Social media has been a sore spot for many teachers, coaches and administrators over the past decade as it often produces more harm than good.
Posts by student-athletes can lead to the loss of a college scholarship, a potential employment opportunity or a spot on their respective sports team.
However, when used by individuals like William Chrisman track and field coach Tyler Rathke, it can be a learning tool and a lifeline for students who are in desperate need of communicating with someone outside of their inner circle.
During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, Rathke has created countless inspirational messages, webinars and motivational tools for his students and fellow teachers.
He and cross country coach Jason Stacy are on a journey in which they have fun for 143 consecutive days – and it’s all been documented by one of the most energetic and motivated coaches in the country.
“This is a crazy, surreal time where we, as coaches and teachers, have to think outside the box, and that’s what I’m trying to do with these videos,” Rathke said. “One day Jason and I ran 13 miles, and if our student-athletes see that, maybe it will inspire them to go out and get in some work.
“They don’t need to run 13 miles, but just run around the block or work out in their backyard – something to get them out of the house.”
That’s one reason Rathke has changed his mind when it comes to social media.
“There have been a lot of negative connotations in regard to social media,” he explained, “but now, I can’t imagine going through all this without social media.
“Nothing is going to replace seeing your kids in the classroom, the hallways or on the track, but all the social media outlets enable us to stay in contact with each other, and that is so important during this quarantine. It’s never been easier to connect with peers, teachers, coaches, administrators and our students than now, and I want to take advantage of that.”
He knows his video messages are making an impact because of the feedback he is receiving from a variety of viewers.
“For instance, from a technical standpoint, our coaching webinars are making an impact with other coaches, coaching peers, and our athletes, because they reach out to me and thank me for posting them,” Rathke said.
“If you do webinars with 10 to 20 of the top high school and college coaches across the country, you are bound to get feedback. And what I’m hearing from our student-athletes is that they are enjoying and learning from the different coaching techniques – and I’m learning right along with them.
While his video approach has been a success, Rathke says nothing can top the in-person interaction between an athlete or student and his coach or teacher.
“One of the great motivators and coaches I know is (Truman football coach) Charlie Pugh,” Rathke said. “He is so passionate about everything he does and he talked about the energy he misses from being at the high school with his students and players, and I miss that same energy.
“We’re going to experience that again – and I hope sooner, than later – and I know we’re all looking forward to that day, whenever it takes place.”