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Are you empowering or overpowering your student athletes on social media?

October 27, 2014 Kevin DeShazo Social Media Education Tags: , , , 0 Comments

When it comes to how we approach the use of social media by student-athletes we, as parents, coaches, administrators and educators, typically fall into one of two camps.

The first group overpowers their student-athletes. They give them a laundry list of what not to do online and throw a book of high expectations at them.

“You represent the team, coaches and program and we expect you do do that with integrity and class. We’re watching every move you make.”
“You won’t use profanity, complain, be negative or paint the program in a bad light. We expect perfection or you’ll be punished.”
“Don’t embarrass us.”
“Don’t screw this up or you’ll never get a job.”

These examples may seem extreme but they are also reality for many programs. We then send our student-athletes out, woefully unprepared, and essentially wait for them to mess up. Of course when they do mess up, we wonder how they could be so irresponsible. “We told them what we expected of them.”

The second group empowers their student-athletes. They lay out expectations, just as the first group does, but they also put their student-athletes in position to succeed.

“What you do online impacts the team, coaches and program. Here are some ideas and ways that will help you paint yourself and the department in a positive light.”
“You know what? Social Media use can actually be beneficial in your job search. Let’s look at how you can use social media in a way that puts you in a position to succeed both during your time here and after you graduate.”
“You have a voice. We want you to use it with purpose. Let’s look at how that happens.”
“There are risks with what you put online. As you build your platform, your brand, your voice, be aware of these things that can trip you up or cause headaches.

Imagine how different the response is from student-athletes with this approach. It doesn’t mean they won’t mess up, but they know you are there to support them rather than just waiting to pounce when they do something wrong. They don’t open there phone in fear of screwing up, but with confidence in knowing they have a plan for their online actions. Let’s call them up, not out.

In our leadership development sessions with athletics departments we call these two styles of leadership Liberation and Domination.


Every now and then, we run into administrators that fall into the Protect or Abdicate camp. Abdication looks like doing nothing. “I don’t care about social media and don’t want to care about it.” This is irresponsible and damages not only the student-athletes, but the institution. Thankfully, there is almost always someone in the department who cares enough to be proactive. Protecting looks like education without accountability. “Just be good, okay?” And then your turn a blind eye to the issues that are happening. While these two styles of leadership are common in our world, they aren’t as common when it comes to student-athletes and the use of social media.

What kind of culture are you building? One of fear and overpowering or one of empowerment and trust? Bringing challenge to student-athletes in their use of social media is a healthy thing. We should challenge them to be better, to have a purpose with what they do online and to understand what it means to represent a program 24/7. But we must bring an equal amount of support. We must educate them on how to use it well, show them why it matters, let them know we are for them.

We must be liberators, not dominators. Empower, not overpower.

Fieldhouse Media is an award-winning firm dedicated to helping athletics departments get the most out of their social media efforts, from educating student-athletes and staff to providing an overall strategy. To find out more about us or to join the more than 180 schools utilizing our services for their athletics department, contact us today.

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