Back in the good old days of the 60's, 70's, 80's, and even the 90's, coaches only had a few things to worry about with their players: Was their relationship at home okay; were they getting influenced by their friends in positive or negative ways; did they go to sleep early; were they heartbroken; did they have some nice interests and hobbies; what were their goals in the sport, and life in general.
The truth is, compared with today, the athletes then didn’t have many things to distract them, except for smoking cigarettes, some nice girls and a naughty nightlife. Soccer is no longer the biggest enemy of basketball, which was stealing kids to play that sport.
Today the biggest enemy is by far and away the playstation, the internet and social media platforms, which hold the kids inside their rooms. Keeping them awake, charged, and interacting until the early hours of the morning.
From 2010, the explosion of social media (facebook, instagram, twitter, and co) made a violent entry into our lives, and caught us totally unprepared. Most importantly, we were unprepared in how we would handle bad situations. Situations that were about to come from the use of social media platforms. The athletes of the past century (20th being only a few years ago) were beginning, and in some cases paying journalists, to write nice articles about them, interview them, or mention them as the key players of the game.
Today none of that is necessary. Today, without asking anyone's permission, they can make any and as many comments as they want. They can transfer their ideas and opinions about themselves or their team effortlessly. In other words, they can take their own interviews by themselves, and post them. Just click send. And I repeat, without anyone's permission.
The social media platforms offer them publicity, which they want, no matter if they deserve it or not. Social media gives them the possibility to say their opinion and ensure some people read them no matter if they themselves have any knowledge on the specific issue. Social media gives anyone the right to verbally attack anyone, fairly or not. Social media also allows one to promote their business, marketing their job as well as themselves with nice words and pretty pics or vids. At the end of the day we all know that humankind will never stop asking for more money, more power, more fame, and more recognition. At first glance, it looks like social media can offer us fame and recognition easily, without even taking anything in return. No price. Or that’s what we think.
The price is big, especially for those who forget the basic functions of social media and the basic principles of the ethic.
Although you know the number of your "friends/followers", in reality you do not know how many of them see or even read your posts. From that optic, you can visualise social media as just a "micro-world". Unfortunately, for some people that micro-world looks and feels very big and very important to them. With the "likes" they get, virtually enforcing their self confidence. For the real big personalities, that world is unbelievably small, almost zero.
Personally, I do not agree with many things that take place in the world of social media. I believe that it is a huge world that you can do many things with, but it’s not everything for everyone. For example, it could be used as an online meeting place for old schoolmates, or old friends that haven’t seen each other for years. A meeting point for strangers from different places and countries with the same hobbies. A place that people can promote their products or their jobs. A place where they can share pictures or news from famous or unknown places, even a meeting point for new contacts or for educational reasons.
The wrong way that social media has turned, I believe, is very visible to all of us, giving a very bad example to the new generation and to the youngsters. Most conversations that take place on facebook and twitter, are simply people being unbelievably rude and venting their anger. They do not even listen to someone else's opinion if it’s different than theirs. I believe that if the same people were having the same conversation face to face, drinking a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, they wouldn’t dream of behaving in that way.
Unfortunately, these tranquil and respectful conversations are not happening on social media. I would need a psychologist to help me explain why. But if I were to guess I would say most of these aggressive posts belong to a group of sick people who have wanted some attention all their lives, and social media has given them the easy and effortless voice with which to do so.
Even more unfortunate, this behaviour is being copied by many current athletes/players, ex players, general managers, and even team owners. Of course anyone can make the excuse that the president of the USA himself uses twitter, so no one can escape this social media trend? I will disagree and I will repeat that it’s not everything for everyone. A politician has the need to use a social media platform in order to first promote himself, to derogate his opponent, and then to talk about his ideas...or at least this is how it looks to me! That means that for politicians social media is another marketing tool, as it is for any other professional.
But let's stick more closely with the athletes/players, where we meet so many negative incidents and it’s the best example of how that evolution caught all of us unprepared. For me the athletes and players must never forget a few basic things:
1. They are members of a team. That means that they are not alone, they represent not only themselves any more, even in their personal life, they put the stamp of their team on whatever they do.
2. They are more or less famous to a big group of people. Some of that group will always criticize them poorly. But, for some in the group they will be their idol, especially for the younger fans who will try to mimic them in whatever they do.
3. Whatever you write on social media, it stays there forever, even if you delete it.
4. If you read comments about yourself, they will change you as a person. No matter if they are good comments or bad comments. For sure they will change you and that will happen before you even realize it. Don’t read comments about yourself.
5. If you want to say something good, say it without hesitation. If you want to say something bad about a person you don’t like, keep your opinion to yourself. Don’t write anything. If you really believe it and are insistent to say something bad, wait. A couple of days might make you change your mind. Then, if you still want to do it, do it. Just remember you are also responsible for all the consequences.
Winston Churchill said once:
“We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out!”
Of course, this quote can be associated with social media as well. Where the temptation to say something about any topic and disagree, is so big. It's like everyone’s pushing you from all sides to do it. We have many examples of athletes who made a bad comment or posted something that they shouldn’t. For the lucky ones, this simply landed them into big trouble. For others, the consequence of those actions destroyed their careers.
Never forget that the athletes might not be kids, but they are young people. Some of them are not very experienced in life and at any given moment might make a mistake! Especially after some good game wins or championship trophies land. This will create a “yard” around them with many followers, which will make them feel strong, even stronger and more important than their own team, even their own sport.
As the head coach of the team it is my duty to avoid these bad situations. Although I was never a fan of “internal regulation” of the team, this last year in cooperation with the G.M. of the team, we added a paragraph to our rules.
This rule explains very clearly that it is forbidden for the members of the team to write or comment on social media anything about his team, himself as a player, his teammates, his opponents, the referees and the organisation in general. Not in writing, not with pictures, not with video, or any subtle hints. The personal lifestyle that is portrayed to both media and social media should be according to the prestige and seriousness of the club. His followers must always see the image of a serious player. One without abuses and other negative actions that are out of the idea of sports. Any violation of these rules will have consequences, and they will be punished.
Of course the point is not the punishment but the prevention of those actions. Exactly as in the past, decades ago, where coaches were explaining, and at the same time imposing to their players how they will behave to their team, to their teammates, referees, and opponents. We now have to do the same to our players on anything that has to do with social media. Even if that will shock them. For certain they will not like it at the beginning. But that’s okay. Never forget that we as coaches are the people responsible for how we will form the athletic character of the player and their ethic when they are young. Of course we have the main responsibility on how we will teach them discipline! There will always be players that will not like what we say, but if all coaches are on the same page and walk on the same path having the same principles, then some things will be accepted more readily.
I always say that you must not talk to the player’s ears, but to their soul. And then they will listen to you, they will understand you, they will respect you.
Even with this experienced hand, it’s never certain. Someone can’t resist. That someone can’t resist the temptation of writing a joke, which at the end of the day, will look to some people like something racist. Or someone will write something about politics and people will consider that he represents a political party. Another player will mention something about religion and he will get into big trouble. Someone will post a totally immature photo or video, and of course the fashion of the modern days is to post a photo from the celebrations inside the locker room after a win, where everyone will look in ecstasy (something that i must admit to, as I’ve been inside a couple of these celebratory photos, until I realised that this action doesn’t represent me).
It’s strange, can you guess or even suspect that those photos will be inside the brain and sometimes inside the actual locker room of your opponent? Waiting until you will meet again. I would have done this. I know several coaches that would also put that photo in their player’s locker room the week before that game! So congratulations, you have given them extra energy and motivation to beat you next time.
We must all understand that the win itself is the supreme event and nothing can make it bigger, give it more value or make it last longer. Not even a photo. The more respect you give to your opponent before and after the game, the more you will enjoy the win, the more all people will respect you. Even if you will not know it. The more you respect your colleague, coach and fellow players, the more satisfaction you will get from the win.
Too many celebrations on made baskets, on wins, with photos and other ridiculous reactions, give me the impression of players who don’t believe in themselves. Of a team whose members didn’t believe they could win. A win which came suddenly and unexpectedly. A team whose only concern is after the win to self-promote.
Of course I have to mention the agents of the players. Especially the agents of the mediocre players and teams, who in order to look professional and skilled to their clients or to the market and to other potential candidate clients, will copy-paste the same post simply changing the numbers and the names:
“Congratulations to the player X of our agency Y for the mature performance with 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist which helped his team Z to reach the win against W with the score 87-76 “
So the next day his teammates will laugh with him, or some others want to kill him. Unless of course their agent wrote something similar about them. If you are the coach, you can easily understand (because only a coach can really see it), the team has been split emotionally without anyone having said anything. On this point, I must mention that in the modern days that we live, the teams are already split, and no one sees it. Day by day this gap becomes bigger.
Instead of going to work out together, to shoot extra shots, to get improved together, to compete together, to psychologically help each other, to pass to each other for shots, do you know what teammates will do? They will go to their personal trainers and personal coaches. So please let us not ask ourselves any more why we cannot see many teams who look like really well organised teams, with a nice passing game. Do not ask why most of the clubs and the national team’s players play for themselves. Okay, I digress. This is a whole other topic of discussion, which we will have to analyse another time.
But honestly, it is my intention to judge the agents of the players. It is a job that I don’t know and there’s no doubt about it, they know it better than me. I don’t want to judge the presidents or owners of the teams. I am talking about the players! It is them that must understand what they must or must not do because it is them who are inside the frame and everybody else is looking at them. And even if they cannot understand this, we as coaches must impose these rules. This is our job. Someone must put the rules in the team and the others must respect them.
Of course the biggest disappointment comes from some coaches who instead of being the best example, become the worst criticizers of other fellow coaches, or players, or any news about any topic that is around the net. I guess it must be in fashion to devalue people. Another trend is for everyone to know and perfectly understand someone else's job (except their own). I guess it’s a matter of character, education or insecurity. When they realize that they are not so capable, instead of trying to improve themselves, they try to degrade other people or their colleagues. Here I must ask you if you have ever thought how people who are in top positions and responsible for hiring other employees, (for example in our case, a coach to sign a player or a general manager to hire a coach) how they think, what standards they have and what actions do they take?
Personally, when I am interested about a player and I want to sign them, I find all the information I can get about them. Talk to people in their close circle and environment. I ask anyone who can give me the smallest detail and this information does not have to do with how they play, but mostly about other things that I cannot see watching their games and their stats. If I can, I will ask even his barber and his neighbour (lol).
Now, with one look at their social media maybe you can understand many things. Here I will tell you a story. Once a very nice person who was starting their career as an assistant coach, asked me several times in a very polite way to hire them as my assistant at my next job. Although it was a little bit uncomfortable the way they were pressing me about it all the time, I admit that I liked their energy, the way they talked and their appetite to learn and reach high goals. When the opportunity appeared I immediately thought about them, but when I looked at his facebook profile, I saw a totally different person from what I had perceived. I saw someone who was criticizing top euroleague coaches, posting photos which were far away from the example of the coach and the sportlife, photos of immature life. Thank God I realized who they were before the start of our cooperation, before it would be too late. Maybe I was wrong, maybe they were a really nice person and could be a great assistant coach. Still, accepting my mistake, it’s their fault that they lost the chance they were seeking, even if only by the way they were using facebook.
Athletes and players, ex players, coaches, general managers, all of them must use social media in a very discreet and wise way. Keep a low profile. Especially the players who are the idols of so many people and especially for the kids. They must always think about those kids that follow them and not the “yard flatterers” who will try to be around them, or connect with them and steal from their shine.
The coaches are from their nature the leaders of the players, even the older players. The general managers are the most professional of everyone and they know exactly how a big organisation-company, no matter if its name is Real Madrid, Barcelona F.C, Chrysler, Toyota, Sony, Samsung, Vodafone, WIND, is being managed and with what rules. And as with the above companies, there is no employee who can “report” on their social media what is happening every day in their job. This same rule is for the players who must cut off their job from their social media.
Of course we live in the era of marketing, even personal marketing, that means that some players want to use their social media for their “personal advertisement”. My advice to them will always be the same. You will help me to sign you if you post nice things about life, about people and human relationships, for the trips you made and the new places you visited, the experiences you got. You will not help me sign you if you post your seasonal basketball highlights. The highlights are not bad and maybe a player needs them for personal marketing, but what I am trying to explain is that you must promote yourself not only as a player with a talent, but also as a player educated with personality. It's the perfect package. Coaches want to sign balanced personalities, mentally strong, because they need leaders on the floor, and mostly they need rounded people that they can cooperate with and not just people that look after themselves.
Very often I say that it's easy to work, but difficult to cooperate! Now imagine what an example it would make and what leadership it would show if a player, instead his highlights and the 20 points that he made, posted the highlights of his teammate, yes teammate, who scored only 8 points but who gave 12 assists and was tireless and impressive. How nicely and easily this action would instantly unite a team!
More or less the same things stands for the general managers who sign coaches. They also want to sign balanced coaches with diverse education and I don’t necessarily mean academic education, I mean more from the sociological aspect, with emotional intelligence and a strong personality. And as I mentioned before, one view to social media of each one, maybe can give a clear picture for some G.M. to figure out if that coach deserves the position. And believe me that many companies also, before the interview with the candidate, check through their social media, and many candidates get “burnt” before the interview.
The conclusion is that social media can be used nicely and modestly, yet still be productive for players and coaches, in a way that will “highlight” their personalities, their sensitivities. To advertise themselves smartly and not selfishly. Also its not a bad idea to “disguise” their name using a nickname in order to cut off from basketball for awhile and talk about nice things or other hobbies with common people if they need to (for example it is difficult for a famous player to join a facebook group for fishermen, they must use an alias).
As an epilogue I wouldn’t like to write my own words, but instead to point to one interview I read recently - the interview of Tsitsipas, the Tennis champion. Read his thoughts about social media (it’s important because his sport is lonely, it's not a team sport). I would also recommend you to take a look at the facebook page of a legend of European Basketball - Nick Galis. Very low profile, without making any attempt not to be forgotten. Very simple. Very professional. Very modest. So nothing was and nothing is coincidence!