Crooks’ Soccer Journal: Social Media and Pro Soccer Players

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by GLENN CROOKS

The current use of social media and digital technology among professional athletes was underscored this week by a pair of highly respected representatives of the soccer establishment.

New York City FC played the Chicago Fire to a listless 1-1 draw last Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Absent from the squad were two regulars for City – starting forward Khiry Shelton and reserve midfielder, Mikey Lopez.

In the post-match press conference, Patrick Vieira revealed that Shelton and Lopez had been suspended due to the inappropriate use of social media.

“I think that was disrespectful to Chicago and this is not the message I want from the players because I want this football club to be humble and work hard,” said Vieira. “When I’m talking about the club, I’m talking about the grounds men, I’m talking about the people who work in the office. It doesn’t reflect who we are as a football club and this is why they did not take part in the game today.”

A leading authority in the field of social media supports Vieira’s decision.

“Coach Vieira is clearly uncomfortable with that kind of tone, and is setting a high standard here,” said Mary Chayko, professor at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information and the author of a new book on digital communication called Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life. “There’s a good chance that he has prevented a more egregiously disrespectful social media incident from occurring somewhere down the line.”

Meanwhile, Southampton manager, Ronald Koeman, insisted this week that a lack of connection on the field is the direct result of his players’ obsession with their smartphones and social media.

“Everybody goes on it straight away on their phones,” Koeman told Reuters. “Everyone just puts on his headphones and is in his own world. For young players, it is all about themselves and less about communication with the rest of the players.”

Southampton is currently seventh in the English Premiere League table and Koeman is referring his players to weekly communication sessions.

“When I was playing, we played cards on the coach when we went to matches, we talked and we had communication,” lamented the former Dutch international who was managed by Johan Cruyff at Barcelona. “That is maybe one of the reasons they don’t talk any more on the pitch.”

While supporting his efforts to further connect the Saints, Dr. Chayko signals Koeman that powerful links can be attained even when the players appear distracted by their technology.

“I’d want him to keep in mind that often, when people are on their smartphones, they’re doing things that strengthen their connectedness to one another,” she explained. “For example, his players might be sharing ideas and information with one another, or joking around and having fun together, all of which can deepen their bonds with one another. Digital communication isn’t a replacement for face-to-face communication, but in the modern age, it really does have a role in connecting us.”

Full disclosure here – Dr. Mary Chayko is my wife. Despite a discernable bias, her arguments are salient and based on empirical evidence. Koeman is 53-years-old and part of a generation that did not grow up with digital communication. His desire for Southampton to communicate at a higher level is reasonable but it will need to come with a blend of interconnecting techniques.

The hackneyed phrase that comes to mind – “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Jim Liston, the Director of Sports Science at Toronto FC, organized a presentation at the NSCAA Convention in January entitled, “Smart Phones, Smart Apps, Smarter Player Development.” Liston has conditioned his players to monitor their activities on the device that they are certain to scrutinize – their phones. When Toronto FC players are gazing at their phones prior to training, it is likely that they are using an app which breaks down the training session with diagrams and descriptions or forecasts the calories they will need to replenish at the conclusion of the session.

That is certainly one way to make this connected world work in your favor.

MORE FROM THE JOURNAL

  • -The vinyl is skipping on the quotes from New York Red Bulls coach, Jesse Marsch, with further agitation in his tone after Wednesday night’s 2-0 loss before 18,000 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. “It’s a combination. We can’t seem to prevent ourselves from giving away bad mistakes and making bad errors that cost us goals and we can’t seem to make a play around the goal,” said Marsch whose team has failed to score in five of six matches. “If we can’t continue to do those two things its going to be extremely hard to get results – extremely hard.”
  • In the 40th minute, San Jose’s goal by Fatai Alashe was set up off a poor clearance by the Red Bulls defense. Chris Wondolowski scored his league-leading fifth goal at 55’ with his trademark head ball bullet. While Wondo’s finish was class, confusion between Connor Lade and Kemar Lawrence in a situation that calls for man-marking led to the uncontested tally. On the attacking side, the Red Bulls had five shots on frame compared to the Quakes’ four.
  • I enjoyed one fan’s reaction to Colorado’s 2-1 win at Sporting KC on Wednesday. “A road win – we can drop the C in Crapids!”
  • The Rapids are fifth in the Western Conference, two points ahead of the LA Galaxy and rank seventh overall in MLS with an average of 1.67 points/match. In 2015, only the Chicago Fire had fewer points than the Rapids when Colorado averaged 1.08 points/match.
  • I offered Russell Sauer, US Soccer’s lead attorney in the USWNT’s wage discrimination claim, an opportunity to respond to my Q and A with the women’s attorney, Jeff Kessler. I was told by a US Soccer official, “at the moment, we are not doing any additional interviews.”

    For more from Glenn Crooks, visit WFAN.com and listen to his weekly show, The Coaching Academy, every Wednesday on SiriusXM FC.