In today’s world, nearly every young person has a virtual life on personal websites such as Facebook or MySpace, and it is safe to assume that a potential college coach will try to find your online identity. First impressions on the Internet are hard to erase, partly because pictures and information on the web can be easily copied, downloaded and reproduced.  Even after the original is gone, it most likely still exists on some website, somewhere, with someone.  Thus, we recommend a student-athlete should keep his or her digital profile clean, private and respectable.  This goes for both high school and college athletes. In the real world, employers often do a detailed background search including a web search before they will hire someone.
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We’ve heard plenty of stories from college coaches where they have found pictures of student-athletes online, drinking alcohol and/or partying.  Right off the bat this tarnished their image with their potential coach. Remember, college coaches are looking for someone that is going to represent their program on and off the field. An easy way to check what’s out there is to Google yourself.  If you don’t like what you see, contact the site or user and request that they take it down.

Just to get an idea of the importance of the issue, here’s a quote from USA Today:

“Florida State athletes were given ten days to cleanse their profiles in December. That came after administrators there asked coaches to select random student-athletes’ names and plug them into a Facebook search. “They were surprised and dismayed,” associate athletics director Pam Overton says. “They were surprised at the pictures, that students would allow themselves to be exposed in the public domain.” http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/internetprivacy/2006-03-08-athletes-websites_x.htm

Here are a few tips on how to keep your online identity presentable:

Use your privacy settings. Facebook and MySpace have a laundry list of settings that can be customized to your liking.  Make sure you have them set the way you want them. Typically, the default privacy setting for your account gives public access to all your information and everything on your profile. Check out the privacy settings and select what’s most appropriate for your interests. Case in point, if you want you can eliminate yourself from public searches or provide only your name and network to people other than your friends.  Also, Facebook allows you to see your page exactly how someone else would see it. Here’s how you do it: 1. Click on Settings 2. Click on manage privacy 3. Click on either profile or search  4. Near the top of these pages, there is a space to type in a friend’s name. I’d highly recommend you be sure to check out how your restricted friends view your page, just to make sure you aware of what others see.

Manage your friends. Before you decide to friend a college coach or college program understand what they will have access to view on your profile.  On the other hand, if a coach or a potential college program tries to befriend you, I’d recommend you put them on a restricted friend list.  That way you can select which photo albums of yours they can see, perhaps one or two dedicated to your sport, as well as keeping them off your “Wall” if you so desire.

Edit your pictures and photo albums. Are you aware of how many pictures you have floating around on the web? Are these pictures that you want everyone to see? It seems as though most of the pictures posted online these days are focused around partying and all the fun times you want to remember when you’re older.  Coaches can quickly lose interest and question your commitment and character if you are blatantly showcasing your inappropriate behavior.  Often these can be deal breakers for college coaches and you may never know who saw them because a coach won’t tell you.   If you really love some of your party pictures show your friends using your own computer and keep ’em there.

Redirect prospective coaches and recruiters. The reason people look for you on these personal sites is that they want to get a feel for who you are.  Unfortunately, Facebook and MySpace tend to bring out the more irresponsible side in most cases.  The best way to protect your image is to satiate their curiosity by leading them somewhere else.  Developing dedicated online sports profiles on sites such as SportsForceonline.com,  BeRecruited.com or Prepchamps.com can provide coaches with video, stats and personal information about you in a serious and professional way.  College coaches are able to “get to know you” based on how you would likely present yourself in person.  Providing your private URL for these sites in emails to coaches is an easy way to lead them in the right direction.  Also, be sure to post your sports profile link or video on your social profile also, since college coaches will likely check that out as well. There’s no harm in getting your online sports profile in front of as many coaches as possible.

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