Social Media Guidelines for Athletes

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One of the biggest issues coaches face today is inappropriate use of social media. Ill-conceived and misguided Tweets and Instagrams have, for many coaches, become more problematic than miscues on the court and field.

But current high school and college athletes, members of Generation Y (or iY due to their reliance on iPads, iPhones, and related devices) aren’t just going to abandon their entrenched way of communicating. So instead of trying to over-regulate social media use, coaches should embrace it and educate their athletes about how to use it responsibly.

For example, new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers Jim Tomsula, who is 47, grew up with a very different set of communication and behavior standards than his current athletes who have an average age of 25. Coach Tomsula and his coaching staff decided that it would be more effective to have social media guidelines that acknowledge how athletes communicate now instead of trying to enforce traditional standards that may have worked in the past. For example, instead of banning cell phones at practices and team meetings, they decided to schedule regular 10-minute social media breaks into training sessions and team meetings to allow athletes to get their ‘social media fix.’

There are two steps to creating effective social media guidelines for athletes.

The first step is for coaches to educate themselves about the latest social media trends. Coaches do not need to adopt every new social media tool that comes along, but at the very least they need to stay alert to how athletes are communicating. Coaches should consider subscribing to new technology programs or newsletters so they can learn about new developments in social media. One such example is the ‘Social Web’ report produced by National Public Radio ( Recent topics addressed include reports about a new instant communication tool (Livetext Me), new trends on Instagram and Twitter, and a discussion on ‘selfies’.

The second step is to create the social media guidelines for athletes. Coaches should start by raising athlete awareness about the scope and pitfalls of social media. For example, 8-time NCAA championship softball coach Mike Candrea reminds athletes that just one bad picture or message can forever change their life. There are countless examples coaches can use to show athletes what can happen when they rush to post something on social media without carefully thinking about who will see it and how it could be used by others (see the article in The Washington Times listed at the end of this commentary for examples).

When creating their own guidelines, coaches should review guidelines that have already been created. Most sport organizations have social media guidelines that coaches can use to get started on creating ones that will align with their personal coaching philosophy and local policies that govern their sport. For example, USA Field Hockey and USA Swimming have succinct social media guideline handbooks that are easily accessible through an online search for ‘social media guidelines for coaches’.

Some ideas for coaches to consider when creating their social media guidelines include:

• Pause before posting – count to 20 or wait 60 seconds before rushing to post something on social media. Most social media issues can be avoided by avoiding the urge to spontaneously vent about a disagreement with a teammate or post what is perceived at the moment to be a ‘silly’ picture. Teach athletes to get in the habit of using the pause to fast forward into the future and envision what their life would look like if the post went viral and how it might be interpreted by people who don’t know them (such as potential future coaches or employers). Also remind athletes that anything they post on social media is permanent and will be available to see by millions of other people.

• Social media ‘black out’ times – set aside times when athletes will not be allowed to use social media. Coaches should consider banning social media use in the few minutes before and after training and competing. Before events athletes should be focused on listening to their coaches and thinking about how they will practice or the role they are expected play during the competition. Immediately after training or competition is typically the moment when athletes are most emotional and therefore vulnerable to making a spontaneous and poor decision about social media use. Coaches might decide to extend the ‘black out’ time from 30-60 minutes post-event to allow athletes time to calm down before jumping back on to social media.

In the end, coaches should neither try to control nor monitor all of their athletes’ social media use. The effort will prove futile and drain precious coaching energy and time. Instead, make it a priority to learn about current trends in social media use and establish some social media guidelines. Successful coaches focus on guiding instead of controlling, and the best strategy is to regularly educate athletes about appropriate and responsible social media use – lessons that will serve them well both in and out of sport.


Candrea, M. (2015, August 5). Social media issues by coach Candrea. PlayPositive. Retrieved from

Clark, K. (2015, June 16). The NFL team that is solving Millennials: The 49ers are changing how they operate to cater to the iPhone generation. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Elmore, T. (2015, July 14). A model for coaches to connect with Millennials. Growing Leaders: Tim Elmore on leading the next generation. Retrieved from

Liberty Mutual and Positive Coaching Alliance. (2012, June 15). To friend or not to friend. PlayPositive. Retrieved from

Pfleger, P. (2015, August 6). Livetext Me: Are there too many options for messaging? NPR. Retrieved from

Seip, J. (2015, April 4). Social media an issue for athletes, coaches. The Washington Times. Retrieved from

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