If you Google the terms “college athletics” and “social media,” you’ll turn up the few hundred thousand articles that have been published in recent years and discuss the ways in which college admission officers and coaches utilize students’ social media profiles and postings to analyze their fitness for a particular school or team. You’ll also undoubtedly find that the articles proliferate as time goes by and that they outline the ways in which high school students have misused social media, been found out, and lost either their admission to a particular school, their athletic scholarship, or both at the same time.
You would think that, with as easy as it is to find this information (less than a second if you type fast), high school students would catch on to the dangers of posting certain things in public places online and the instances of students tanking their entire futures in one keystroke would diminish.
After what I learned last week, I can affirm for you that this is not the case. At all.
With the start of a new college academic year looming, a friend who coaches a varsity team recently began a review of the prospects in her database in preparation for reaching out to the high school seniors whom she will consider for her team next season. Some have already filled out recruit forms and sent video links so she knows a bit about them, but others are still complete strangers and required a bit of research – including social media audits to find out how they portrayed themselves in public forums.
Some couldn’t be found at all, either because their name was too common for them to come up in a basic search or because they had ratcheted down their privacy settings as far as they would go. (Smart move.) Still others had profiles that came up looking exactly as one would expect the social media of a high school student to appear – prom photos, horse photos, silly friend photos, and postings about their favorite films and musicians. Nothing exciting or earth-shattering.
And then there were the handful that stood out.
I think you know that I don’t mean “stood out,” as in my friend discovered a really hot prospect who’s Olympic track and hasn’t been discovered by another coach yet. I think you realize I instead mean “stood out” in entirely the wrong way. And while it really should go without saying, readers, allow me to list the following things you should either keep under lock and key through privacy controls on your social media accounts or simply not post at all:
- The results of your recent spinal surgery (or other similar orthopedic updates). Will having surgery to repair an injury take you out of contention for a spot on a college equestrian team? Not necessarily – context is important, as is the prognosis for recovery and the coach’s needs for his or her team in any given year. By sharing this information publicly before a coach hears it from you directly and by making it instantly accessible to anyone who stumbles across your profile, however, you’re giving the coach significant reason to doubt not only your physical abilities as a part of his or her team, but your communication skills as well.
- Pictures of you and your friends having inappropriate “fun.” Pictures of you and your friends drinking, smoking, and/or flipping the bird at the camera are fun in the moment, perhaps, but the moment you select one of these pictures as your header image for a social media profile (!) or even just make it view-able to the public, you’ve taken yourself out of team contention altogether. I don’t know of a single coach in any sport who will willingly take on a rider who has documented history of underage drinking or blatant disrespect.
- Inappropriate/revealing statements. If you’re hoping to be a top prospect for an intercollegiate riding team, stating publicly on social media that you’ve been too busy to ride for six months isn’t the best way to ingratiate yourself to coaches who might be looking you up. If you can’t bother to ride, they can’t bother to recruit you; end of story.
There are a host of other ways (not listed here) to destroy your college athletic career before it even starts, but the bottom line is that pure common sense is always warranted in these situations and never out of place. In fact, the easiest way to make sure you’re behaving appropriately online is to conduct yourself exactly as you would do if you were in the same room as your coach (or your parents, grandparents, etc.). Social media is too prevalent and easily accessible these days for you to behave otherwise, whether your a prospective varsity athlete or simply a prospective college student.
(And just for the record, no, those situations I outlined above were not fabricated. Each and every one of those situations came up in my friend’s research just last week.)