Over the past week, reports of alleged social media misconduct by members of the UMBC women’s lacrosse team have gained attention around the lacrosse community and the national media. Controversies like this one beg this question, “How can you keep athletes from detrimental uses of social media?”

Well, you can’t, completely. But you can educate your student-athletes about their “internet footprint” and the pros and cons involved with using social media.

The Positive Coaching Alliance National Student Athlete Advisory Board created a social media agreement [download here] to guide your team’s discussion around social media and to get confirmation that they’ll agree to these policies. Distribute this agreement to your team early in the season to get buy-in and create accountability before a potential issue arises.

The tenets of the agreement include:

  • I take responsibility for my online profile, including my posts and any photos, videos or other recordings posted by others in which I appear.
  • I will not degrade my opponents before, during, or after games.
  • I will post only positive things about my teammates, coaches, opponents and officials.
  • I will use social media to purposefully promote abilities, team, community, and social values.
  • I will consider “Is this the me I want you to see?” before I post anything online.
  • I will ignore any negative comments about me and will not retaliate.
  • If I see a teammate post something potentially negative online, I will have a conversation with that teammate. If I do not feel comfortable doing so, I will talk to the team captain, or a coach.
  • I am aware that I represent my sport(s), school, team, family and community at all times, and will do so in a positive manner.

Here’s an example of how to manage player behavior on social media from PCA executive director Jim Thompson, excerpted in part from the new PCA Development Zone.

“One of my players has been using his Twitter account to criticize my decisions. What can I do about that? Any advice, especially from your first-hand experience, would be most helpful.”

Rather than responding in kind, model how you want him to behave and demonstrate your maturity by having a private conversation with your player. Let him know why this behavior is unacceptable and how it undermines the potential of the players and coaches to become a strong team, which requires the development of trust. You might let him know that if he is willing to throw you under the bus publicly, his teammates may worry he could do the same to them.

Often coaches are reluctant or even afraid to hear suggestions from their players. If you feel comfortable doing so, you might encourage him to share his concerns with you rather than complain publicly through Twitter.

“Look, it’s not okay for you to criticize any member of the team publicly, including me. I need you to stop doing that. But I do want to hear from you if you think we can do things better. Part of being a good teammate is to help each other get better. So if you have a concern about the way I am coaching the team, I’d like you to tell me privately rather than Tweeting about it. Can I get your agreement on that?”

Opening the lines of communication this way doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything you hear. But if you can find it in yourself to encourage your players to share their concerns with you, you will have the chance to communicate with them in a way that could lead to a wonderful feeling of team and improved performance.

Over to you. What methods or tactics have you used to proactively deal with your players' activity on social media? What challenges have you faced in this area? Is there a specific social media platform you struggle with? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Positive Coaching Alliance

Using a social media agreement is a great way to create accountability for your players. Download the free template below, and find thousands of resources to help build a positive youth lacrosse experience in the all-new PCA Development Zone.