Coaching. and Social Media
You’re checking your email when suddenly, a Facebook friend request from an athlete pops up in your inbox. On one hand, you’ve friended a few other athletes to make it easier to coordinate travel to competition. On the other hand, however, this athlete is a minor. Do you friend the athlete or leave him or her in your friend queue and make up some excuse about how you don’t go on Facebook anymore? Or maybe you throw your computer out the window and never look back?
Setting boundaries with your athletes on social media can be awkward, but it doesn’t have to be. To avoid hurt feelings, it’s important to address the issue head on long before that first friend request reaches your inbox. The decision of whether to interact with your athletes on social media is a personal one, but is contingent upon the following factors:
- How old are your athletes? Most experts in risk management recommend that coaches do not interact with minor athletes on social media. If you do, make sure to keep all communication public and only use group chats (rather than one-on-one messages).
- What is your coaching pedagogy? Do you want to be seen as your athletes’ friend? How does social media impact your ability to be seen as an authority figure? Is it important to you to keep your coaching persona active in all interactions with your athletes?
- What are your reasons for interacting with the athlete via social media? Do you want to check up on your athletes or coordinate logistics through Facebook messenger?
You have four options when it comes to interacting with athletes online:
Of the four options, the least-used one is creating distinct social media profiles for your professional career. Doing so, however, is often an elegant solution, since it allows you to extend your coaching persona to the virtual space and creates a strong distinction between your private and personal life. Which option you choose is entirely a personal choice.
As long as you are consistent and communicate your choice in advance to your athletes, you will avoid hurt feelings or accusations to favouritism.
Do you integrate Social Media into your coaching?
What Social Media boundaries have you established with your teams and athletes?
Rachelle – Athletics – Guelph – 6 Years
“At the start of the new training year our athletes create our code of ethics. I ask how they feel about the impact of their social media posts about other athletes and this starts the conversation about what would be appropriate. They are quite adept at identifying what and what isn’t appropriate for posting. Their ethics drive supportive and positive postings. If there are questions about coaching or training I have asked that they speak with me directly. Meeting once per year and doing check ins works well for team cohesiveness and individual support.
Our captain has a chat group that, if needed, I can get a message out quickly ie cancelled training. I do not participate in the chat group. I do post videos and pictures of group training on Instagram . I am not a “friend” with any of my athletes on Instagram, Facebook other platforms.
I have made it quite clear, from a coach/parent/athlete perspective, my expectations about how we (coaches & athletes) interact with each other, parents, other athletes, officials…”
Pierre – Gymnastics – Kingston – 30+ Years
“I limit my social media contact to other coaches, and club officials. If I did have some time in the future that I would need to use social media, I liken to the idea creating a distinct profile for myself as a coach, separate from my personal profile. I do agree that no coach should communicate with a minor on social media, even if that minor is a CIT, or fully certified as a coach, but under age 18. This can be difficult if a minor is a 16 year old coach looking for me to cover a class or coaching session for them. In our club we use email for sub request sent out to an email list of staff.
If I want to cover a sub request, I do a” reply all”, this way so that my communication is viewable by all of our coaching staff, and club administrator. Email may be old school, but is still effective and can better be tracked and audited than Facebook or Twitter. Another space you can create a professional coaching profile is on LinkedIn. It is similar in features to Facebook, but tends to be more professional and career oriented. Even there, close attention to ethics is important in your communications.”
Rebecca Tolen – Basketball/Soccer – Rainy River – 17 years
“I am not “Friends” with my athletes and let’s be honest Facebook is not their media of choice. I do set up a Facebook group with my athletes however. I post videos, schedules, any changes, etc. They can and usually do add their parents. They can ask questions, leave comment and post interesting items of their own. This keeps the lines clear. Living in a small town where lines are already a little blurry, (some athletes play on my women’s baseball team, I have been friends with their parents since grade school, etc), it keeps makes things easier.”
Paul Bullock – Badminton/Basketball/Volleyball – Collingwood – 44 Years
“I am an older coach and feel that good old email is as far as I want to engage with players/parents. I will not allow phones onto the training grounds as I find that they are a source of distraction and stop the team members communicating and interacting with each other. I’m not saying that these devices don’t have a place in society but people need to take a break before life passes by. Here a novel idea: You want a team chat, have a team meeting…. yes you all meet in person…”
Sarah MacDonald – Swimming – Sault St. Marie – 16 years
“As a rule, I do not add athletes or their parents/other family on my social media accounts. I want to maintain very clear boundaries between my personal and professional lives for my sake as well as for theirs. To my athletes, I strive to be very approachable, but they can connect with me before/after practice in a face-to-face capacity.
That said, I also manage our team’s social media accounts, and I make a point of curating content that is interesting and engaging. For example, I recently solicited song suggestions for a team playlist that we could play during our training sessions, and it got a lot of responses! They like to feel like they have an active role in creating their sport environment, so I try to do things like that fairly often. I always have at least two coaches who have access to the accounts, so if athletes try to contact me through direct messaging, there are two sets of adult eyes on the conversation (which I believe covers Safe Sport regulations).
It’s a balancing act, but it’s not impossible. Social media is an incredible tool for engagement if you set clear boundaries and use it appropriately and in ways that relate to the age group you’re coaching.
Jared Goad – Gymnastics – Halifax NS – 11 Years
“Personally, I do not contact or follow my athletes on social media accounts, with the exception of adult athletes. I have a group text message with all of the athlete that I coach, along with another coach from our club. If requested, I will allow retired athletes to follow my social media accounts once they have reached the age of 18, but still do not follow them on social media accounts. I think it is important to create a professional boundary between coaches and athletes to ensure the safety and respect for all.”