Social Media Lessons From Playing Sports

A former Duke field hockey player shares insights
Col Tt Unknown
Photo courtesy of Duke University
Laura Tierney played field hockey for Duke University.

I grew up playing sports — from youth travel teams to high school athletics, and then at Duke University, where I had the honor of being named two-time captain of the field hockey team and a four-time Duke University All-American. I also played with the U.S. Women’s Junior National Field Hockey Team, representing our country at home and abroad. During this journey, I grew up with and navigated social media, which is why I have since hung up my cleats and now work as a social media coach to tens of thousands of students around the country. In today’s digital world, those timeless principles I learned as a student-athlete are more relevant than ever.  

So, here are five lessons I learned from playing sports that hopefully will help you and your kids navigate the complex, ever-changing world of social media. 

1. You represent something bigger than yourself. In team sports, there is the famous phrase that the name on the front of the jersey is just as important as the name on the back of the jersey. When it comes to social media, every person represents something bigger than himself or herself — whether it’s a family, school, team, musical group, club or employer. Everything you share on social media reflects your values — and is also a reflection of those with whom you connect. 

2. Be coachable. Playing field hockey at Duke University taught me so much about hard work and character — both on and off the field. I always tried to be coachable. Being coachable means you’re 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. 

3. Build a strong team. Whether you’re chasing a state championship, building a great Fantasy Football team or requesting references for a college application, it’s important to surround yourself with good people — even on social media. Why? Because who we surround ourselves with can fuel who we are and who we become. Think of everyone you follow on social media as your “team.” Do you have high standards for who joins your team? For whom you choose to follow? From whom you accept friend requests? Aim for a high character roster. 

4. 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 and shared. It’s the social media equivalent of an instant replay. And just like scouts and coaches who watch athletes from the stands, future co-workers, mentors and bosses may request your “instant replays” down the road. Post with these future fans in mind. 

5. Go the extra mile. In sports, you aim to get out of your comfort zone and go the extra mile. This mindset can help you on social media, too. The promotional tools available for youth today are powerful. You can raise money for an important cause or shine a spotlight on an issue that’s important to you. Athletes, artists, musicians and actors can all create highlight reels to help propel them into opportunities they might not otherwise experience. 

I recently caught up with Derek Jones, assistant football coach at Duke University. Jones says savvy students are harnessing the power of social media to get the attention of coaches. “Given how NCAA rules limit calls and in-person meetings, social media is the new way to show us coaches your likes, interests and how you carry yourself,” he says. “It’s the new way for us to interview you.”

In sports, and in life, we all like to win. And when it comes to social media, winning means using it in positive, high character ways — ways that strengthen your reputation, build meaningful relationships and improve the world — one text, “snap” and post at a time. 


Laura Tierney, a digital native who got her first phone at age 13, is founder and president of The Social Institute, which offers students positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media. She also recently became a mom. Learn more at


Categories: Kids + Media, Lifestyle