After a year of delays due to the pandemic, the Olympic Games will kick off this week and together, we’ll all watch as the world’s greatest athletes pursue their long-awaited dreams. The coolest part? Now more than ever, we’re closer to the action as Olympians share their thrills of victory and agonies of defeat all over social media.
From Snapchat stories capturing highs and lows to Twitter accounts being put on “hold” so athletes can focus on competition, this Olympics is a special chance to learn how the best of the best navigate social media positively.
I’ve played sports all my life, including at Duke University as captain of the field hockey team, and as a member of the U.S. Women’s Junior National Field Hockey Team, where I represented the United States at home and abroad. I’ve since hung up my cleats and these days I work with tens of thousands of students across the country, empowering them to navigate social media and technology in positive ways. I see a lot of similarities between winning on the athletic field and winning when it comes to social media.
Here are five lessons I learned from playing sports and following influential Olympians, who can help us all better navigate the ever-changing world of social media and technology.
1. Be coachable
Being coachable means leaving room for the possibility that there’s something you haven’t learned yet that could make you even better. When it comes to social media, make sure you’re open to being coached by listening to parents, teachers, mentors, and friends.
2. Realize you represent something bigger than yourself
In team sports, there’s a saying that the name on the front of the jersey is just as important as the name on the back of the jersey. The same could be said when it comes to social media. Every person represents something bigger than themselves — whether it’s a family, a school, a team, a musical group, a school club, an employer, or your country. Everything you share on social media reflects your values and is also a reflection of those with whom you’re connected.
3. Build a strong team
Whether you’re going for the gold, chasing a state championship, making summer social plans, or requesting references for a college application, it’s important to surround yourself with good people — even on social media. Think of everyone you follow on social media as your “team.” Do you have high standards for who joins your team? For who you follow? For who you accept friend requests from? Aim for a high-character roster, because who we surround ourselves with will shape our goals and who we become.
4. Go the extra mile
In sports you have to leave your comfort zone and go the extra mile, and this mindset can help you on social media, too. Social media can be used to raise money for an important cause or shine a spotlight on an issue that’s important to you. Additionally, athletes, artists, actors, and musicians can use the power of social media to create their own highlight reels, which may propel them into opportunities that they might not otherwise experience.
5. Remember the fans in the stands
Like sports, you have a built-in audience on social media. People are watching, and while your wins are celebrated, your mistakes and missteps are often amplified as well. And just like scouts, coaches, or fellow citizens are watching Olympians from the stands — future co-workers, mentors, and bosses may search your social media accounts down the road. Post today with these future “fans” in mind.
The biggest win of all is how social media allows us to find, follow, and even interact with our Olympic role models in ways we couldn’t have years ago. Whether you’re bingeing Simone Biles’ new Facebook Watch documentary series, following along on Instagram as rising swim star Caeleb Dressel goes for gold, or engaging with track phenom Travvon Bromell as he works to continue his winning streak in the 100 meter race — we can follow our role models as we cheer for their success. And be sure to follow on Instagram (and TV) the Triangle’s own Claire Curzan, a Cary native who attends Cardinal Gibbons High School and was recently named to the U.S. Olympic swimming team. At 16 years old, she will be one of the youngest competitors in the games!
The bottom line? Filling our feeds with people who inspire us is a winning move we can all make on social media. And while we may not be able to emulate our favorite Olympian’s athletic ability in the sporting arena, we can all win at social media by navigating it in positive, high-character ways.
Laura Tierney is the founder and CEO of The Social Institute, empowering students and their role models to navigate social media and technology in healthy, high character ways.