Long gone are the days when young athletes would only occasionally see their name in a school or local newspaper for their athletic accomplishments. If you’re a sports parent or coach, it’s likely you remember how rare it used to be to receive press in the news (remember newspaper clippings?!), and probably marvel at how much things have changed with respect to kids getting media attention today. In fact, talented student athletes probably have more social media posts and pictures go viral in one day today than their parents might have had over their entire youth sport career.
Social media has given us countless outlets to use as communication, from Facebook to Twitter and everything in between. The ease in which messages and pictures can be taken and sent via the internet is something even young kids can do, and smart phones make this task that much easier. In just a matter of minutes, a great catch, big home run, or amazing race time can be captured and sent to hundreds, if not tens of thousands of people. While this can be a great rush for a youngster to see his or her name go big-time, is this a good thing for overall growth and development?
Like most things in life, social media can be used for good or bad purposes. With sports, however, special caution might be exercised to help kids successfully handle the sudden feeling of going from an average athlete who received little attention, to a community household name — and sometimes literally overnight. Overexposure, if not dealt with, can lead to a host of issues and problems, including:
- Buying into “hype” that takes the athlete’s focus away from important aspects relating to future growth, training, and development.
- Falsely assuming that a full-ride college athletic scholarship is automatic now that the athlete is getting big press.
- Developing an unhealthy cockiness that may lead to poor sportsmanship, or even grandiose thinking that the athlete can do anything he or she pleases and still be successful.
Balancing exposure with reality
Getting exposure for athletic abilities can be a really good thing, and can lead to future sport opportunities. The key is to balance the exposure received (if one is fortunate to gain attention) with a healthy sense of reality by having good mentors help keep the athlete grounded. In fact, kids can be taught the important lesson of humility by sharing the attention they get with their teammates, and making it a point to talk about the team when being interviewed and written about.
While it’s true that we cannot control the exposure we receive when others post comments and pictures about us, we can control the ways in which we respond and how we handle what is being posted. Kids today do have new challenges dealing with instant fame that their parents never had to worry about, but tuned in parents (and coaches) can help mitigate most potential future problems.
Getting “hype” can be a cool thing, but it can also be intoxicating (especially for kids) and lead to false, inflated self-appraisals and many other problems. Since we can’t change, limit, or delete the things kids will read about themselves, we need to devote our attention in more effective ways — including teaching kids how to stay grounded as they see their sports profile blow up.