Don’t Blame “Kids These Days”: Three Ways to Connect with the Current Generation of Athletes

Today’s athletes behave differently than those of previous generations—it’s critical to connect with them through their preferred mediums.

Don’t Blame “Kids These Days”: Three Ways to Connect with the Current Generation of Athletes

Today’s athletes behave differently than those of previous generations—it’s critical to connect with them through their preferred mediums.

The word “millennials” has become a trendy buzzword over the past few years. Thought to be addicted to technology, entitled and owners of short attention spans, this generation has now moved past the high school and college ranks to enter the workforce.

Replacing the millennials is Generation Z, a group that’s commonly associated with millennials but are actually quite different. Unlike their predecessors, Gen Z is great at multi-tasking, has an entrepreneurial mindset and sets higher expectations for themselves.

In order to truly connect with and get the most out of this generation of athletes, you might consider some slight alterations to your coaching style. Each generation processes feedback differently — if you learn how to effectively relate to them, you can leap past your peers who lament the actions of “kids these days.”

Capture Shortened Attention Spans with Video

Gen Z lives in a world of constant updates, 10-second Snapchats and live Facebook feeds — their attention spans are shorter than previous generations’ and they’re glued to screens. While it may feel hard to keep their attention, you can use their love of tech to catch their eye and help them improve.

Video can be a key element in developing your athletes, and this generation embraces visual learning like no other.

“This generation of kids responds to video, whether it’s YouTube or whatever,” Michael Stewart, a coach for the Each 1 Teach 1 basketball club, said. “I think that’s the best way to get their attention. For them, it’s showing them some of the good things. They respond to it because they get to watch themselves on TV. And when bad things come up, they’re able to see right away that maybe what they thought was going on wasn’t really going on.”

Many teams incorporate video into every practice. The football team at Lancaster Catholic High School (Penn.) rarely takes the practice field before watching about 15 minutes of video. The boys basketball squad at Whitman-Hanson (Mass.) records each practice and will actually stop sessions to watch a side screen.

Your athletes are already connected to their devices, so take advantage of it. Create playlists of relevant moments for them to review on their own time, complete with drawings and comments to really drive your point home. This will help them gain real insights from the video instead of just looking for moments to highlight.

“You don’t have to twist kids’ arms to watch their own video because they want to see what they’re doing,” Bob Rickman, Whitman-Hanson’s coach, said. “You have to teach kids how to watch film because we live in the ESPN, Sportscenter era where they want to see the flashy, great behind-the-back pass or the dunks.”

Encourage Their “Go-Get-‘Em” Attitudes

Because of their early exposure to tech and its role in their lives, this generation has adapted a very entrepreneurial spirit. Social media constantly updates them on the successes of their friends and peers, and sparks new ideas in their minds. They’re always thinking about their brand and ways to enhance it.

Rather than suppress those ambitious feelings, help them grow. This generation is known for being self-starters, so encourage them to create and share highlights with college coaches. Players such as Zion Williamson can develop viral followings before even deciding on a school.

But an athlete doesn’t have to become a national sensation to fulfill their enterprising spirit. Any athlete can create highlights, even just to share with friends and family. Encourage your players to be active participants in creating the highlight video for your end-of-the-year banquet.

Pump Them Up on Social Media

Today’s athletes value individuality and love to be recognized for their big moments, so call out their successes. If your star player receives a humbling scholarship offer, send a congratulations tweet with the news. When one of your athletes has a big game or receives a major honor, give them a shoutout.

This may seem small and insignificant, but your players will appreciate it and feel you’re in their corner.

You don’t need to completely change your coaching style to fit in with the current generation, but making a few tweaks here and there will get you on the same page as your athletes and on the path to success. Gen Z is ambitious, adept at multi-tasking and have high expectations for themselves. Take advantage of these traits — you’ll see a bump in team performance.

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