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Good Sportsmanship in the Digital Age

By USAHockey.com, 08/05/15, 8:15AM MDT

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When we think about good sportsmanship, an image of kids shaking hands after a game oftentimes comes to mind.  Or we think about congratulating the winning coach despite a tough loss.  But few people stop to consider that conversations surrounding youth sports are also happening online and on social media outlets that affect the way athletes, coaches and parents communicate and interact with one another.  Bad sportsmanship can happen online. Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive® powered by Positive Coaching Alliance wants to help you ensure a positive youth sports environment for your child by helping you understand and avoid these pitfalls.

Bad Sportsmanship from The Stands Goes Viral

In recent years, parents have unfortunately posted negative comments about other children online.  The display of bad sportsmanship has included Twitter rants between parents, Facebook posts featuring photos and videos of both opposing players and of kids playing on their son’s or daughter’s own team.  And the comments have harmed, embarrassed, and threatened athletes, coaches and fellow parents.

One youth sports league in the Washington Township of New Jersey resorted to a social media policy that bans parents from games and practices if they post negative comments about other children online.  The policy specifically states that “using the internet, cell phone or other device to post or send text, video or an image with the intent or knowledge, or reckless disregard, that the text, video or image will harm or grossly embarrass, or threatens, a participant, parent or legal guardian of a coach or official” will be met with a ban from youth sporting events for up to a year.  As part of registration, parents and legal guardians now sign a code of conduct that includes this ban on social media.

To ensure your team is prepared for a situation like this, create and distribute a social media policy to all coaches, parents and athletes at the start of the season and ask each individual to sign the policy acknowledging their receipt and understanding.  Your policy should include not only what behavior is unacceptable, but also what the consequences and punishments will be for violating these policies.

Facebook Envy Ups the Ante

Skimming through your wall each day to see photos of everyone else’s kids scoring the winning goal, earning a spot on the elite team, or hoisting the championship trophy, while your kid seems ho-hum about sports, may make you feel stressed, burnt out, or wonder sometimes why you  run around from practices to games.  You want your kid to be that star you see on other people’s pages and unfortunately that feeling can lead  to putting extra pressure on your kids to ‘live up’ to this ‘perfection’ seen in social media.

Change your focus from the win-at-all-cost mentality of youth sports today and keep focused on mastery:  putting in 100% effort, continually learning, and bouncing back from mistakes.  Keep fun at the forefront of your child’s youth sports experience.  And, stay focused on what’s happening in front of you on the ice and not the version of reality that some are posting online.

To Friend or Not To Friend

Lastly, social media networks have created a dilemma for coaches: should I friend my players online?  Social media can be an indispensable tool for youth sports teams - sending weather updates via Twitter, sharing competition photos via Instagram, or spreading the word about rallying to earn a Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive Pledge grant via Facebook (the Fall Pledge season opens on August 15!).  But alongside all of the benefits comes important cautions, especially when it comes to appropriate contact between adults and kids.

Before you friend players online, make sure you have a clear social media policy for your team and your league and that you’ve shared those policies with your athletes and their parents.   Create clear separation between your personal social media activities and your professional social media activities as a coach or youth sports volunteer.  And always uphold rules associated with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)[2].

In this 24/7 youth sports culture, make sure that as coaches, parents, and athletes, we are all abiding by the sportsmanship principles, not just on the ice but online as well.

The Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive® program, powered by Positive Coaching Alliance, promotes good sportsmanship in youth sports so that our kids can have the fun and positive experience they deserve.  We believe kids can learn valuable life lessons when coaches and parents come together to support doing the right thing on and off the ice.

In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for the Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive® program, powered by Positive Coaching Alliance.

©2015 Liberty Mutual Insurance and Positive Coaching Alliance. All rights reserved. This material may not be distributed without express written permission. Any reproduction in whole or part by and individuals or organizations will be held liable for copyright infringement to the full extent of the law.

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