Compass: Student-athletes, beware the pitfalls of social media

Social media is threatening the future of the student athlete. Ten thousand hours or 10 years, that's what we hear it takes to become an elite athlete. So for the average athlete who hopes to ascend to the national or international level, this journey can start as early as 8 to 10 years old.

If you look around you, every young pre-teen and older is sporting the head-down position as they stare at their electronic device. A 2012 study by Sandra Chapman, "Is Your Brain Being Wired By Technology?" suggests that average screen time for teens and adults is up to eight hours a day; that would be roughly 2,900 hours a year. If you are a student/athlete this is severely cutting into the amount of time you will have to dedicate toward training. Sandra's study suggests, "Our brains are actually being rewired by the digital culture causing us to be in a constant state of divided attention."

I admit it, the social media, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, You Tube ... they are a lot of fun. Information and entertainment is ever ready at our fingertips. In fact Chapman's study concludes that "just like your brain's response to a drug, dopamine is released in response to technological "pings" such as text or email alerts ... feelings of pleasure and euphoria is triggered by dopamine." I have been taught the dangers of the call of social media but it is always there lurking, threatening me in unguarded moments. I have to specifically set my phone aside in order to fully concentrate on my studies.

Besides the obvious drawbacks of the time that social media steals from us are the consequences of higher obesity and diabetes rates from sedentary lifestyles built on eight hours of daily screen time.

In addition, what we are saying is of equal importance. If a student athlete hoping to ascend to the elite level, college or professional ranks, there is a responsibility in what we transmit. We represent our family, team, school, state or even nation. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Hope Solo, the American soccer star, boldly tweeted derogatory comments about Brandi Chastain, the commentator and past U.S. Olympic hero. This brought world criticism to Solo. Other Olympians were expelled from the games after they tweeted racial comments. It goes without saying that Tiger Woods would probably still be golf's poster child if not for social media. A lucrative and successful career can instantly be snuffed out over a poorly placed text, tweet or Facebook posting.

The NCAA and my school, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, have social media policies in place "prohibiting inflammatory, degrading or poor-taste comments toward students, coaches, faculty. ..." Violations could be grounds for disciplinary action, lost scholarships or expulsion. Potential student-athletes may be excluded from opportunities to play college sports because of seemingly innocent social media postings.

Another way that social media impacts us as athletes is through our relationships. A study of 3,000 teens by Rosalina Richards (Science Daily, March 2010) revealed a staggering finding that showed increased screen time resulted in poorer relationships. "For every additional hour of TV teens had a 13 percent increased risk of low attachment to their parents and a 24 percent increase in low attachment to peers." This could become the difference between a winning team with a strong bond between its players and a mediocre team of distracted and withdrawn individuals.

I believe that social media reaching kids at an ever-earlier age will have a direct impact on this and the next generation with regard to education, fitness, family life, and the development and success of athletic potential. We must be aware of its sneaky magnetism and manage it in a way that won't rob us of our potential to make an impact on and off the field. This generation will be leading our country, and it will be up to us and the organizations of the teams we play for to manage this monster so it won't negatively impact our future as athletes and contributing citizens.


Zoe Hickel is an Alaskan attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth on a hockey scholarship. She was recently named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week, won a silver medal at the World U-18 Hockey Championships as a member of Team USA and plans to pursue a career as a hockey coach.