Digital Sportsmanship

Sportsmanship extends beyond the field.

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE fall sports!  Seriously, what could be more fun than a fall soccer game or Friday night football game between rival schools?  Tennis, softball, volleyball, swimming, cross country…the kids are back in the swing of the school year.

As much as I love watching high school teams compete and the camaraderie and school spirit as classmates cheer them on, there is one thing I like even more.  The thought of not having to pay ‘full sticker’ for college.  I said ‘thought’- not a reality at this point, but a girl can dream.  However, for many kids, it is an absolute reality that they are being scouted right about now for spots on college teams with lucrative scholarships to boot.   And, for many other younger talented athletes, they are working hard to compete, stand out as they grow older, ultimately make varsity or first string and show up on someone’s radar.  Someone who has the financial keys to the college they want to attend.

Imagine this for a second.  Your child is an athlete with aspirations of playing in college.  Or not.  Maybe your child plays for fun, or maybe not at all.  Maybe he or she is engaged in another activity.  Whatever it is, whatever their passion, it’s important to impress upon them that sportsmanship or good competitive acumen is more than high fives or slapping sweaty hands at the end of a game or meet.  It’s more than a cursory ‘congratulations’ at the end of a performance.  It’s so much more than that.  As a matter of fact, it’s a front and center stage position with a hot spotlight on them more intensely than it ever was for us as parents.

Why, you ask?  As parents today, we did not have our own personal public media station in elementary, middle and high school.  The closest we came to that was getting caught passing a note in class by the “mean” teacher who forced you to read it out loud if you got busted.  Or, the “rumor mill”- she said this about her or them, or the typical smack talk before a rival ball game.  All of it untraceable as we grew into young adults applying for scholarships to colleges, or for jobs.

Not so today.  There are lots of stories about students tweeting or posting their way out of scholarships and college opportunities.  One such example is a story that ran in the Democrat & Chronicle last year, September 2014, entitled, “One Bad Tweet Can Be Costly to a Student Athlete.”  The article starts,

“Three years ago, Scott Fitch couldn’t believe what he was hearing. A college coach recruiting two of his Fairport High School boys basketball players called to say how much he liked what he saw after watching them play an AAU game, and that he thought both were good enough to see court time on his team as freshmen.

“But we’re going to stop recruiting one of them,” the college coach said.

Stunned, Fitch asked why.

“We found his Twitter account, looked through it and some of what we saw isn’t representative of what our university is about,” the recruiter explained.”


It’s a simple message, really, but we shouldn’t rely on coaches to deliver it. If they do, that’s a bonus, as it won’t hurt the kids to hear it from more than one source.  But, as a parent, I believe it’s on me.  Here are some of the things I tell my kids, as well as the groups of kids I have the opportunity to speak to:

  1. There is a human behind the avatar.
  2. People are watching to see how you treat humans behind the avatars.
  3. There are certain things that are productive to post on public social media.  Public social media can be your friend.  It can help you differentiate yourself.  Or, it can ruin your chances for scholarships, college, and even a job.  I do not want you living in my basement when you are 40- so pay attention.
  4. Post what you are proud of or passionate about, as well as what inspires you.  Post to build others up or promote a good cause or achievement.  Don’t forget that “sharing” and “re-tweeting” are the same as posting in the social media profile world.
  5. Value your privacy.  Don’t sell yourself out for a few “likes” or “retweets”.  You may regret it deeply. At the same time, I get that you need to share photos between you and your friends.  They don’t all need to be made public. Same for photos or conversations with other people in your life- family, teammates, etc. Use a private form of social media for photos, conversations, and events you don’t want on your mainstream public broadcast (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc).  Frienedy is a great platform to share selectively and privately in groups. Download the app and use it.

Here’s the thing.  If I would have had access to that same social media when I was the age my kids are now, I would have been just as tempted to seek followers and likes and retweets.  But, I didn’t.  I had a typewriter that didn’t cause my parents quite the same concern. So, let’s make sure that we extend the conversation beyond the high fives and hand shakes after the game. And, let’s make sure that none of our kids lose the opportunities they work so hard to earn.