Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Jim Inskeep, athletic director at Carmel (Indiana) High School, regarding the use of social media in a high school athletics program.
Question: Social media is part of the fabric of life for many in the school community. How do you as an athletic administrator use it to benefit your program?
Inskeep: Our use of social media has been essential to communicate with all of our stakeholders. The Twitter account has been a major part of that with more than 6,500 followers. We use it daily for results and updates during contests. Also, a major use is promoting upcoming events and congratulating staff and student-athletes for their accomplishments.
In the event that one of our team buses is stuck in traffic or experiences a mechanical problem, we can quickly alert our parents. Each week, we receive many compliments on how Twitter has kept the community current with the programs and how it has developed a feeling of being connected to our athletic department.
Also, we transpose our Twitter account onto our Facebook account. In essence, we post once on Twitter and it also shows up on Facebook for those who join our group. This way we do not have to post multiple accounts separately.
Question: How do you educate your student-athletes and coaches about the proper use and the potential dangers of social media? Do you also address the potential problems with the parents of your athletes? How and when do you discuss this topic with them?
Inskeep: The use of social media has opened a new avenue for student-athletes to express themselves with the capability of reaching the masses. To address this new area of concern, our coaching staffs individually address their teams about the responsibilities associated with using social media.
Also, we have identified some instances in which parents and their student-athlete needed to be informed of issues with Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. As a result, I have made calls to parents and had conversations with students about inappropriateness on posts. They need to understand how a post can be taken differently by opponents and peers, or it might pose an embarrassment to their program and the school.
If we can be proactive, rather than reactive, everyone benefits. For example, Facebook seems to be an adult avenue for social media at this point and students are staying one step ahead as new apps become available for their use.
Question: How did you create your department policy covering social media use by athletes and coaches? What steps did you take and what did you consider as you developed this document?
Inskeep: We wanted a policy that was vague in nature because most issues we handle regarding social media are unique. Instead of narrowing down to one specific situation, we wanted a policy that could be used for any number of incidents.
In an attempt to be consistent with consequences, I keep a list of what has occurred in the past. The reality is that we are trying to educate students on how to use this privilege in a manner that doesn’t create a negative situation.
The following is our policy: Participation in activities, groups and teams is a privilege at Carmel High School. The use of social media by a student considered to be “unbecoming of a Greyhound” may result in discipline including suspension or removal from the activity, group, leadership position or team.
Question: On top of all of the responsibilities associated with your position, how do you tackle the issue of monitoring social media use by your student-athletes and coaches?
Inskeep: We ask our coaches to keep their personal and professional social media accounts separate. When they communicate with student-athletes, it should be for informational purposes and not conversational. When an adult crosses over into the conversational realm, it can lead to misinterpretations and unintended consequences.
In addition, I do follow many of our higher profile student-athletes to see what they are posting on Twitter. If we can correct them and guide them in a way which does not harm their potential for a scholarship, then we are doing our job.
Question: If one of your student-athletes has posted something that is considered improper according to your school policy and either you discover or someone reports the problem to you, what steps do you take? Also, would you ever use an incident as a teachable moment for your other athletes? If so, under what conditions?
Inskeep: The first step is to verify the validity of the post. Does this account belong to the student-athlete? Did the student post it or is there an extenuating circumstance that can be substantiated in which someone else used his or her phone or device to post?
Once this is established, we consider if the violations fall within the areas of the drug, alcohol and tobacco policy as well as violations of school rules. If the posting does not fall into one of these types of violations but it brings discredit to the school or their program, we then consider the severity of the post.
And yes, we have used most situations as a teaching moment as opposed to a suspension consequence. If we can help other athletes on a team without directly pointing the finger at the offender, this becomes a positive proactive approach. However, suspension or removal from a team is an option under our policy.
Question: Since social media is constantly evolving, how do you stay on top of the latest developments? Also, how and when do you revisit your department policy to make sure that these changes are covered?
Inskeep: To be honest, I learn the most about new apps and ways students are using social media through our students themselves. Also, I have a teenage son who is extremely helpful in explaining what apps are being used and how. Many high school students know how to manipulate apps in ways to benefit their methods of communication.
Each year, we continue to look at the social media policy, but we have been satisfied with its general wording. The policy has served us well in several instances in the past five years.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 450 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a new book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.