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Coaches A-Twitter: Local athletic instructors weigh in on tweeting

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When one of the winter’s numerous snowstorms forced the postponement of a Mt. Vernon tennis preseason meeting last week, coach Gabe Muterspaugh didn’t rush to notify his players by phone call. He didn’t text them. Or send an email.

Nope. He tweeted.

Muterspaugh is one of an ever increasing number of local high school head coaches utilizing the convenience of Twitter to keep in touch with players and fans, among other uses, including keeping up with how opposing teams are faring on any given night.

Launched in 2006, Twitter is a free online networking service, usually accessed via smartphone, that allows users to send out messages of up to 140 characters. Whoever “follows” the users can view the tweet automatically on their own timeline.

In an age where seemingly everyone’s (especially teenagers’) cell phone is rarely out of arm’s reach, Twitter is a simple, yet effective, method for coaches to reach multiple eyeballs at once.

“Twitter is here to stay,” Muterspaugh said of the service, which has nearly 650 million users worldwide. “I love it. I use it to keep all my followers (those who support and those who don’t) updated on MV tennis, and sometimes what my 2-year-old twins are doing.”

Jared Manning, when he is not tweeting about his beloved St. Louis Cardinals, sends schedule reminders or congratulations to his basketball and soccer teams.

The Greenfield-Central boys soccer head coach and JV boys basketball coach recently posted a team picture of G-C’s Hancock County Tourney ninth-grade basketball champs.

His background image is another team pic — this one of his sectional title winning soccer squad from the fall.

“It seems that most of my players have a twitter account and check it quite frequently, so it is an easy way for me to communicate with them without having to initiate a group text or create an email list,” Manning said. “We also have a one call system that we use to make special announcements, but Twitter seems to reach more people and much faster.”

On winter Friday nights, after the Cougars finish playing, Manning grabs his cell phone to check area basketball scores. For every basketball team in Indiana, there is probably at least one official team or school account, coach, player, newspaper, radio station or fan of that team tweeting the night’s result.

There’s a @GC_Basketball twitter feed, run buy Cougars head coach Josh Johnson. A @PH_Arabians account for Pendleton Heights athletics. An @EHVolleyball Twitter for Royals volleyball. A @GCHS_track. All posting daily in-and-offseason updates.

A veteran of the local swimming and diving scene, Mt. Vernon head coach Tom Shaver said it’s important for youth sports leaders to be flexible.

“Communication is important in any organization, and we as coaches have to find the best methods for communicating to our athletes,” said Shaver, who tweets under @mvswimming. “I use a Web page to communicate seasonal types of information, like the calendar, best (swim) times, school records and the schedule. I use email to communicate mainly with parents, because most kids don’t check their email that often.

“I use text messaging if I need to communicate something specific to one or two individuals. This year, I started using Twitter to send out blasts of information that I feel is pertinent to our whole team.” 

Added New Palestine volleyball head coach Kelli Whitaker (@NPHS_Volleyball), “Twitter hasn’t changed the sport, but it has allowed coaches a way to evolve as communicators.”

Facebook recently announced that, for the first time, it is was losing teenage users. Twitter is the social app do jour, with sub-20s also flocking rapidly to Instagram and Snapchat.

Where there are teenagers, there is also sometimes drama. Coaches remind their student-athletes that not everyone wants to know about their latest fight with a parent or the most recent relationship troubles — in embarrassing detail. Colorful or explicit language and trash-talking, naturally, are also frowned upon by coaches. Potential college coaches/employers can view a player’s tweet just as easily as that player’s bff.

“The potential problem with Twitter is that the athletes sometimes forget that their Tweets can be read by anyone,” Shaver said. “Many Twitter users use it as a ‘think-out-loud’ platform. Their lives can become an open book for anyone and everyone to see. I do advise the swimmers and divers to be careful with what they Tweet and with what they post on Instagram, or on any type of social media for that matter.

“Coaches, too, have to be careful with how we use social media. Just like in the classroom, we always have to know where that line of acceptability is so we’re sure not to cross it.” 

While more and more Hancock County coaches are finding Twitter useful to their programs, the ranks of local coaches on the service is still somewhere south of 50 percent.

Jenny Musselman, despite being only a modest number of years past her own high school graduation, doesn’t utilize Twitter for her New Palestine gymnastics team. She believes that in many instances, the less social interaction, the better.

“I have Facebook and that’s enough for me,” she commented. “Too many people get too wrapped up in social media and forget to enjoy real life.

“Social media is great for getting the word out about an upcoming event or updating people about your life. But it causes a lot of hurt for people, as well, and can leave long-lasting effects if not well-controlled.”

Manning, the Cougars’ multi-sport coach, said athletes generally understand the immediacy of a tweet and the possible ramifications of a post gone awry.

A cursory glance through several Hancock County student-athletes’ Twitter accounts reveals merely the typical, even mundane, life of a teen. More tweets have been associated the last few days with the vitally important “Will we or won’t we” get a two-hour delay dilemma than any other topic.

Comments regarding the Broncos/Seahawks, the Biebs and Miley are also prevalent.

Enrique Ferrara, the leading goal scorer for the G-C sectional champs, posted an update on a recent injury, then thanked well-wishers for their concern.

It was a typical mature use of Twitter, Manning said.

“Most of my players seem to use Twitter in a responsible way, and we talk about watching what is put on Twitter because most of your info and tweets can be seen by the public,” the coach noted.

Sometimes, as Shaver alluded to above, coaches have to caution themselves about what they type online.

When Muterspaugh first joined Twitter, he assumed only the MV players and fans and maybe his fellow Marauders coaches would follow his account.

He learned that was not the case.

“Now, the biggest thing I had to adjust was I have parents, family and even players of other schools following me,” said Muterspaugh, coach of both the boys and girls MV tennis teams. “So, what I may have tweeted just for my followers, who I thought would be people associated with MV tennis and support it, may not be the case.

“But, at the same time, I follow other school twitter pages, too, so it’s universal, for sure. I want to know scores, how players did from matches, maybe a breakdown on a team, etc.”

For coaches and athletes alike, the best advice is to think twice before you type.

“The biggest obstacle of course is keeping your emotions out of your tweets,” Muterspaugh said. “Which makes it less fun to read in so many characters, but safer for a natural emotional coach like myself.”

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