By Chris Stankovich, Ph.D.
There is no disputing that it’s a different youth sports landscape today. In the “old days,” it was common to see kids assembling pick-up games in the backyards and games of H.O.R.S.E. on driveway basketball courts.
Today, those distant memories are being replaced by a generation of student- athletes constantly “plugged in” electronically to their friends through social media via Facebook, Twitter, IM, e-mail and all other electronic means of communication. In fact, in increasingly more instances, it appears as though today’s kids are literally tethered to their smartphones, seemingly afraid that by not being “plugged in” they will be left out of life’s exciting happenings.
The important question, therefore, pertains to the negative effects that kids experience while choosing to be connected 24/7 to their Facebook, while at the same time missing out on real-life academic, social and athletic opportunities?
In my own professional setting, it has become common sighting to witness kids regularly looking down into their lap, purse or gym bag to check their Facebook page while in the middle of counseling sessions. Interestingly, in the vast majority of these instances, the kids don’t bother to look up and acknowledge the momentary disruption in our dialogue, but instead simply carry on as though the device is just a small part of our session. Of course, with each instant-message that comes through, the youngster’s attention is divided, and we inevitably have to go back to the previous comments to “find our place” again after the disruption.
Being tethered to virtual communication is exciting for many kids (and a lot of adults), but there are many consequences to consider – especially as they apply to student-athletes.
- It is often perceived as rude. It goes without saying that people don’t like having their face-to-face communication disrupted by an instant-message or Facebook update, but this is exactly what is happening increasingly more these days. For student-athletes, especially when talking to coaches, athletic directors and possibly future college coaches, this type of behavior sends the message (no pun intended) that the virtual conversation is far more important than anything to be gained in the face-to-face meeting.
- You miss out on real-life things – like sports! For kids who are constantly connected to their devices, one thing they are not doing is using that time to play pick-up games, lift or run, or do anything else that can help them improve in their sport.
- It fosters dependence, not independence. The perception that people have when watching kids constantly connected to their devices is that they are overly-dependent on their friends, and may not have the confidence and skills needed to make future independent decisions.
- Security risks for when things “get out.” As we all know, virtual communication is anything but safe, as we have all heard the stories of controversial messages and pictures that have gotten out to the public. For student-athletes, this kind of unwanted attention could impact athletic eligibility, as well as future potential athletic scholarships.
- Multi-tasking and the threats to time management. Let’s face it, it takes time to keep up with your virtual friends, return IM and e-mail, and make regular posts on your wall. Again, the question becomes what other things suffer because of the huge time commitments needed to “keep up” in the virtual world? With some kids easily going over 5,000 texts in a month (yes, you heard that correctly), is it any wonder when you see grades drop in school?
How Coaches Can Help
There are many ways in which coaches can teach kids about safe and responsible electronic communication, as well as how social media can be used in exciting and positive ways.
- Model appropriate and responsible electronic communication. Are you tethered to your electronic device? If so, your student-athletes are more likely to follow your example. Be sure to set an example for kids of the importance of real, face-to-face communication and relationship building.
- If you use Twitter, Facebook or any of the other popular social media tools available today, decide if your posts are in good taste and suitable for kids who might read them. An additional thought to consider is your use of text-messaging to student-athletes – if you communicate with kids this way, always think about how your messages might be misinterpreted before hitting the send button.
- Set team standards for using social media. Student-athletes often use Facebook, Twitter and forum discussions that can lead to problems without responsible oversight. Help kids use these tools in ways that promote your school with class, integrity and respect.
- Teach student-athletes the ways in which social media can be a productive tool to help with many important life experiences, including academic and career success. Help kids use technology to enhance their school studies, create team webpages and videos, and build positive relationships with others.
Being plugged in to social media and electronic communication can be a really fun and exciting life endeavor, but it can also be a very life-draining experience when there is little time left over for real, face-to-face life interactions. The key is to balance virtual communication with real-life living so that real-life opportunities aren’t missed or overlooked simply because of the responsibilities needed to stay “plugged in” to the virtual world.
About the Author: Dr. Chris Stankovich is an expert in sport performance science and an advocate for safe and healthy sport participation for kids. For more information about products and services please visit, www.drstankovich.com.