by Mike Davenport, CoachingSportsToday.com
Years ago, I thought it would be great if I could contact my athletes each day. Maybe a simple inspiring message, or a “how’s it going?” connect.
I miss those old days.
Now, we coach in a digital world of constant connection, daily innovation, mega-communication challenges, bulging data bases, and information overload.
It can be overwhelming. I know this because you just told me so.
Hundreds of coaches responded to my recent digital impact survey. Hundreds of questions asked. Hundreds of problems identified.
Following are your questions regarding coaching in a digital world and my whack at answering some of them.
A) How do I get everyone to read my emails & texts?
When you send a message, the percent of people who open it is called the “open rate.” The typical open rate for email in sport organizations is 26.03%. In the education world it is around 22.01%. Those percentages come from a study of billions of emails). You are asking for 100% open rate. It won’t happen. (Yes, your open rate will be higher for your team, but …)
Texts have a different rate. The open rate for text messages, in one study, was found to be well over 90%. With those messages being read usually in the first 3 minutes of being sent. Better than email. Still won’t get 100%
One solution would be to use a program, such as FrontRush, that will track who opens your messages and when.
So, you send a message through FrontRush to your team. Wait a period of time, and check the stats page. You then know who didn’t open it. You can connect with that person at the next practice and find out why.
Seems silly to have a personal conversation about opening digital messages. But, if the information is important (it is, you’re their coach) then they should be opening it.
B) My athletes skim emails even though I have put a lot of thoughtfulness into them.
Building on the previous question … first, are you sure they are even opening your emails? Chances are they aren’t — see A.
Second, if they are opening your messages, y’know, the one where you’ve crafted a beautiful missive, with all sorts of quotes, and inspirations and just an overall great piece of writing, guess what …
… you’ve wasted your time.
The generation of athletes most of us coach (Millennials) love information … heck, they demand it. However, emails and texts aren’t the best way to deliver it to them. The athletes are moving fast. Drawn in many directions. Overloaded with information. There are better ways to get them your missive, like …
- in person
- by phone
- by letter
I say “better” because those different methods of delivery may well engage better. Because they are personal, those messages standout from the digital noise bombarding the athletes.
Third, keep emails brief. Use bullet points. Send lists.
A mantra to try … email or text for short stuff; reach out with a personal touch for long stuff.
C) What’s the best way to prevent athletes from posting inappropriate things on social media that hinder the reputation and the appearance of the team?
Put a power megaphone in the hands of 10 five-year-olds. Tell each of them not to use it. Walk away. Guess what, more than one of those human tornadoes will be screaming and singing in their megaphone in no time.
Why? Because the power and temptation overwhelm the small amount of guidance you gave them.
Fact — we have armed a generation with the World’s Largest Megaphone, with no guidance. And seemingly with no repercussion of bad use. So why wouldn’t the athletes post whatever online?
I don’t think there is ONE best way to prevent inappropriate postings. Multiple fronts are probably best.
- Coach guidance will make a difference.
- Parental guidance will make a bigger difference.
- Appropriate penalties will help (if known BEFORE an incident).
• Tell stories to high schoolers who are interesting in college sports could help. For instance, as soon as an interested athlete’s name comes across our threshold, we go to the web and do a search. More than once we have been … um … disappointed. And that can change the recruiting process.
D) My athletes get distracted from school work because of social media and their smart phones.
I’m pulling the age card here — I grew up when TV was just catching on. We had a black and white set, and I remember the uproar it was causing. The parents and I would watch one or two shows together each week (like “To Tell The Truth,” and “The Wonderful World of Disney”). TV viewing was always under the control of my parents.
No TV until homework done.
No TV unless good grades.
No TV until all those thank-you cards are sent.
Dirty dishes? No TV.
“I want to watch TV.” A common response, “too bad.”
Without that parental guidance I would have been sucked sooooo deep into TV.
So, in terms of your athletes, where is the parent control? Whose paying the smartphone bill? Who gave the athlete the smartphone in the first place?
A buddy, found his daughter making unwise choices (after many discussions and warnings) with her smartphone. He asked her to step out into the driveway. He placed her smartphone on the pavement where he proceeded to destroy it with a sledgehammer. Dramatic? Yup. Overboard? His choice. Advisable? He was at his wits end. It made an impact.
E) Social media leaves coaches vulnerable to slander. As a coach I am vulnerable, because as we have seen before on the news, all it takes is one lie to ruin a reputation and possibly a career.
Yes, and it’s scary. The World’s Largest Megaphone means even lies get heard. And people are free to say almost anything they want.
So you need to protect yourself. These are steps you HAVE to take:
- Never ever meet with an athlete alone. Period.
- Always have another adult present when addressing athletes, such as team meetings.
- Have enough liability insurance to protect you and your assets (discuss with your insurance agent).
- Have a pre-season meeting. Layout to athletes and parents expectations on proper social media use and proper channels to voice concerns.
- Set up a social-media monitoring system for your name, and your team’s. There are several ways you can do this. A super simple way is to do a Google and Twitter search for your name once per day.
F) Yik Yak is the worst. Anonymous posting makes people feel like they can say anything without repercussion. Would love to get rid of that nonsense.
I’ve been told “anonymous” is another name for “absolutely worthless”, and that’s what I think those postings are. Unfortunately, anonymous postings can have serious negative impact, and the user has little clue.
If I march up to a person and call her a name I can see the impact of my words, how they make her feel. That is a human connection lost on social media — especially on platforms like Yik Yak.
Share these stories with your athletes. Scare them. And tell them people are watching.
G) Is there a better way to utilize digital resources in recruiting/relationship building, without coming off like I’m overselling or keep asking them to be part of our program, etc?
Heck yeah. My favorite method is called “content marketing.”
Here’s an example, for 5 years I ran an event called RowingTalks. Each January we held a one day conference, modeled on TED Talks. We’d invite high school rowing coaches to come, learn from our speakers, have fun, eat, and, of course, learn about our College and build relationships with us. The price of admissions was only the cost of lunch. We supplied them great content and we didn’t spam, pester for recruits, or sell anything. And that one event resulted in numerous recruits, and friends I still have today.
All because we supplied content they found helpful.
You could do the same digitally, which is exactly what I do with these emails.
H) Unplugging and being able to put technology away when not at the office … I’d love to be able to turn it off without feeling like I’m abandoning the contact I provide to my players.
It all started with voice mail. At that split moment in time, a coach was then on 24 hours a day, and expected to always be in reach. Today, to be offline — unavailable — means one of two things has happened: a massive power failure, or you’re at your own funeral. Neither pleasant.
You are facing two choices, as I see it.
(A) be constantly connected, then burnout, and then turn into grump-coach. Y’know the type. Or …
(B) Unplug, catch your breath, rejuvenate. You’re a great person and coach — but not 24-7-365. The world will function without you for a while.
I) Since digital recording and video editing are being used so much more, is there a highly used/ recommended program/website that works best for shorter clips (at bats), that best uses smart phones/tablets, as well as quick sharing between players/coaches?
I use three tools.
- My iPhone camera. I video the athlete using the slow-mo feature, and show her the video immediately.
- Ubersense. I video parts of practice. Then use their program tools to mark up clips, add audio, etc. Then send a link to the athlete, who could watch the video at her leisure (and I could see when it was watched). Ubersense was recently absorbed by Huddle. Not sure how it will change.
- My assistant coach uses Coach’s Eye. She seems happy with the results. I haven’t used it yet, but need to try it soon.
J) How do we as coaches make the digital coaching world as personal as it was in the past?
John Wooden coached during a dynamic time. His values where somewhat different than his athlete’s, and the society bursting around him. Rather like today. By staying true to his values, and being a good person, Wooden was a success on and off the court.
Yes, there were challenges, well documented in books like this, but he navigated them. You can to.
To keep coaching personal, be personable. Have face-to-face conversations with your athletes (not alone, right?). Use your phone to actually call people. Hand write a letter or two. Ask the same of your athletes and those around you.
For more suggestions, read Dale Carnegie’s How To Make Friends And Influence People, one of the most popular books ever written.
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These questions bothered a lot of coaches. Do you have other solutions to suggest? If so, pop them in the comment section, or hit reply. I’d love to hear what’s working in your digital coaching world.
You have more influence than you realize, both in person and digitally. Coach accordingly!