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Getting schooled in social media: Lessons for students-athletes, coaches alike

The tide in college sports may have started to swing in favor of social media.  For the past two years, college coaches have struggled with social media.

As I wrote last December, some coaches have in the past responded to problems with social media by just prohibiting its use. South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier summarized it this way: “Well, we have some dumb, immature players that put crap on their Twitter, and we don’t need that. So the best thing to do is just ban it.”

But others, I noted last week, have embraced social media and are encouraging their student-athletes to use Twitter.

This past week, Colorado State basketball coach Tim Miles tweeted during halftime of his team’s NCAA tournament game against Murray St. Up by one at the time,  his missive was simple: “Win the half, we’ll win the game.”

It was nothing new for Miles, who has posted more than 2,000 tweets and tweeted from the locker room before the NCAA tournament.

What was different was the reaction from media and other observers: supportive and barely a raised eyebrow.

That’s quite a departure from previous college coaches’ forays into social media.  When Vanderbilt announced in December 2010 the hire of its new football coach on Twitter, some media members mocked the school.  And even last November when Arizona’s athletic director announced the hiring of its football coach on his Twitter account, ESPN.com weighed in with a story on the move.

The other compelling indications that social media is gaining acceptance in the college ranks include more prominent coaches embracing the possibilities and the creation of companies to help schools and student-athletes succeed.

Kansas coach Bill Self, faced with a “social media problem” when one of his basketball players responded to critical fans, didn’t ban Twitter use for his players.

“Telling them they can’t, in my opinion, doesn’t help them long term,” Self told Rick Plumlee of The Wichita Eagle.

“You can’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t want your mother to read, your grandparents to read … or your coaches,” Self said. “It’s also part of growing up. We want to put our players in a situation where we help educate them.  They’ve got to learn the value of what they say.”

That’s the right approach, said Kevin DeShazo, who founded a company that educates student-athletes on how to leverage social media. “If you are banning it, it’s out of fear or lack of education,” said DeShazo, who runs Fieldhouse Media.

“The key is for them to see it as a positive thing, not as a problem that needs to be eliminated,” he said.

One of the obstacles to overcome is convincing coaches who succeeded before the age of social media to see the possibilities. “They don’t see value in it,” DeShazo said.

What does he tell athletic departments about social media? “Let’s focus on using it well – acknowledge the risks – but let’s think about how we should use it.”

Colleges looking to experiment do not have to rely just on Coach Miles’ halftime Twitter example.

Last month, NASCAR driver Brad Kaselowski tweeted from his race car during a break in the Daytona 500 – and gained 100,000 followers in two hours.

It won’t be long before coaches playing each other tweet from their locker rooms during halftimes or from the bench during a timeout.  Imagine the social media possibilities if Colorado State played Kentucky next season: YouTube videos from the locker room before the game, player Twitter handles on the screen during the game, live Tweets from coaches at the half.

It’s coming.

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