As have many of you, I recently underwent a week of teacher in-service training here at Victory Baptist Academy. For many schools, in-service week is a dreaded time of mandatory meetings and supposed preparation for the upcoming school year. However, our administrator, Matt Ticzkus, is well connected and always has fantastic speakers lined up for our staff each year. (he reads the blog, so I’m scoring brownie points here) This week we had the privilege of hearing Dr. Phil Johnson of Global Next speak on a variety of topics. However, one of his lectures really connected with me. The notes from that lecture really got me thinking about how I coach and lead today’s generation of athletes: Generation Z.
Much has been said about the “millennial” generation (born 1981-2000). However, these athletes are nearing the end of their run in your school and athletic department. Generation Z (born 2001-2020) is the group of children that you will need to be ready to teach and coach. Use Dr. Johnson’s insight to help you stay ahead of the curve.
Fairness is a Big Deal
“Entitlement” was one of the buzzwords describing the previous generation. Everyone gets a trophy and everyone deserves the same results regardless of effort or ability. We have all seen this attitude play out in athletics at some level in the past decade or so.
Generation Z athletes, however, are not really entitled. They just expect a fair shake. Generally speaking, they want to be given the opportunity to try to succeed.
Not only do they expect a chance to learn and perform, but they struggle with understanding why others would not have similar chances.
Generation Z has zero-tolerance for discrimination or mistreatment.” – Dr. Phil Johnson
So when trying to teach these athletes about teamwork and making sacrifices it’s important to connect the dots. Show them that accepting a role on a team is a way of putting others needs before your own in order to obtain success.
Group punishments won’t necessarily work with these athletes because they’re “unfair.” Hold Generation Z athletes individually accountable for best results.
Technology is an Even Bigger Deal
All of us coaches have complained about how our athletes always have their eyes glued to their phone or how they spend more time on social media than they do in their yard working on their game.
First off, it’s a bit hypocritical on our part to make these generalizations when every generation has been distracted by something.
So you can either complain about the problems of “today’s kids” or you can adapt and attack them from a different angle. Because as Phil says:
Generation Z is the first generation that will be completely digitally integrated.”
As a member of the millennial generation (albeit one of the elder statesmen), I can remember a time without advanced technology. Even some of your high school athletes can remember the days before everyone had a tablet.
Not Generation Z. These kids will have advanced technology, with which they are extremely proficient, from birth. They will be and are exposed to 5+ screens per day most of which are interactive.
How will this affect your coaching? Two ways:
- they will have shorter attention spans than any other athletes you’ve coached (about 8 seconds)
- they will be experienced online learners
Did you catch that? THEY HAVE AN 8 SECOND ATTENTION SPAN!
That should scare you as an educator. This means that we as coaches need to become master communicators. Instructions need to be concise. Practices need to be fast paced. No more working on one skill or strategy for thirty minutes of practice. Keep things short and to the point.
They also prefer communication via social media. They don’t care about your emails, and they laugh at your facebook and Twitter accounts. That’s sooo 2013.
A positive side note about coaching this generation is that you as the coach can really help them break outside these stereotypes. Work with them on their listening and attention span. Many young athletes are far more willing to be engaged on the ball field than they are in the classroom.
Secondly, since they are online learners by nature. Find ways to integrate some online education in your coaching.
Give them homework. Have them grab a parent and find three instructional videos for your sport on YouTube each weekend. Use technology like Hudl or Krossover to help them see their weaknesses.
Don’t be scared to embrace this generation of technologically gifted athletes.
Relationships Are Going To Be the Biggest Deal
With their record setting use of technology, Generation Z athletes will have thousands of friends but very few familiar relationships. They will acquainted with everyone but involved with almost no one.
As their coach, you have the opportunity to show them, through your relationship and their relationship with teammates, the value of face-to-face, personal communication. You can show them the fulfilment that comes with getting to know someone deeply and working together with them.
Motivate these athletes by inspiring them and connecting with them personally.
This is especially needful as science shows that this generation of athletes will mature (physically and psychologically) much faster than all previous generations. A strong, Godly coach’s example and instruction will be vital to helping them process the difficulties that come with growing up.
Generation Z athletes are more prone to hold their parents responsible for the problems of their world than they would authorities or governments. Therefore, you need to help them see that their parents are key people in their growth and are, more than likely, not the problem but people who are helping them find the answers.
Bottom line: this generation has access to the information they need. They will get it from somewhere. If you don’t build relationships with your players, then they will move on (after 8 seconds) to whomever will give them the attention they crave.
Those are just three tips to help you coach the upcoming generation of athlete. Hopefully, we can all be flexible and forward-thinking as we lead these young people and point them to Christ through the avenue of athletics.
Check out more from Dr. Phil Johnson by following @globalnext on Twitter. He has written a few books. The best of which are The Leadership Paradox: Leading in Unexpected and Extraordinary Ways [Paperback]  (Author) Phil Johnson Ph.D. and Jump Your Shadow: Doing Brave Things in a Broken World. He also offers global leadership trips to Christian school students. VBA students have gone in the past and are going this year. The trips are life changing, and you would do well to consider it for your school.