McWashington: Let's talk twitter & Cougs

SOCIAL MEDIA and the winning formula. It's a topic our broadcasting team has talked about on air this season -- specifically how social media can/does affect leadership on the Cougs and on college football teams in general. With Mike Leach on Tuesday banning his players from using twitter, it's a topic that deserves scrutiny. Did Leach make the right call? You better believe he did. Here's why...

In 1983, the science fiction movie War Games taught movie audiences that winning was easy to instruct. Play hundreds of games of tic-tac-toe, and one could stave off world abomination. Whereas Cougar football is concerned, the task is seemingly much more difficult.

The Cougs have suffered four straight losses, none of which can be blamed on X's and O's. Though at times appearing outmanned, three of those games were very winnable. The question is, "Why did WSU lose?"

IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL the best team doesn't always win. If that were the case, there would be no reason to play the game. The reality is that 18-to-22 year old men can be fragile and easily distracted. From dealing with issues in the classroom to, as Leach once put it while at Texas Tech, issues with "their chubby little girlfriends," the focus and attention in-season may not always be on the task at hand.

But how do you harness that focus week-in and week-out toward the single objective of winning a football game?

As a leader on the 1997 football team I had about 10 close friends on the team, and another 30 people I was cordial with. That's 40 of the 85 players we had on scholarship. A major adjoining factor in those relationships was conflict, and conversely conflict resolution. Not everyone liked me, but everyone respected me. From a distance, no one could tell which was which.

One example -- My fellow Fab 5 member Kevin McKenzie and me often joke about the time we stopped speaking over a girl and subsequently made up during the timeout of a scoring drive against Arizona. Yes, the 1997 team did the little things it takes to be successful (like throw big blocks) but we also engaged in activities that tear the teams of today apart. But there was one big difference -- there was no social media.

I GOT MY very first email address my sophomore year -- so I could talk to a girl I was dating at USC and avoid paying expensive long distance fees. There was no Facebook or Twitter. No way for the world to know if Shawn McWashington was a tough intense leader, or a jerk. Ryan Leaf was, and still is a friend of mine. But there was no was for the world to know that I drafted his backup Steve Burnbaum with the first pick in the spring game draft -- to ensure that I would get the ball.

Yes, social media can bring the world closer together. And it can also tear at the fabric of a locker room.

BY NO MEANS am I blaming the Cougars' four losses on Twitter.

What I am saying is that it can be difficult to develop the traits of leadership if there is a fear of being ostracized by the community around you.

Sharing information about daily lives is a familiar activity of college students. I think it's a fair question to ask how difficult is it for Travis Long to stand up and question the effort and decision making of his teammates if there is a fear of one of them leaking personal information about him to the entire world via social media. No one likes to be embarrassed, and especially not a 250-pound college football player.

THE MOVIE WAR GAMES concludes with the computer being instructed to play tic-tac-toe against itself to avoid world obliteration. This results in a long string of draws, forcing the computer to learn the concept of futility.

WINNER: NONE.

Bob Robertson and myself are not on Twitter. I think we would prefer a "nice game of chess."


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Shawn McWashington is a 1998 graduate of Washington State who played a starring role on the 1997 Cougar football team that won the Pac-10 title and came within two seconds of knocking off No. 1 Michigan in the Rose Bowl. His father Ammon was a standout on WSU's fabled 1965 Cardiac Kids. Shawn is the new color analyst on Cougar football radio broadcasts. He lives in Seattle and works as an assistant vice president for the insurance and risk management firm Marsh Inc.

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