It is rare to find a college student that doesn’t use social media at all. They have become nearly a necessity in our society if you want to connect and communicate with other students, to the point that if you don’t have any social media at all it is considered a stance to take. Gen Z has been brainwashed into believing that the entire world resides on Twitter and Instagram. Many people view those without social media as people who are trying to be different, or an outsider.
Social media has become the new addiction. Likes and retweets are dopamine triggers in the minds of our generation similar to nicotine for the minds of older ones. The difference is the damage done by cigarettes can be found in one visit to the doctor’s office. Social media does damage to our society and ourselves that we tend to be blind to, especially if you’re one of those people who are accustomed to thousands of likes on a post.
When it comes to their athletes, coaches view social media not as a content pusher, but another distraction to worry about. Those who use social media and understand it’s benefits are much more tolerant than the old school coach who still has a flip phone and emails people instead of texting them, but the real divide comes from the fact that to older people in general, social media is not something you need in your life.
Instagram was launched in 2010, right around the time the fourth iPhone was launched. If you’re going into your senior year of college right now, that means you were in middle school when the app was launched. The oldest people on campus, and in the locker room, those who coaches count on to be leaders, have now spent a decade with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in their lives. These athletes lived half their life with social media as the primary content pusher in their lives outside of the classroom. No other generation can make that claim.
This is not to say that athletes feel they need social media. In fact, if you were to ask every athlete on campus most would probably say they didn’t, but social media is free, diverse, and easily accessible at any moment in the day. For many users it is the first thing they check in the morning and the last thing they check in the night. It has control over a large portion of the younger generation, and its impact on athletes in the public eye can be damning in the eyes of a coach.
Athletes are going to use social media, that is a guarantee. In a world where brands matter as to some as much as what you do on the court, you can’t build one without a social media following. Athletes know this, and even lower level student athletes can secure endorsement opportunities following their playing career with a big enough following.
There was a time when the criticisms amateur players faced for the most part came from professionals, people with a college education and a press pass. It was much easier to either ignore of brush off. Today, anyone with access to the internet can hunker down in their basement and go to work tearing down kids who’ve worked their entire lives to play collegiate sports. A coach can’t simply tell their players to ignore it, because that would mean telling them to never use their phones. This is something coaches have trouble comprehending, the attachment to our handheld devices is a lot less commonplace the older you get.
When you’re not used to smartphones and social media like so many coaches are, you can more clearly see the negative effects that come with them. Coaches can see the mental toll looking through negative comment have on an athlete but attributing their state of mind to an app on a phone is a foreign concept. Instead, coaches revert to an old favorite of theirs: blaming anything that isn’t their sport on the current state of their sport. It’s always the outside distractions, whether it’s the phones, or the video games, or the girls.
The thing is coaches can use social media to their advantage. Mike Gundy, the head football coach at Oklahoma State University claims social media is a major part of recruiting, telling USA Today “It’s information that’s available to us, so it’s information we include in our evaluation process. We have people on our football staff that track every one of our players and every one of our recruits.” Just seeing that a coach is on social media makes him or her more relatable in the eyes of a recruit. Coaches need to be able to embrace that and use the information given to them.
What coaches need to do more of is checking on their athletes, and not expecting them to keep everything bottled up inside under the false pretense of “toughness”. Not all athletes are unfeeling, most aren’t. Coaches need to do a better job of understanding how their players are feeling and why, because it may very well be that app that they can easily uninstall. They also need to accept the fact that all their athletes will have social media. Work with them rather than reject their lifestyle. Blaming all your team’s problems on a phone isn’t proactive. Social media is the primary content pusher for students and student athletes today. Coaches must get with the times because nobody is going to dumb it down for them.