Oh, how recruiting has changed for college coaches since the birth of social media.
Before Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat were all a thing, recruiting was a matter of identifying and scouting high school athletes, vetting them by speaking to their coaches and family members, and then ultimately hoping they choose to continue their athletic career and studies with your program.
Today, however, high school athletes regularly tweet about the schools that have made them offers and the schools they’re still visiting. They receive input via comments—both positive and negative—from fans and their peers based on what they posted on social media. They’ll share highlight packages of themselves, retweet, and like anything positive said about their game by others. Many will go as far as announcing their eventual commitments exclusively on their social media channels.
Throw all of this in with the fact that these are still 16- to 18-year-old kids who also enjoy life outside of the sport that they excel in, and an athlete’s social media accounts can mirror the inappropriate language and antics often heard and seen throughout the halls of the high schools they attend Monday through Friday.
Instead of just vetting players through game film, in-person scouting, and speaking with coaches and family members, college coaches and recruiters now also keep a close eye on their prospects’ social media accounts. They want to ensure that if they continue to recruit them, they’ll be pursuing a person who will represent their university and athletic program with class and dignity.
Just as an adult can be punished (or even terminated) by their employer for posting inappropriate or offensive content on their social media channels, high school athletes can lose opportunities if they slip up on social media. Their dream school may pull a scholarship, and they risk schools not recruiting them that otherwise might have shown interest.Student-athletes must understand that free speech on social media has consequences, including rescinded scholarships & loss of recruitment offers. Click To Tweet
High school athletes can argue that they’re entitled to freedom of speech protections as defined by the First Amendment, and this is true. However, high school student-athletes also need to remember that free speech isn’t without consequences. And posting inappropriate, controversial, or offensive content on social media channels—or maintaining connections with questionable individuals over various social networks—can have a huge impact on their future.
In this post, we’ll dig further into the social media channels that your players likely are on today, good and bad social media posting habits, and examples of standout high schoolers who’ve seen recruiting change drastically due to the content they’ve shared on social media.
Here’s a closer look at what you should be telling your players about their behavior and posting habits on social media.
The Big 7 Social Media Platforms
Today’s high school athletes most often frequent seven popular social media platforms:
This isn’t to say that all high school athletes use every one of these or use them equally. But you can bet if a college program is recruiting them, the coaching staff will know exactly which platforms they’re on and will monitor all of them.
What Posts About Off-the-Field Behavior Suggest About You
So what does a high school athlete’s social media behavior imply about them? It can often represent an unfiltered view into the life and character of an individual. Someone who conducts themselves professionally and appropriately on social media networks will help reinforce a college coach’s decision to recruit them. However, an athlete who uses foul language, racial or ethnic slurs, or engages inappropriately with others or shares offensive content will draw pause from college coaches. And rightfully so.
When college coaches recruit for their programs, they not only want exceptional athletes who fit their mold but also upstanding students. Exceptional athletes with poor character can potentially lead to more trouble than they’re worth if they continue poor social media behavior while attending the university. Also, if the athlete plays a revenue sport of interest to the public, these posts will be seen and possibly published by members of the media.
We’ll ask the question again: Just what can poor social media posts say about a high school athlete? Here’s a look at some of the conclusions that coaches may draw from questionable posts:
- The player is involved in drug and alcohol use (or abuse).
- The player doesn’t tolerate others with different religious beliefs or those of different ethnicities or races.
- The player doesn’t take academics seriously.
- The player is involved in other trouble or possibly illegal behavior.
- The player crosses the line of being confident to portraying arrogance or cockiness.
Social Media No-No’s
If your players don’t know these, they should. You absolutely want to advise them to refrain from posting these things to the social media platforms we mentioned earlier.
Plagiarism. Students can share, retweet, and repost as much as they like, but saying something or taking work that’s clearly not theirs and giving everyone the impression it is constitutes plagiarism. Do not encourage this behavior. It’s a simple one to avoid—make sure there are proper attributions and citations associated with anything shared on social media.
Any illegal activities. We get how high school is usually a time when young people begin to attend parties and perhaps engage in recreational drug use and consume alcoholic beverages. We can pretend it doesn’t happen, or we can be honest and accept the reality that it does occur. As coaches and mentors, we prepare kids the best we can and hope they make the right decisions when faced with certain situations.
We’re not saying anyone is a bad person if they do engage in these behaviors occasionally, but they certainly should not post it on social media. The bottom line is that it’s illegal. And anything illegal not only may land a student in hot water with the authorities or their school but also with coaches who may want to recruit them at the next level.
Fiery emotions. The pause then post guideline comes into effect here and will become a recurring theme in this post. Many times after tough losses or emotional wins, athletes are apt to log on to their social media accounts and sound off about what happened. And while posting something like Big Win! is fine, taking things too far—in victory or defeat—can have detrimental effects.
Bottom line: advise your players not to let their frustration, anger, or jealousy boil over online. Showing true emotion is natural, but what they say needs to be appropriate—not something they’ll regret after emotions have cooled and they’ve had more time to think.
Negligent behavior. This one should go without saying. Posting about a lack of care or ambition can do a lot more harm than help with recruiters—especially when your players are working hard to get the big offer they’re waiting on.
We understand that nobody is perfect, these are 16-, 17-, and 18-year-old kids, and mistakes happen on social media. You remember what it was like to be a teenager, right? (Though you likely didn’t have to worry about looking bad on social media in your day). Mistakes may happen, tempers flare, and kids might post something they later regret even if they follow the pause then post rule.
How to Remedy Social Media Mistakes
So what can a high school athlete do if they’ve posted something inappropriate? We have a few recommendations.
Delete the post. Although screenshots may still exist, deleting the post can prevent it from spreading beyond what has already occurred. On a similar note, if you have a heavily-recruited player, advise them to scour old social media content and remove anything that may be controversial. Removal can reduce the risk of something from their past coming back to bite them when it matters.
Address the post. If an athlete is being recruited, they’ll likely be asked about the post the next time a coaching staff contacts them. We suggest they address it beforehand in the form of an apology post. Something along the lines of this usually suffices:
“Last night, I used poor judgment in posting something that I should not have. I’m very sorry to anyone I may have offended and to my friends, family, and teammates for representing them that way. It was a mistake, and I will learn from it moving forward.”
Learn from the post. After following the two steps above, the athlete needs to practice what they’ve preached and make sure they don’t make the same mistake twice. Making a routine mistake once will often not hurt their standing when it comes to recruiting. Making the same mistake over and over again likely will.
Social Media Best Practices
Let’s now take a moment to focus on some ideal topics for posts that will help a player’s position with coaches and recruiting coordinators.
Support and encouragement. Instruct your players to use their social media accounts to support and encourage others, whether it’s their teammates, fellow students, or community members. When players make an effort to offer public support to a worthy cause or a worthy person, it reflects well on them.
College coaches aren’t only looking for exceptional talents; they’re looking for exceptional leaders and teammates as well. Though he’s a professional athlete, Houston Texas star JJ Watt excels in using social media for many charitable efforts, including the awareness and funds he raised for victims of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Highlights. Players can use their social media accounts to market themselves to recruiters and college coaches in a tasteful manner by sharing highlights from a big game they had, personal mixtapes, or any published features from newspapers and magazines. Players shouldn’t be afraid to advocate for themselves a little bit on their social media channels, yet it’s important to do so in a humble and gracious way to avoid appearing arrogant.
Inspirational quotes. Everyone has their favorite inspirational quotes from sports figures or historical icons. Sharing them in a way that reflects a player’s situation or offers some commentary on current events can be a tactful, classy way to communicate a certain point.
Personality. Last but not least, make sure your players know it’s okay to flash some personality online. It’s fine to chime in on the hot new pop single, vent about who got voted off The Voice, or add their two cents about a professional sporting event. Personality is a good thing.
It’s never bad for your players to shine on social media the same way they excel on the field or court. The above examples can help them do just that.
Privacy Settings: Public vs. Private
One of the common excuses for poor social media behavior, whether from a high school athlete or anyone, is that they’ve set their account to private so it’s not accessible by everyone. Another excuse we hear is that they’ve posted on their Twitter profile that “retweets or likes aren’t endorsements,” which is somehow perceived as a “get out of jail free card” for sharing questionable or offensive content on Twitter. Spoiler alert for the latter example: it’s not.
In this section, we’ll focus on the public versus private debate. To that, we ask: Is anything said or shared on social media private anymore? And while, yes, you can restrict the people who follow you and see your content, screenshots don’t lie. Someone who takes and then shares a screenshot from a high-profile high school athlete can do real damage.A standout player should make their social media accounts public & use their real name to increase their reach to potential colleges and coaches. Click To Tweet
Furthermore, it behooves a standout player to make their social media accounts public and use their real name. It’s a great way to increase the reach of their network and connect with more potential colleges and coaches who may have an interest in extending a scholarship.
How NCAA Coaches and Recruiters Vet Student-Athletes
Per NCAA recruiting guidelines, college coaches aren’t allowed to contact recruits over social media channels publicly, engage in a public conversation on social media with recruits or about recruits, or post photos of student-athletes until the student has signed a Letter of Intent with the university.
However, social media guidelines have loosened for college coaches when it comes to recruiting. Specifically, the NCAA permits Division I college coaches to directly contact recruits through a social media platform’s private messaging function, typically after a student has begun their junior year of high school.College coaches are allowed to *slide into the DMs* of the high school athletes they're most interested in, per NCAA rules. Click To Tweet
So, we could say that college coaches are allowed to “slide into the DMs” of the high school athletes they’re most interested in. These guidelines offer a nice recruiting tool for coaching staffs that know how to properly use social media as a tool. It allows them to pop in and wish a recruit good luck before a big game, congratulate them on a big performance, or touch base about life.
It’s also worth noting that the NCAA doesn’t specifically state that college coaches must monitor their recruits’—or even their current players’—social media channels. The big-time programs, however, have coaches on staff who are specifically tasked with this duty and contact recruits via the messaging features when appropriate.
Just as exceptional high school athletes are already under a microscope by the opposition when it comes to game planning on the field or court, their social media accounts are under a microscope by the programs that are recruiting them to play at the next level.One social media misstep by a high school athlete can lose a scholarship or stop recruiting efforts. Click To Tweet
One misstep could result in athletes losing scholarships that have already been offered, or programs could completely stop recruiting a player. It’s happened before, and surely it will happen again. Are the players that you’re coaching today prepared to behave appropriately when they login to their social media accounts?
It Can Happen to You
Think one little tweet or Facebook post can’t hurt you? Especially when there’s a delete button that can remove the post from the Internet forever?
We have three words for you: Screenshots are forever.
As we said, athletes have already lost scholarships—and it will surely continue to happen if high school athletes don’t approach their social media accounts as a professional, ethical medium. A good rule of thumb to follow is this: don’t put anything on social media that you wouldn’t say to a beat reporter. Another good rule of thumb to follow, and we’ll say it again, is to pause before you post.
A pulled scholarship or reduced recruiting interest could happen to any high school athlete over inappropriate activity, regardless of how much talent they possess on the field or court. Here’s a look at two high-profile examples where this happened:
- In 2012, a highly ranked wide receiver playing at a prep school in New Jersey garnered interest from the University of Michigan (U-M) and his home state Rutgers University football program. But a series of graphic tweets resulted in his expulsion from school, and U-M and Rutgers both stopped recruiting him. He eventually went on to play Division I football, but not at his preferred universities.
- In 2017, a Virginia high school running back started a YouTube channel, on which he frequently used foul language. He also posted a video of himself trespassing. The player, who was committed to playing football at Old Dominion, received a phone call after several of his inappropriate videos went viral and learned the school had pulled his scholarship as a result.
These are high-profile examples of inappropriate social media coming back to bite a high school athlete. But don’t think for a second that similar situations haven’t happened in non-revenue sports like golf, volleyball, rowing, swimming, tennis, and track and field.
What’s the best way to nip poor social media behavior in the bud, regardless of whether colleges are recruiting your high school athletes? Simple: explain that their words hold power and influence. As their coach, you need to remind them that when they tweet or post to Facebook and Instagram, potentially anyone can see what they’re saying. And remind them that they represent more than just themselves—they represent their team, their school, and their community.
Studies indicate that most students begin using social media during their junior high school years. In high school, even if their popularity changes and their athletic ability grows, their behavior may not.
We’re not saying that high school coaches should prohibit their players from having fun. Instead, encourage players to focus strictly on the positive when it comes to social media behavior.
High school athletes should congratulate their team after a big win rather than tweeting about how hard they’ll be partying to celebrate it. They should publicly thank college coaches who recruit them and extend offers on social media, rather than voicing favoritism for one school over another or sharing posts from others regarding their feelings for a program.
And yes, it’s okay for them to share highlight reels and personal mixtapes as a means of amplifying their recruiting profile as long as they do it in a grateful and not overly boastful manner.When used correctly, social media serves as a nice marketing tool and an ideal complement to their athletic ability for college coaches to see. Click To Tweet
With offers and scholarships potentially hanging on a single tweet or post, it’s important to train your players on how to use social media. When used correctly, it serves as a nice marketing tool as well as an ideal complement to athletic ability for college coaches to see. When it’s not, it can become a case study of what not to do for future exceptional high school athletes.
One thing is certain, social media isn’t going away anytime soon, so your players will continue using it. Make sure they have the right information and proper use guidelines so they can excel in high school and at the next level.