Saturday, June 14, 2008

Vaulting Well is the Best Revenge

I get the same question from coaches and athletes, both at Arkansas and at other institutions: what do I do about negative message board posts? My firm belief is it's hard to openly battle opinions, but you can correct factual errors. Otherwise, let your performance speak for you.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Katie Stripling, Arkansas pole vaulter. Two weeks ago, a horrible day at the regionals left one of the nation's top vaulters out of the NCAAs. Then her coach, Brian Compton, recognized a rule that could put her back into the nationals. He used it. She advanced. And the howling began, notably on one national vaulting message board.

Katie and Compton were called everything in the book. All on line. All for the world to see. Did they strike back? Not on the internet, but in Des Moines. From today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story:

"They were pretty angry," Stripling said, referring to some posts on the Web site PoleVaultPower. com. "It gave me more determination and motivation to prove people wrong. I used it to help me."

Here's a tip to the B&B crowd: Remember what you're high school coach said -- don't give them any bulletin board material. Instead of making Katie curl up into a fetal position with their stinging riposte, these anonymous writers inspired her.

Before we go much further, for those not up on NCAA pole vault marks, Stripling had the nation's No. 2 mark at 14 feet, 2 inches heading into the meet. That speaks less to the argument an obscure rule was used to advance her to the national championship than to the painfully obvious fact that it's not really a fight for the best in the nation if someone who was ranked second during the year was left home.

Stripling got the cold shoulder from competitors; she let her pole do the talking. Her coach added the punctuation. Again from the ADG:

"She shut the critics up on the pole vaulting Web sites and blogs," Compton said. "They don't understand the rules. If they knew them, they would have used them, too."

Let's parse it out. Stoic athlete ignores the jeers of the crowd on her way to success. Great, that's pretty classic. Why not take the full high-road approach and not even acknowledge the message boards? Even better, why pay any attention to them?

Because this is 2008, and that approach is not functional. First and foremost, the athletes read everything because they live in the highly integrated socially networked world.

When I'm asked by shocked colleagues about why I spend a portion of my day -- and encourage our staff to do so in their specialty areas -- reading what is out there, this is the perfect example. It's really not an option because the media is reading it. The B&B (boards and blogs) are a force multiplier for the ever shrinking manpower of the newsroom. I encourage the pros reading this blog to take in the full story at the ADG. The athlete and the coach didn't make the blog posting important, the media did when they asked them about it. And on this day, it became the story -- the headline was Stripling's Effort Answers Criticism.

16th century Welsh poet and clergyman George Herbert may have first penned the phrase "Living Well is the Best Revenge," but Katie Stripling's all-American third-place performance at Des Moines certainly updated it for the 21st century.

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