Earlier this year sportswriter Patrick Smith wrote a thoughtful column about the difficult transition of rugby league champion Israel Folau to his adoptive code of Aussie Rules with the fledgling Greater Western Sydney side. Smith contrasted Folau’s struggle with the success enjoyed by the late Jim Stynes, the Irishman who went from playing Gaelic football to becoming a Brownlow medallist and genuine superstar with Melbourne in the AFL.

Emily Seebohm addresses her followers. Photo: Herald Sun

Smith pointed out how Stynes hadn’t enjoyed success straight away, but was allowed to spend a couple of years playing amateur footy for Prahan honing his basic skills and no doubt making all sorts of clangers before crowds of 1000 at suburban grounds, rather than 50,000 at the MCG. Folau in contrast is trying to learn a new code in real time in the full glare of football’s elite, with plenty of sneering at the million-dollar price tag he attracted as an AFL scalp from rugby league.

Israel Folau is also on Twitter (@IzzyFolau). The bloke must have the hide of a rhino, as this uncensored and frequently unpleasant social media site has been the venue for some pretty blunt assessments of his performance in his debut season in the AFL.
Folau is just one of hundreds of athletes who tweets. Two of our biggest sporting tweeters are Stephanie Rice and Emily Seebohm. They both imploded in London this week, Rice failing to win a medal at all and Seebohm, who is just a kid, crying inconsolably as she got it into her young head that a silver medal was a symbol not of success but failure.

For both these women the weight of expectations was too great. The venue where expectations were raised, and their subsequent performance attacked, was on the social media sites Twitter and Facebook.
Rice and Seebohm are typical of a generation which has grown up living every aspect of their life on social media. In this space there are no longer any barriers between real friends and cyber-friends. Once upon a time - about 10 years ago that is - most of us went through life being friends with half a dozen to a dozen people. These days you have hundreds of them, if not thousands.

Social media also deprives you of your inner monologue – that is, it lets you turn a stupid or offensive thought which would normally pass harmlessly through your brain, into something you will publish in a moment of ill-advised spontaneity for the entire world to read. Hence Rice saying “suck on that faggots” on Twitter when the Springboks lost to the Wallabies. I have said equally offensive things off the cuff myself, as have many people, but the difference for Rice’s generation is that they can say silly things in real time and find themselves completely incapable of managing the consequences.

Generation Y is the generation that lost its privacy. It wasn’t robbed of its privacy by government or corporations or an intrusive media. It simply gave it away. Like the drunk guy in Darwin this week who stuck the firecracker up his bum, who appeared in a very fitting (and funny) photograph with his shirt off drinking from a bottle of Bundy with a live snake entwined around it. The publisher of this photograph was not the media in the first instance; the publisher was the guy with the cracker up his clacker, to quote the evocative headline from The NT News. 

As a parent whose kids are under the age of 10, but who are already aware of social media sites such as Facebook and keen to get on them, one of the biggest challenges in 2012 is trying to convince young people that not every aspect of their life needs to be paraded and photographed and discussed in a forum which 6 billion people have access to.

Seebohm was criticised this week for crying both immediately after her race and again the next day after winning the silver. The criticism was totally unfair given her age. She has probably been waking up at 4am every day since she was five, and winning gold was all she ever wanted. You can understand and sympathise with her, living as she does in the full gaze of everybody who is online, the pressure compounded by spending days fixating on the social media traffic around how she had one hand on the gold medal and needed only turn up to claim it.

Australia’s Chef de mission Nick Green said Seebohm’s case showed the downside of social media, where the young swimmer was initially pumped up as a dead certainty, and then either ridiculed as a dud, or revved up further by loyal fans who were even more irrational in their sorrow at her second-placing.

“Listening to Emily, one of the things athletes need to ensure, particularly when they go into a major final, is they don’t get caught up in what the outcome’s going to be,” Green said.

“Maybe what we might have seen through that social media banter which Emily’s a participant in is that everyone’s saying you’re going to win and the outcome was done,” he said.

The Australian Olympic Committee has quite fairly said that it won’t be banning athletes from using Twitter or Facebook, provided they used it responsibly.

For my part I think more athletes should take their cue from the former Swans star Micky O’Loughlin, who said on Q and A on Monday how he couldn’t believe how so many young AFL stars would be tweeting minutes before the game while they were getting Goanna rubbed on their legs. Beyond sport, there are issues here as to how we all live, and particularly how our kids live. There is a hell of a lot to be said for growing up and making mistakes in private, for saying dumb things in the company of family or friends, rather than your army of fair-weather cyber-friends, none of whom would ever get you out of a scrape in real life, and are just as likely to start tweeting about it should you fall victim to one.

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    • Nick says:

      08:18am | 05/08/12

      That was a nice article…I’ve got two kids under ten as well so I think about this stuff too.  I just bought my first smart phone, not because I need it but because I think I need to be familiar with them and their capabilities.

      What the article didn’t canvas is why not all kids behave the same way - among my various nieces and nephews there is a complete spectrum from absolute rejection through to absolute stream of consciousness on facebook, twitter and the like.  The streams of consciousness are horrible to behold and seem to come more from the girls than the boys but I don’t even know if that is a valid generalisation.

    • Joan says:

      08:26am | 05/08/12

      Regular daily tweeting creates loser saps. Tweeting saps mental energy needed to focus on your work,  first by focusing on writing tweets then checking response. Perhaps even a person like Rudd can end up as an also ran with his mind focused on mindless tweets which they always are - particularly if the person tweets regularly.

    • chuck says:

      08:37am | 05/08/12

      Yes the apparent reliance on social media to create their own legend status couple with the wildly unrealistic expectations of the spin doctors in the media have a lot to answer for. The AOC is in no way blameless either as I expect given the nature of the interviews with the numerous officials on the tele (pity the games coverage with the media, adds, crossovers and protracted analyses was interrupted by competition) that they have created this aura of invincibility too which seems for many to now equate with legend in their own lunch time status.
      However good on them (the competitors) for trying.

    • Sam says:

      09:25am | 05/08/12

      Oh for Goodness sake ! Our athletes were beaten by better athletes, thats it, pure and simple !

      I am sick to death seeing on the news reporters, and ex athletes blaming everything under the sun EXCEPT the fact that our athletes were not good enough.

      I also note that there has now been a call from athletes of past to increase Government funding to sports . NO No No No No No, there are more important things to worry about in this country than a shiny medal !

      I just dont understand why we spend millions upon millions of dollars just so a handful of people get to wear a shiny medal ???

      Now can we stop talking about the Olympics and talk about more important things.

    • Rose says:

      11:44am | 05/08/12

      Increase funding to junior sports, get kids out and about and then some will shine. Having kids play sport has become incredibly expensive but now it’s often only the well heeled who can afford for their kids to participate, It’d be good on so many levels to broaden school sports programs, make club sports far less expensive and get kids joining in. Apart from broadening the net to identify future champions I think you’d see and increase in kids who socialize well, a decrease in child obesity, juvenile crime and truancy. There would be a greater sense of community and tolerance, better health all round and people would probably just be happier (being healthier and feeling like you’re a part of something will do that for you)..

    • Sandra says:

      06:06pm | 05/08/12

      Rose - it ishould not be incredibly expensive to have kids play sport we have reached a time where kids can’t just have a go. They are expected to have formal coaching, high end equipment, access to special training facilities. They are expected to compete there is little room for kids to try and enjoy sports. The fact that parents will sue for a ‘broken fingernail or hurt feelings’ means insurance costs are higher. Every volunteer has to have a police check, every coach has to undertake training in child safety as well as the sport. THIS society has made everything expensive with unrealistic expectations. I should exclude the sensible country communities where having a go and playing sport is much more social and part of being in the community. Winning isn’t everything. I remember first having a go at tennis when I was about 15, my parents bought a coupleof cheap tennis racquets and some balls and we went to the local court for a hit. I played a little bit of D grade pennant and realised that I wasn’t going to be a help to the team. I still enjoy a hit knowing that my talent is nil but having a hit with family is still fun.
      Same with swimming - our daughter has great skills and apparently potential at a high level but she is not a person interested in competing. The swimming clubs are only interested in members who want to compete, no room or time for those that lack competitive intent. Same in other sports.
      The ugly parents are another horrible issue.

    • Rose says:

      11:03pm | 05/08/12

      Absolutely agree Sandra, when I was a kid we used to grab some racquets and head down to the local courts for a hit several times a week, now most of the council courts are padlocked and /or the nets are removed. The only ones you an get access to are so run-down they are no good for anything. This is why we pay council rates, to have these facilities (among other things) and we are being let down, badly.
      About 10 years ago my son joined a local soccer team, it cost just over $400 for the annual registration fee and uniform. Add on top of that the cost of driving kids all over the city and fundraising events and it became a joke, especially when kids were being left to sit on the sidelines for all but 10 minutes of the game while other kids got full games, which appeared to be based on the parent’ friendship groups more than anything else and we gave up on the club.
      My kids are lucky, they go to a school that has a rule that every student must be a part of at least one extra-curricular activity, and the school has a fairly large selection of activities (sports and otherwise) to choose from. If only every school had a strong focus on extracurriculars then more kids would have opportunities to participate. It would involve commitment from the school and the parents, but I’m pretty sure it would be worth it.

    • Anubis says:

      11:55am | 06/08/12

      All well and good saying that we should increase kid’s participation in sport at school. My son’s school fields a number of teams in local competitions including football, cricket, hockey and netball. However they will only allow kids to try out for the teams if they are already well experienced in the sport and the kicker is that there is no sports programme in the school that allows kids to develop the necessary skills in any of the sports. Many kids who want to be involved in these sports and can’t, for a multitude of reasons, access external programmes to learn the skills are getting disappointed when they want to participate but aren’t even considered.

    • Joseph Logan says:

      09:36am | 05/08/12

      Dale Carnegie, in his famous book “How to win friends and influence people”,devoted a whole chapter to “blame”. It always someone else’s fault.  Rice and Seebohm’ excuses are “social media and the pressure associated with it, nothing to do of course with temperament,ability, or ability to perform under pressure. We are of course assuming that the girls who beat them do not iPhones,computers or iPads?

    • Atticus Pinch says:

      10:23pm | 05/08/12

      Actually Joe, the excuses quoted can be attributed to the media and not to the athletes themselves. I thought Rice and Seebohm were quite candid in explaining the reasons for their so-called “failures”.

    • stephen says:

      10:11am | 05/08/12

      Who authorized all these comebacks, especially in the pool ?
      If they have previously held their heads up proud for themselves and their country - and it is always in that order, and sometimes Mum and Dad come before anyone, but we shouldn’t have to know that - then they can holiday elsewhere, like, in the media as Michael Klim has done.

      It has been like a long weekend for some of them.

    • Jay says:

      07:11am | 06/08/12

      Absolutely agree. Like some of our cricketers who just don’t know when to retire. Once you retire that should be it, unless there is a compelling case like a world record time. How about investing resources in the next generation.

    • AndrewMcL says:

      10:22am | 05/08/12

      While I agree about the dangers of social media and, indeed the media itself, our athletes also have to realise that being “in the public eye” is part of the process.  Crying because you lose or “only” get silver instead of gold is poor sportsmanship. If you want to have a good howl (and I can understand you might) then have it off camera.
      The best thing an athlete could do would be switch off the mobile phone and concentrate on their performance.

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      10:52am | 05/08/12

      Maybe I missed something along the way but can someone tell us:
      “Where was/is all the New Young Talent in Australia’s Olympic contingent?”
      At the run-up during the last year all we heard of was of, at least in our once-major event, Swimming, was of the now, for Swimming, the attempts by the retired Grandparents of Swimming trying to make a comeback. They failed. Rather than seeking new glory for themselves why don’t these “Oldies”, with all their decades of training, competing etc. do what they have enough experience to do and that is become Swimming Coaches?
      They have “been there, done that” & done it brilliantly but now is the time for them to step back & pass on all that knowledge to the young people.
      Has all this lack of new, young talent come about because the present Coaches, Trainers, Selectors have all become so arrogant, so lazy that they think no matter who they select Australia will win?
      Take a leaf out of China’s book,you silly people! Go out, find that new talent & gets some of the old hands to come in & train them in time for 2016.
      Let’s have no more of this nonsense of resurrecting the Stars of the Past.
      Once they retire from competition let them stay retired. That does not mean they have nothing more to contribute and/or are now useless. They are no different to people who retire because they are in their late 60s, 70s etc.for neither are they useless. Their contribution has just changed.

    • Pavlo says:

      11:12am | 05/08/12

      On the way home from work the other day I heard Seebohm bawling and babbling on radio, and I thought something really terrible had happened to her. But no, her mum or grandmother had not died, she’d just won a silver medal. At the Olympic Games. A massive achievement and something to really celebrate and be proud of. But instead she cries about it like a great tragedy had befallen her.

      Maybe I’m getting old or something, but I remember the Olympic Games in the 70’s and 80’s, even the 90’s. I just don’t recall all this emotional drama and shenanigans that I’ve witnessed this week. I think athletes back then were different. They had their heads screwed on differently. They were emotionally tougher, more realistic and more interested in the idea of representing their country rather than bolstering their fragile egos through being awarded a circular piece of metal with a colourful ribbon attached (the actual Olympic bronze medal contains metal that is worth about $4.70)

      It seems to me these days these kids are driven by the dictates of fame, popular culture and how many followers they can get on Twitter. They’re constantly online and therefore adversely affected by the overuse of social media. If I was their coach I’d absolutely ban all those devices in the lead up to and during the games.

    • Martin says:

      11:21am | 06/08/12



      Perhaps we need better screening of future Olympic hopefuls. If they cannot cope without having a mobile device welded to their hand 24/7, they might not be such a good investment.

    • Grumpy old man says:

      12:02pm | 06/08/12

      They are, like Seebohm, part of the “I want it now” generation of pampered princesses. Silver is not good enough for the likes of them - it has to be gold or nothing.

      How many of these little self-important princesses (Seebohm and Magnussen come to mind) will announce their retirement from their chosen sports because they failed (in their own self-important sense) to achieve Gold and show the world just how magnificent they are. Poor little dears

    • Eddy says:

      11:35am | 05/08/12

      Don’t you reckon everyone in that pool has probably been getting up at 5am every day since the age of five? We should have had a pool-full of tears.
      I just think its poor form to behave like that….Australians aren’t bad losers, or we shouldn’t be at Olympic level (whatever your age).

    • buellxb12Ss says:

      03:20pm | 06/08/12

      Most people i know get up around 5.00 am why do these institute of sport brats think there so special ?

    • Paul says:

      11:46am | 05/08/12

      From Emily Seebohm’s twitter feed: “Can I reach 10,000 followers before the relay final Saturday night get on it!”

    • Casey says:

      12:32pm | 05/08/12

      I don’t think social media is the reason why our swimmers didn’t get gold (although I’m sure there’s something to be said for tuning out outside distractions and focusing on the race that might have been more difficult with twitter and facebook on constantly).

      I do think that social media is a major reason why they have reacted they way they did to winning silvers or bronze or no medal. The scrutiny that they are under from the media and from their (self-imposed) social media followers must make the pressure enormous! And as the writer says - they are young and this is the biggest sporting stage there is.

      I think the poolside media has a lot to answer for in their interviewing of swimmers minutes after completing their race and beginning the interview with comments like “you must be shattered with that result” (silver medal) All of it reinforces that the only laudable result is gold, that nothing else is worth celebrating.

      Yes, I understand for a lot of these athletes they won’t be happy with anything short of gold, and I think that is probably a major part of their drive and motivation to go better. As was said above - have a cry in privacy, but it poor sportsmanship to do it in public interviews.

      If social media has such a negative influence on their mental preparation for the race, their coaches should be helping them to manage that. Yes social media is a relatively new and unknown element in the context of the Olympics, but media is not and distractions are not. Perhaps these games will be a lesson for them all about dealing with distraction.

    • M says:

      08:42am | 06/08/12

      The poolside media is a disgrace to this country.

    • Tonner says:

      12:32pm | 05/08/12

      ^ Agree with Pavlo.

    • pa_kelvin says:

      12:37pm | 05/08/12

      Unfortunately social mediums such as twitter and facebook are here to stay, but for a athlete to say that they probably spent to much time tweeting(twit ) the night before imo lacks respect for themself and their sport. All these athletes need to know when to turn these forums off.  Sadly they dont, but you cant blame social media when it is the athlete’s choice to participate.

    • Carz says:

      01:05pm | 05/08/12

      “The venue where expectations were raised, and their subsequent performance attacked, was on the social media sites Twitter and Facebook.”

      Bullshit, the expectations and attacks on performance both originated in our media who seem to think that anything less than a gold medal is unacceptable. Almost every headline I have seen about our athletes who have won silver or bronze has included the word disappointment. Maybe its time the media accepted the fact that a medal of any colour at the Olympics is bloody fantastic. Maybe then our athletes would be able to accept the same, and we wouldn’t be hearing athletes who are heartbroken not because they didn’t win but because they have disappointed their country.

    • Andrew says:

      05:58pm | 05/08/12

      The media built them up and now they will go after them for not living up to the medias expectations.

    • I.M.Serious says:

      02:59pm | 05/08/12

      Tony Abbott has to take some of the blame, his continuous negativity is rubbing off on everyone.

    • nihonin says:

      05:06pm | 05/08/12

      Yes we know you’re serious acotrel.  In fact I reckon you’re the one posing as the fake screen names as well.

    • Bruce says:

      05:21pm | 05/08/12

      Reduced funding by the federal government equals reduced medals. Which person in the government was responsible for reducing the funding ? Clearly a very negative and anti-sports person in the federal government. We need a new PM who understands, and has played and participates in sport, and has a positive outdoors outlook on life.

    • the duke says:

      08:38am | 06/08/12

      Ah no—its sctually the carbon tax—in order to reduce emissions our athletes were told not to breathe as hard or often—you cant expect to compete with countries who dont have this tax crippling the performance of their athletes

    • Chris says:

      05:27pm | 05/08/12

      Twitter and facebook are a modern curse, but if you want to read some nasty comments mostly of more than 140 characters, try the print media under the Olympic articles where they are allowed.
      The whole country is full of bogans!

    • stephen says:

      08:48pm | 05/08/12

      And some of them are competing for this country in London.
      Nick Darcy the swimmer who beat up his mate and then declared himself a bankrupt so he would not have to pay compensation is now, instead of coming home after his heat as he was supposed to and was a condition of his involvement in the Games, is now going for a European holiday.

      Just who is paying for this ?

    • James Adelaide says:

      07:39pm | 05/08/12

      Since each gold medal cost us $5 million, I for one am glad the see the money redirected elsewhere.  Under Howard, we supported our olympians in the same manner as the old East Germany did.  I do not consider it sporting to have full-time ‘amateurs’.

    • Waz says:

      09:09pm | 05/08/12

      Sam couldn’t have said it any better. The swimmers were just not good enough no excuses, i wonder how many Chinese swimmers were allowed to use social networking. Maybe our swimmers and the AOC have been given the kick in the butt they needed . There are more important things that matter than stoking the nation’s ego every 4 years.

    • M says:

      07:30am | 06/08/12

      Perhaps we need to reframe the way we view the olympics, being that given the opportunity to represent your country in a top level international competition is the highest honour in sport you can achieve, with medals being the icing on the cake.

      How quickly we lose focus on what the games were originally meant to be.

    • AndrewS says:

      09:40am | 06/08/12

      Michael Phelps has a Twit account. He really struggled with it, hey?

    • Hamish says:

      11:30am | 06/08/12

      Twitter my arse. Rice was injured and probably shouldn’t have been allowed to compete. Seebohm choked. The only thing worse than choking is coming up with pathetic excuses for choking. As if other swimmers don’t have facbook/twitter accounts…

    • Martin says:

      01:49pm | 06/08/12



      “Twitter my arse”. The next social media phenomenum ?

    • Gaz says:

      12:01pm | 06/08/12

      You lost me at “...Patrick Smith wrote a thoughtful column…”

    • Utopia Boy says:

      05:31pm | 06/08/12

      London 2012 - Australia’s Silver Games.

      There’s many de-motivational pictures on social networking sites that revolve around “Harden the f#$k up”. Point is they lost because they weren’t as good as others.
      It’s got nothing to do with being a Twit or Faceless Booker.


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