Social media education … in the newsPosted on

In the aftermath of the sentencing of footballer Adam Johnson we were asked to comment, in interviews with Radio 4, Radio 5 Live and the Daily Mail, on what football is doing in an effort to educate players. The answer, from our experience, is “a hell of a lot”.

Football clubs in our experience take the issue of player welfare and player responsibility very seriously and that includes online. Clubs in the Premier League deliver first-class education programmes to their players which move beyond formal education into lifeskills programmes.

In a piece on Radio 4’s Today programme (see here at 2.40) Matt Himsworth drew the distinction between Johnson’s generation as a “digital immigrant” – someone who didn’t spend all of his formative and young teenage years surrounded by social media and apps and the new generation of “digital natives” who we are now able to coach, educate and converse with as they live a full online life. In a slightly longer interview with Gary Richardson on Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek Matt spoke about some examples of how footballers’ lives have changed in the digital age (listen here, from 19.14).

We act for first team players, and understand the level of scrutiny and challenges presented to those in the public eye, but also regularly work with and support young academy players; which allows us to understand the future challenges presented to these youngsters but also the way they think, act and interact. What we’re trying to do is to influence their culture to be cautious, sensible, respectful and risk averse.

We educate players on the risks that exist but also on their responsibilities to protect themselves and to respect others. The work we do starts at a very young age; often starting with the under 12s age groups, and to parents and to house parents, and continues throughout the stages of an academy player’s development.

One of the keys, that the clubs we work with recognise, is that you can’t be dictatorial. It must be a two-way conversation that recognises that the digital native generation will instinctively use social media to communicate. Trying to frighten them offline doesn’t work. Helping them to understand the landscape of modern communication is much more fruitful.

As Matt put it in an interview with the Daily Mail “We tell them the horror stories” and we hope that this honesty is rewarded with a better understanding on what is appropriate for players to protect themselves and others. The Mail’s headline writers were a little over-excited though. We’ve been working with our clients for at least 6 or 7 years on these projects. Education has been in full flow for some time now. In the long run we’re confident that this approach will see dividends.







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