Why coaches “overtext” the phones of athletes

Here’s a lovely sign of the times: College basketball coaches have discovered that the only way to forge an emotional bond with teenage athletes you’re trying to recruit is to send them text messages.

Indeed, apparently coaches now inundate star high-school basketball players with so many SMS messages that the NCAA has recently banned Division I colleges from using text messaging in recruiting. The texting was so volumous it was causing serious charges on the kids’ monthly bills.

There’s a New York Times story today tha gorgeously unpacks the social revolution afoot. Here’s a taste:

“What kind of relationship can you build in 160 characters?” asked Kerry Kenny, the incoming chair of the N.C.A.A.’s Division I Student Athlete Advisory Committee, referring to the maximum length of a text message.

Many college coaches say text messaging is an effective way to build a casual relationship with potential recruits.

“Sometimes kids don’t want to talk on the phone,” said Pat Skerry, an assistant men’s basketball coach at Rhode Island. “They don’t give you much.”

Skerry and other basketball coaches are allowed to call seniors twice a week. In most other sports, phone calls to seniors are limited to one a week, although coaches can also send e-mail messages and faxes. Before the ban went into effect, “I’d just sit on the couch late at night, just kind of flicking away, while the TV was on,” Skerry said. “It’s a good way to stay up with 40, 50 kids almost daily.”

I love it. The teenagers do not actually regard the phone as something to be talked on. I have to say, I’m coming around to the same point of view. I’m surprised how often, when I’m in the middle of a business converation, that I wish the exchange were happening in text — so I could quickly skim the content of a conversation, and skip past the throat-clearing pleasantries. This is particularly true of PR folks who call me to pitch their products or companies for coverage. I’m happy to hear about all and any pitches, but man alive, it can be horribly tedious to slog through it on the phone. Ditto for voice mail. The slow, ponderous nature of voice mail — and the fact that you can’t cut and paste information in it — has made me almost consider a total ban on it. I’m thinking of simply leaving a message saying hi, I’m not at my phone right now, and I don’t take voice mail — please email me at clive@clivethompson.net. Literally the only person on the planet I personally know who doesn’t use email — or computers, for that matter — is my mother. And I always try to answer the phone when I see her calling!

Anyway, the point is, I quite understand why the student athletes prefer texting. Could you imagine the nightmare of trying to hack through dozens of voice mails every day from pleading coaches?

(The picture above is by Nesster, courtesy his Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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