Chase Adams, a senior who plays for Marian Catholic High School and has over 100,000 followers on Instagram, had his first viral video come out when he was just in seventh grade. The video was just a simple mixtape of him playing basketball, but quickly racked up more than 14 million views on YouTube. Soon, Adams noticed there were cameras and people recording him at every game.
“At the end of the night, I get a notification on Twitter, ‘Chase Adams new game video.’ The way social media and the video world works, you never know when someone is recording you. They’ll just put out a video as soon as the game is over,” he says.
Now, Adams is followed by NBA players he grew up admiring and local celebrities like the rapper G Herbo. Like the other young athletes he plays with, Adams has become conscious of his own brand.
“You’re held on a higher pedestal with more followers,” he says. “You have to watch what you post, what you say, watch how people record you, and you have to keep your guard up and be careful what you do in everyday life.”
If you can deal with the scrutiny, however, there’s a huge upside.
Roy Clarke, a 17-year-old high-school junior who plays for Fremont High School in Los Angeles, says that social media allows young athletes to generate their own fandom.
“Social media is all me endorsing myself, getting myself out there,” he says. “I don’t have to rely on a team to brand myself. Everything we do goes on social media ... Everything is like, Snapchat this, Snapchat that, give me your video, I wanna dunk, or work on this mixtape with me after this game, or film my dunk. Everything gets connected back to social media somehow,” Clarke says. “I’m just trying to make myself seen. I want to show people what I can do. I’m thinking about who is going to see this, who is going to see that I’m most likely college-ready. I get people to edit videos for me, to make the video look good.”
But the pressure to be perfect can be overwhelming. Rodriguez, who founded Ballislife back in 2005, has seen several generations of high-school basketball players evolve, and says that the current generation is held to almost impossible standards.
“People forget that they’re just kids,” he says. “They’re not afforded the excuse of being a kid anymore. Folks can’t understand that they are 15, 16, 17 years old. When I was younger, coming up, I didn’t have social media, so I was able to make mistakes and say stupid things. Folks outside my state didn’t see it.”
In their quest for perfection, social media is also where young athletes turn to improve. Instagram is a valuable resource for learning new moves and keeping track of what moves other players are doing, much to the chagrin of many coaches.
“Social media can be horrible for coaches because you see kids doing these difficult tricks they saw online and doing it wrong and you’re trying to break bad habits,” says Anthony Hargraves, a program director at Riverside Church Hawks, a basketball program in New York. “You have kids that are emulating these NBA players who are doing these tricks. They’re putting their balls in between their legs,” he says.