Tech support: Coaches change with times in recruiting process
As a rule, coaches are pretty set in their ways.
But when it comes to social media, as Iowa Western Community College baseball coach Marc Rardin says, “You’ve gotta adapt.”
“I’m 42 years old and every year I’m getting older than the kids I’m recruiting,” Rardin said. “There’s not a lot for me to say on the phone. I to a lot more Twitter-wise than I do talking to them on the phone. Texting ... I’m a texting fool; I’m worse than Tyler, my 12-year-old.”
Coaches know texting and tweeting are how high school kids communicate.
Coaches, athletic directors and sports information directors also know that Twitter and Facebook are quick, free ways to spread the word about their programs. With budgets shrinking every year, letting the world know about your team in the time it takes to type 140 characters is a no-brainer.
The more the word gets out, the more high school athletes who might not know about a school could take notice. Like social media or loathe it, coaches know it’s a recruiting tool.
Rob Chaney, the athletic director at Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College, got his start in the marketing and public relations department at the school.
“We really made an investment in social media from an institutional standpoint,” he said. “We put a lot of time and effort into trying to grow that following. We were realizing that’s where a lot of students were hanging out, so to speak.
“I created a Facebook page and a Twitter handle for the athletic department. At the time (three years ago) I was more on Facebook because it seemed like it was the hot one.
“Then Twitter seemed to take off. Maybe it’s because this is the world I work in, but if you’re watching SportsCenter on ESPN, they’re referencing Twitter. It’s very popular amongst athletes.”
But that popularity comes with a price, and coaches try to avoid that price.
“We have a social media contract,” Rardin said. “We read it at the first meeting of the year and they need to understand it.”
Nearly every player at every junior college has a Twitter account. Coaches remind them that anyone can see what they tweet and it can come back to haunt them.
“I have Division I coaches tell me all the time they monitor Twitter,” Rardin said. “Pro teams monitor those accounts.”
And so do junior college coaches, many of whom will take a high school prospect off their recruiting list simply because of what they read on Twitter.
“We’ve knocked out recruits due to what they say on Twitter or Facebook,” Neosho County (Kan.) Community College coach Steve Murry said. “If we know that’s the kind of person they are, they’re out. You want to talk bad about your coach or use the N word, you’re saying how much you hate school, you’re not a very good worker and we don’t need those kind of guys.”
Murry is a self-professed social media junkie, but warns his players with this: “Say nothing that’s not acceptable to a 10-year-old.”
A kangaroo court helps the Panthers hold each other accountable.
“Mine is the least filtered of all of them, but I still get rung up a lot in kangaroo court,” Murry said, laughing.
Who handles social media differs from school to school. With some, it’s the sports information or media relations department simply relaying final scores and pertinent information such as national rankings or player honors.
Others tweet every play of a game. Grayson County (Texas) College tweeted a play-by-play of its district tournament games. Ditto for Neosho.
Navarro (Texas) College had regular updates of all games during the playoffs, as did most tournaments, whether it was various schools or the governing conference.
Don Schafer’s title at Potomac State (W.Va.) is assistant baseball coach and multi-media specialist.
Before hosting the Eastern District tournament, he said in an email he would “try to update Twitter as well (during the tournament) but (it’s) hard to coach 3rd and tweet at the same time.”
Schools post departmental updates and photo galleries on their Facebook pages, all in an effort to attract attention and potential students to their campus.
Many have branched out into YouTube videos. Rardin still scratches his head over the popularity of the Reivers’ “Grand Junction Challenge” videos that went viral during the team’s journey to winning the 2012 JUCO World Series title.
“I can’t believe we kick-started what a lot of junior colleges do with that,” he said of not just the videos, but the offseason conditioning workouts that had players flipping railroad ties, playing tug-of-war with truck tires and sitting in full-body ice baths.
“I had no idea that was going to be that big a deal. To be the team we were, that’s why I was doing the Grand Junction Challenge. On the field we were pretty good, but we were building a lot of (team chemistry) and decided to video it.
“All of a sudden it just blew up. It was unbelievable.”
You never know what will capture a vast audience with social media. The Reivers’ videos were one last year.
Neosho’s “tweets from the dugout” became popular, as did the team’s #SHOtime hashtag.
Tallahassee had its own hashtag phenomena, #BirdGang, this season.
“With this age group, they enjoy that,” Chaney said. “Early in the season we were seeing (players) use #BirdGang and as the season wore along, we said, ‘Let’s get in there and push this thing.’
“When they won the conference, I put that (#BirdGang) hashtag across the back of their shirts. It was something that caught on amongst the team.”
The NJCAA tracks Facebook likes and Twitter followers and uses that data when it approaches potential corporate sponsors.
Schools put “follow us” icons on their Websites.
Chaney is considering taking it another step further. He competes for attention with what he fondly calls “the monster down the street,” Florida State University, plus Florida A&M and ever-popular high school sports in Florida, so any exposure helps.
“When it’s time to sand and redo our basketball floor,” he said, “I’m looking at painting that (#BirdGang) hashtag and (@TCCeagles Twitter) handle on the floor.”