Social media and sports recruiting: Parents help athletes navigate pitfalls

Dylan Powell
Hannibal High School graduate Dylan Powell is pictured during the Stanford vs. UCLA game on Sept. 23 at Stanford Stadium. | Photo Courtesy of Stanford University
David Elkinson
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 10, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Apr. 10, 2018 1:36 am

QUINCY -- Darin Powell didn't want to invade his son's privacy, but he also didn't want him winding up in a precarious position.

So as Dylan Powell's recruiting profile grew, and college coaches began contacting the former Hannibal all-state lineman through Twitter, he and his father devised a plan. Darin would have complete access to Dylan's Twitter account to help guide him through the process.

"He agreed to it," Darin said. "I could monitor who was talking to him and what they were saying. Really, I wanted to make sure nothing illegal was going on. You're going to deal with some guys who are pretty unscrupulous. They will make contact with you when they shouldn't.

"They can't call you during certain times, but they can reach out and say, 'Hey, give me a call.' You had to watch that."

The worries went deeper.

"Social media can be your best friend, and it can be your worst enemy," said Darin, whose son is now a sophomore offensive lineman at Stanford. "You have to be really smart on what you do. It could be things you're not doing. You follow a buddy who puts something out that is inappropriate in any way, and that shows up on your feed, people are going to drop you like a hotcake. We had to coach Dylan about getting rid of some of his friends.

"Any kid going through it is going to have to go through their Twitter feed and their buddies who like to put out jokes or things like that and get rid of them. They can add your Twitter handle, and it's going to show up on his feed.

It can make you look like a total idiot."

Therein lies the challenge of teaching student-athletes how to use social media to their benefit.

Jack Ray is going through it for the second time. His older son, Johnny, is redshirting this season with the Illinois State University baseball team, while his younger son, Tommy, is a burgeoning NCAA Division I recruit. Tommy is the ace of the Quincy Notre Dame pitching staff and was named a preseason underclass All-American by Perfect Game USA and Rawlings.

Such news simply draws more coaches to his Twitter profile.

"It's the world they live in now. There is no privacy," Jack Ray said. "Everything that they do is out there. It's totally different from when I was growing up where you could go out on a Friday night and hang with your friends. I'm not saying if we did something wrong, nobody would know about it, but one little misstep now, and it's in the limelight."

It doesn't have to be their misstep either.

"I've told Tom that even if you are doing what you're supposed to be doing, just being there with friends, but someone has put a beer can on a table and you're sitting on a couch and the angle of the picture might look like you're involved, that's a problem," Jack Ray said. "That's the world we live in. You can't put yourself in those situations.

"You have to associate yourself with people who put you and your program in a positive light."

Brian Wosman, the athletic director at Palmyra, also is the father of Panthers junior shortstop Nolan Wosman. He said he follows his son's social media activity and never has had to tell him to take something off social media or retract a post. Part of that is they began the recruiting process when Nolan was a freshman and committed to the University of Arkansas and determined at that time a good posting strategy.

"All the things we sign up for, the showcases and other events, the organizers ask for your Twitter and Snapchat and all those different things kids have," Wosman said. "So we had the talk early on about making sure you portray yourself the right way."

The other part is trust.

Brian doesn't monitor Nolan's accounts on a daily basis because he expects Nolan to do the right thing.

"The bottom line is the decisions he makes are the ones that are going to cost him if he makes a poor choice, if he's putting things on there that he should not put on there," Wosman said. "It is trust. He's got to be smart about what he says and what he does and what he puts on there, or it could come back to haunt him."

No parent wants that to happen, which is why checking in on the social media accounts is necessary.

"It's not like I live on it every day, but once every two weeks I will kind of stick my nose in there and see what they're doing," Jack Ray said. "I'll see what they've liked and retweeted."

Those tend to lead to good conversations.

"I would see something on Twitter, or he would see something, and we could kind of talk through it and be like, 'That wasn't good, and here is why it's not good,'" Darin Powell said. "Even tweets that are like, 'Man, I can't wait until the season's over' or 'I wish I was getting more playing time,' you have to think about the connotation of that. How are coaches going to perceive this?"

How will coaches react if you are doing nothing more than publicizing your own highlights and stats?

"You don't want to be out there shamelessly self-promoting all the time," Darin said. "It's still about your teammates and being a good teammate. You can't do everything to cancel that."

And you can't avoid social media at all costs. You have to learn how to use it.

"I know there were times Dylan felt like I micro-managed him to death, but he was always willing to talk and listen," Darin said. "He was a quick learner."