Gabby Douglas stole our hearts at the London Olympics this summer. The 17-year old from Virginia Beach was easily one of the most popular athletes of the Olympic games, if not the most popular, and she performed under the scrutiny of the entire world.
But it wasn’t her gold-medal performance that created a social media firestorm; it was her hair. Post columnist Sally Jenkins wrote a column suggesting she lost focus in the final days of competition, in part thanks to the criticism over her hair.
(Guys, stay with me on this — there’s a point.)
The actual commentary about her hair is irrelevant, but it’s a perfect example to fully grasp the power of the platform she was on. She was an athlete on the world’s biggest stage.
But how does her experience relate to you, a high school athlete in our area?
As a high school athlete, you’re one of the most visible representatives of your school. I’m not telling you to do your hair, but understand that people are looking at you. Whether they are cheering for you or waiting for you to make a mistake, they are watching.
For all of the fun, good times, and opportunities that come with playing sports, there’s also a good deal of responsibility.
Think about it: When an athlete makes news for anything outside of athletics, his or her sport is always mentioned first. “[insert school] University [insert sport] player was cited for a DUI.”
It doesn’t matter whether the athlete is current or former, or has just signed with the school. A DUI has nothing to do with sports, but the athlete represents that school in a very big way.
Douglas’s experience also serves as a reminder of the tricky thing called the Internet.
She was quoted in numerous interviews saying she googled herself and thought “what?” in response to the numerous rumors surrounding both her and her family.
My advice? Unplug.
Some people get juiced up from hearing negative criticism and proving people wrong. Let’s be honest: Yes, proving someone wrong is awesome, but you don’t need to purposely go and find what people are saying. It’s great to be able to shake it off, but even better to be completely oblivious to it.
Fans say all types of things, especially about opposing teams, but even their own team when things go wrong. I’ve heard fans scream at players about their personal lives. A fan club at the University of Maryland has a Facebook page they use to friend and then get info on opposing players. Point being, fans do their research and are completely cool with hitting below the belt. Did anybody happen to search Josh Morgan on Twitter after the Redskins’ loss to the Rams?
Social media has created a platform where anybody can offer their opinion, and people don’t hesitate to do so.
When you’re preparing for a game, ignorance may just be bliss.
People are watching you and offering their commentary. You can’t help being watched as an athlete, but you certainly don’t have to provide reasons for people to run their mouths more than they already do, and you definitely don’t have to go hunting for their comments.
About Transition Game
Monica McNutt was an All-Met basketball player at Holy Cross Academy who went on to star for the Georgetown women’s team. She will be offering advice to high school athletes who are looking to make the leap to college sports
Got a question for Monica, or an idea she can use for a future post? Leave it here in the comments, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @__MCM__.
Find links to last year’s Transition Game posts here.