Tweets during sport events: A sport psychology perspective

30 05 2009

Carolyn Bivens,the LPGA Tour Commissioner recently stated in an interview, “I’d love it if players Twittered during the middle of a round,” and “encourages” players to use hand held devices to post content on social-media Web sites such as Twitter or Facebook during tournaments, even if it runs counter to golf etiquette. The LPGA is not the first professional women’s sport to enter the world of social media. The WPS has dabbled with tweets during games, and many female athletes, leagues, and coaches have Twitter pages (To see them all visit the Twitter Lounge at Women Talk Sports). sport psychology image 2While the effectiveness of Twitter in marketing and promoting women’s sport is still rages, I’d like to offer a sport psychology perspective on tweeting during competition.

Psychological skills in sport include (but are not limited to) managing energy and anxiety, self-talk, visualization, goal setting, and attentional control. Perhaps tweeting between holes, during halftime or between periods, or if a player is on the bench, might be a good idea but even that is stretching it. If an athlete is tweeting (to interact with fans, give fans what they want, make athletes accessible, make the sport more appealing…or for whatever purpose it is supposed to accomplish), even on the bench, she is not paying attention to relevant information in the game that she might need when called upon. I can see it now…

basketballCoach: “Why did you miss that defensive coverage? She has been doing that same move all night long? I sent you in there for your defense, you’re our stopper!!!”
Athlete:“Sorry Coach, I’ve been busy tweeting while on the bench so that more fans will come watch our games and the league is ‘encouraging’ us do it”
Coach: “No one will come if we are losing games because players off the bench have no clue what is going on!…give me that IPhone!”

In golf, a player must maintain mental focus the entire round. One errant shot, wrong club, mis-read can be the difference between making the cut and making travel plans to the next tournament. Some athletes do have the ability to refocus attention quickly, but some do not. Why take the chance?

golf puttCoach: “What happened on the back nine? All you had to do was to make par all the way in to make the cut!”
Athlete: “On hole 14 I stopped to tweet how I was doing to my tweeples, and then I was rushed for my shot and had to go through my ritual quickly. I lost focus and before I knew it, my second shot was in the water which made me so mad because I knew it was because I had lost focus, which made me more unfocused and angry at myself and it spiraled from there.”

Athletes that are mentally tough (the ability to perform on command regardless of the situation), have developed psychological skills which include highly detailed and systematic rituals that are practiced. These rituals increase the likelihood of optimal performance. Will competitive rituals now include tweeting?

Athlete:(golfer through pre-shot routine) Assess yardage, wind direction and lie. Pick club, take practice swings, repeat cue words, address ball, take a deep breath, see self hitting ball perfectly, see ball flying on right trajectory, exhale, relax shoulders, loosen grip on the club, hit it. Pick up phone to tweet result. Repeat.

Tweeting during competition has nothing to do with optimal performance. Energy and attention focus are limited quantities. The more energy and focus that goes into tweets, the less the athlete has for performing well. If I saw an opponent tweeting during a competition, I would be elated! The excitement around Twitter during games seems to driven by “what the fans want” rather than “what is best for the athletes”. After all, professional athletes are there to compete and perform the best they can on any given day–anything that distracts them from doing so is a bad idea.

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“Marginalization of women and girls—one of humankind’s oldest problems”

22 05 2009

Recently U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered the commencement speech at Barnard College, an all women’s college located in New York City. Her speech had many good points, but there are two excerpts in particular which inspired this blog. First, Clinton states, “Marginalization of women and girls goes on. It is one of humankind’s oldest problems.” Given the dialogue generated around my past blog (and at Women Talk Sports) pertaining to whether Twitter is good or bad for women’s sport and if sex sells women’s sport, Clinton’s remarks about the use of social media are particularly relevant.

In her speech Clinton challenges the women of Barnard, and all of us indirectly, to use social networking tools to better the lives of girls and women. Clinton says, “But now, it [news] is beamed worldwide by satellites, shared on blogs, posted on Twitter, celebrated in gatherings. Today, women are finding their voices, and those voices are being heard far beyond their own narrow circumstances. And here’s what each of you can do. You can visit the website of a nonprofit called Kiva, K-i-v-a, and send a microloan to an entrepreneur like Blanca, who wants to expand her small grocery store in Peru. You can send children’s books to a library in Namibia by purchasing items off an Amazon.com wish list. You can sit in your dorm room, or soon your new apartment, and use the web to plant trees across Africa through Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt movement.

And with these social networking tools that you use every day to tell people you’ve gone to get a latte or you’re going to be running late, you can unite your friends through Facebook to fight human trafficking or child marriage, like the two recent college graduates in Colombia – the country – who organized 14 million people into the largest anti-terrorism demonstration in history, doing as much damage to the FARC terrorist network in a few weeks than had been done in years of military action. (Applause.)Clinton at Barnard

And you can organize through Twitter, like the undergraduates at Northwestern who launched a global fast to bring attention to Iran’s imprisonment of an American journalist. And we have two young women journalists right now in prison in North Korea, and you can get busy on the internet and let the North Koreans know that we find that absolutely unacceptable. (Applause.)

These new tools are available for everyone. They are democratizing diplomacy. So over the next year, we will be creating Virtual Student Foreign Service Internships to partner American students with our embassies abroad to conduct digital diplomacy. And you can learn more about this initiative on the State Department website.This is an opportunity for all of us to ask ourselves: What can I do?….no matter what you’re doing, you can be a citizen activist and a citizen diplomat.”

So while the jury is still out on whether social media is good or bad for women’s sport, how we might train female athletes to use it effectively, if female athletes can “have it all” (i.e., promoting sexy, feminine, yet strong athleticism) or if by doing so they are reproducing the same old gender stereotypes that undermine women’s athletics, or if sex truly does or does not sell women’s sport, we do know a few things.

Girls and women in sport, and unfortunately in many other contexts, continue to be marginalized. I invite everyone—women and men alike—who care deeply about sport and physical activity as a means for female empowerment and positive development, should reflect on Clinton’s remarks. How can we become “citizen diplomats” and use social media for the greater good of helping develop, grow and sustain women’s sports?

Note: As a related aside, when I was coaching Women’s Tennis at Wellesley College (’94-98), an all women’s college and the alma mater of both Secretary Clinton for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the book store had a great t-shirt. On the front it said, “Wellesley trains women to be secretaries”…and on the back it said “Secretary of State”.

(photo credit to Secretary Clinton blog)





Selling Sex Does NOT Attract Men to Women’s Sport

14 05 2009

I just saw a short video as a result of a Twitter from the WNBA. The power of social media at work for one “opt-in” follower! The video is by Mr. Alex Chambers, a self-proclaimed avid WNBA fan who also Twitters, and blogs. Yes, I said “Mr”!

I’m posting this because Mr. Chambers is a prime example of my previous point that sex does not sell women’s sport, it sells sex (not sport) to young men….and alienates and/or offends female sport fans. If women’s professional sport leagues want attract the coveted demographic–young male sport fans–they have to do a better job of selling athletic competence.

Notice in Mr. Chambers’ video, not once does he mention how attractive, sexy, feminine, or motherly the players are. He loves BASKETBALL and he loves the WNBA. 0908jack-black-wnba200I agree with him there are more male fans out there like him….and more that would likely become women’s sport fans if it was marketed differently or deemed “cool” and acceptable by males in general (like if Jack Black pictured here were at a Sparks game…I’m not sure if he is or isn’t at a WNBA game). Keep up the good work Alex Chambers…I can’t wait to hear more about your “journey” this summer. On similar note, the WNBA is about to fully release their new marketing campaign “Expect Great”. The title sounds promising!





The “success” of Twitter in promoting women’s sports: ‘Show me the money!’

5 05 2009

tweet-birdThere seems to be much discussion over Twitter and how it might be “the answer” to successfully marketing and promoting women’s sports. Jayda Evans (Seattle Times columnist & Twitter-er) wrote about it, the Women’s Professional Soccer League is using it, and Megan Hueter, Co-founder of Women Talk Sports, has two recent blogs about the importance of social media for women’s sport (A recent blog is about Twitter and an earlier blog was about Facebook). I responded to Megan’s blog, and she responded back (scroll down on her blog about Facebook to see our exchange). I enjoyed this dialogue and have been thinking about this issue ever since.

I get that social media is a platform to market women’s sports in a saturated market, and it is accessible, current, relevant, provides athlete-generated content etc…I got it. I love social media, really I do, so this is not a critique of social media or those that love it, promote it, and live for it. I have a Blog (obviously), a Facebook page, am connected to colleagues through LinkedIn, and recently conquered my Twitter fascination. However, even with my love for social media I’m reluctant to make claims about the effectiveness of it in promoting female athletes and women’s sports. It is the researcher in me—I’m critical and skeptical until I see the proof (i.e., empirical data).

I have seen ZERO research that demonstrates if, and how, social media tangibly and effectively promotes and markets women’s sports. I queried one of our very smart graduate students who is immersed in this research, and she didn’t know of any either. We will stand corrected if it exists. Just because everyone is all atwitter about Twitter doesn’t mean it “works” or will “save” women’s sports.
twitter-image1Here is what we generally DO know about Twitter and sport:
1. Twitter exists and is rapidly growing in popularity
2. Some people, but not many (~5% of the population), are currently using Twitter
3. Some professional athletes are included in that 5%
4. Many professional sport leagues have a Twitter presence

Here is the $1,000,000 question: Has Twitter lead to an increase in—attendance, ticket sales, merchandise sales, sponsorships, media coverage in mainstream sport media, number of teams in women’s professional leagues, or any measurable interest in or consumption of women’s sports? Right now, Twitter is a good listening tool and provides a way to listen to brand champions of women’s sport (i.e., the core, loyal consumer). But other than that, show me the data. It might be doing some good, but has anyone thought about the flip side?…. that social media might not be good for female athletes or women’s sports? So how might Twitter and other social media (including those not invented yet) be “bad” you ask? Well here are a few things to ponder.

It is a well known fact that female athletes receive only 6-8% of coverage in traditional sport media. This statistic has remained consistent over the last 20 years, despite increases in girls and women participation in sport. When female athletes are covered in traditional sport media, they are often portrayed in ways that marginalize or minimize athletic competence and highlight sexy, hetero, feminine aspects of the female body or identity.

A perfect example of this is the March 23, 2009 ESPN magazine cover of pregnant WNBA Rookie of the Year Candace Parker in which the opening sentence discusses that Parker “…is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup…” If you want a thorough, and I think well done, sociological critique of this article read this blog which appears in Contexts. I did a little mini investigation after I saw the Parker cover and found: In five years (2004- March 2009) females athletes have appeared on 5 of 168 ESPN covers (3.6%…less than the average) and when they do….well see for yourself.espn-mag-women-covers-5-yrs

While social media is changing the role of sport journalists, sport media scholar Marie Hardin argues this is both good an bad. I add it is good if it changes coverage patterns of female athletes, but I would add it is bad if it becomes expected that female athletes have to be partially or largely responsible for promoting themselves as well-rounded “girls next door” through social media as a way to “save” their leagues or bolster their own “brand”. Why isn’t it just enough for Candace Parker to play basketball to the best of her abilities? The NBA doesn’t ask Kobe Bryant to be more than a great basketball player do they?

Could it be possible that social media, including Twitter, is just another means to replicate the ways in which traditional sport media marginalizes and sexualizes female athletes? Twitter’s existence does nothing to challenge the status quo or existing structural inequalities between men’s and women’s sports…especially since it is an “opt in” platform.

Another point to ponder: How are female athletes and professional leagues presenting themselves on Twitter? Stay tuned for results on cutting edge research two of our graduate students are just completing on this very question—this is cool stuff! In the meantime, I’ll give you one example that occurred on the 2009 WNBA draft day which caught my eye and highlights my previous point. I saved three (of many) Tweets written by draftees, the WNBA, and other attendees who were collectively discussing “how we look and what to wear” rather than “how we play” on Draft Day 2009. 2wnbadraft-day

What everyone should do who cares about this issue and the cause of women’s sport, is think less about hyping social media and more about how social media can be used to create real social change and lead to sustainability (meaning…show me not only the data, but the $$$$) of women’s professional sport leagues…and more importantly, how can we prove and measure “success”?