Hi, my name is Tari and I love three things: lacrosse, burritos, and tweeting. I first picked up a lacrosse stick my freshman year of high school, after some of my field hockey teammates mentioned they planned on playing the sport in the spring. I had never really heard about lacrosse up until that point, which some would probably find surprising as I’d spent just about six years living in Maryland. In my defense, I’d spent seven years before then living in Harare, Zimbabwe, where the sports in focus were field hockey, soccer, and netball, to name a few. To say I fell in love is an understatement. I was hooked! Something about running around chasing a ball with friends quickly resonated with me, and all I could talk about was my new favorite sport, lacrosse. However, not everyone was as excited about my constant Facebook statuses about lacrosse. After some complaints about flooding timelines with things such as “I love lacrosse so much!!!” and “Way to go Blue Devils, we got the dub,” I decided I’d simply post all my lacrosse feels somewhere else. I created a Twitter page under the moniker “Official Lax Girl” (@officiallaxgirl), and my fingers got to work. I never expected my page or following to grow, and never even put my real name on my page. This account was a place for me to love lacrosse freely and sometimes air my grievances in a funny manner. That’s the overview of how I found lacrosse and have been on this amazing ride as women’s lacrosse’s (and Rob Pannell’s) #1 fan.
Because of my account, I’ve been able to meet so many players from around the nation, and have even interacted with some from around the world! What I believe is the best part of being Official Lax Girl is the opportunity to spread positivity not only about the game, but about oneself as a player. My biggest goal has always been to create an environment on my page that is real. Each feeling I share is one I’ve experienced, any advice I share is some I believe will be helpful, and all my interactions are true to who I am. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to create a platform that’s allowed me to talk about the game candidly with others, and even in my toughest moments, my Twitter page has been somewhere I could go and seek encouragement from others and share that as well. I believe that when used correctly and in a positive manner, social media can have a really great impact on players, coaches, and teams.
I understand that social media can be a tough topic to breach when speaking to players, because for us (as millennials especially), social media is the place to be. When something shocking or funny happens, we instantly turn to Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat to share it. When we have 6:00 am practice or are on an eight-hour ride back from playing a game, we turn to our social networks to air our feelings, whether we are excited or exhausted.
As coaches, you may not necessarily have all the time necessary to watch our accounts and make sure we’re saying the right things in terms of not putting ourselves or our teams in jeopardy. The split second decision to tweet about how unhappy you (a player) are about not getting playing time can seem like nothing for a player, but a coach may interpret that differently. So how, as a coach, can you bring up your expectations for players’ social media usage without coming across as a “Debby Downer?” I believe it all starts with the first meeting at the beginning of fall ball or the spring season. When given the responsibility and expectation of holding your team in the highest regard possible, it is hard for a player to ignore that responsibility and go against it. If a standard of conducting yourself in a respectable manner, for example not posting explicit images or any content relating to illegal activities, is one that is set by the coaches at the beginning, and explicitly stated as a team rule, then players must adhere to it and will understand the consequences of breaking such a rule.
Consequences. In the media, at home, or even in the classroom, we constantly hear about thinking of the “consequences” of social media. If you post A or B, you put yourself at risk of losing a job. Outlining that in a way that shows student-athletes that putting yourself or the team in a position they do not need to be, where the job that can be lost is playing time or a season, is a pretty good reality check. I am in no way saying that you should censor your players in any way, because I understand that it is important to have the ability to speak your mind and share your thoughts, but helping them understand that there is a time and place for things to be said, and social networks aren’t always the best place to say things, is important. Letting them know that you care about them and want what’s best for them, including not having to see them go through getting in trouble for a Tweet or a Snapchat, goes a long way. Players must also realize that when a topic is controversial, yet you still want to speak about it, you can do so in a manner that is not disrespectful and won’t put you in jeopardy of any kind. A hot topic at the moment is mandating protective headgear for players at the High School levels and I have been vocally honest about my belief that headgear should be optional. In being honest, there have been instances where I call out certain products I do not believe are helpful in minimizing concussions, and I have aimed to do so in a manner that will not burn bridges, but is true to my beliefs as an athlete. And when I am in doubt, I save tweets as a draft and come back to them later. Usually, I end up leaving them there.
You can also use social media as a way for your players to connect with you and each other. After winning games or on trips, players love tweeting about their team and sharing photos as well! It’s a fun way to keep your friends and family updated about what’s going on with your team, and a positive way of using social media as they are able to show that they are enjoying their experiences on the team. Using social media to boost team morale and game attendance is a great idea, and encouraging your players to invite their friends to watch big games and cheer on the team allows you both to be on the same page.
Allow your players to have the opportunity to post about the things that matter to them and share memories they enjoy, but also stress the importance of respecting themselves and their teammates in what they do. Sometimes tweeting at your players can be fun. I’ve enjoyed seeing replies from coaches in the past, and I enjoy seeing coaches interact with their players as well. The interactions don’t have to be frequent, it could simply be taking a picture of your team during workouts and tagging them in the post. Social networks can be the common ground between players and coaches off the field. Social media can be a fun and fruitful experience when used in a positive manner, and can lead to lots of great places along the way!
Thank you, IWLCA, for allowing me to share my thoughts on social media and how coaches can use it to connect with their players and assist them in making sure they have a platform to be themselves without the risk of losing any of their privileges.