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Updated: Apr 10

When it comes to student athletes and social media, it's important to provide guidance and support to ensure they maintain a positive and safe online presence. Social media can be a great tool for student athletes to connect with their peers, fans, and potential recruiters, but it also comes with potential risks. Here are three tools you might not have considered...

For those of us who didn’t grow up with social media, this scenario paints a vivid picture of what's happening. Imagine the athlete is an operator at a call center, and the phones keep ringing. Some calls they miss, and they fixate on what they missed (FOMO). Some calls they take, and the caller is negative, distracting, or comparing their performance with other operators. They get lost in a time-sucking scroll hole with one call while missing other calls. They can't do their job effectively, and they feel a constant need to catch up. However, they are compelled to get all of the calls because the phone keeps ringing day and night, and there are consequences for missing calls. Get it?

As I like to say, no one ever lost or won a championship wishing they had watched one more Tik Tok video.

As a parent or coach, it's crucial to have open and honest conversations with your athletes about the impact of social media on themselves and their performance. For example, many stat websites compare high school freshmen with how they would currently rank in the NCAA (not well, of course). Or articles are titled: College Coaches, Here's Your Sophomore Recruiting Class. These are young minds being projected into a future no one can’t predict. How intense is that?

In my work with athletes on mindset and mental health, I have found these simple tools effective in helping them have a positive relationship with social media:

YESs & NOs

By teaching the athlete to create their own limits on social media use, they learn to maintain an internal drive and build self-discipline. I call this setting up your YESs and NOs. For example, YES, they can check useful information on the internet such as heats, sections, or the order of events or games leading up to competitions. NO, they do not allow themselves to see how their competition is training or what the sportswriters or others are saying. YES, they can check social media in the morning. NO, they don’t allow themselves to be on it more than 15 minutes at night.


It’s also important to talk with athletes about how they represent themselves and their bodies on social media. If their account is public, keep it light, and hit pause before every post. They can ask themselves: Is what I’m sharing hurtful to anyone including myself? What is the benefit or harm if people know this about me? How might a college recruiter perceive this? I highly recommend that athletes keep their accounts private, and many do. Privatizing their social media helps them train in secret and avoid unnecessary controversy that distracts focus and can rob them of joy and success.


It's also important to help athletes set evening time limits and gauge the value of online interactions at night. As I like to say, no one ever lost or won a championship wishing they had watched one more Tik Tok video. Some of my athletes willingly hand their phone over to their parents at night, others put the charger across the bedroom or dorm room, or in another room all together. Depending on the phone-type, they can select "Downtime" where only certain apps work, or "Do Not Disturb," where only your alarm works. I have seen whole teams do this together as a challenge, since athletes are motivated by competition. Instead of scrolling at night, they give themselves three better choices: reading, journaling, or mindfulness exercises. My clients who do these pre-sleep activities report sleeping better. They also report a feeling of empowerment. They did it themselves and are reaping the benefits of responsible decisions.

No doubt, social media is here to stay. The ultimate goal is to empower student athletes to use it as a positive tool for self-expression and networking while also protecting their well-being and future prospects.

Meg Waldron has her Masters in Sport Psychology and works with athletes to help them recover joy in success in sport. A long-time sport coach, Meg was a high school All-American track athlete and competed full scholarship in college. She brings 14 years of school teaching to her work.

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