said at the Times Sports Media Day on July 31.
West Hall head coach Krofton Mongomery said his most important task in regards to social media is making sure his team understands the gravity of what they send out.
“It definitely changes things,” Montgomery said. “Kids don’t always necessarily understand how serious something that you put into writing can be.”
He added that he and his staff regularly educate their players on the importance of maintaining a professional and positive image on social media, particularly when stories such as Hader’s enter the headlines.
Chestatee head coach Shaun Conley had much the same to say, adding that the public microscope social media outlets have put on everyone with an account has changed some of the messages high school coaches attempt to instill in their players.
“Five years ago, 10 year ago, that was never even talked about at football practice,” he said. “But we do talk to them about that now. Be careful what you say and what you do, because somebody is always watching.”
Of course, there are also positives to quicker and broader communication. As Webb put it, “every college coach in the country is on Twitter,” a platform which is quickly becoming the recruiting platform of choice for many NCAA programs.
“And it’s a great way for coaches to be able to look you up quickly and kind of look at your highlights,” Montgomery said. “Some of our kids have been really lucky to actually get some different calls for having done it right.”
Conley added that the Chestatee football team’s Twitter account has become an essential tool in communicating with his players, joking that he passes social media duties on to the younger members of his staff who are more technologically literate.
He said he’s sees both positives and negatives in the rise in social media usage among high school athletes.
“It’s a catch 22,” Conley said. “There’s good and bad.”
So is social media overall good or bad for the players and coaches of high school sports?
For Webb, that’s the wrong question to be asking. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram aren’t going away anytime soon, and the most important thing for the coaches is how they adapt to that.
“As a 42-year-old man, I can say ‘We don’t need social media,’” he said. “But the reality is, for teenagers, it’s there. So if it’s there, let’s use it and use it the right way.”