Coaches, meet Generation Z: A 3-part series designed to help us better understand, connect with, and coach today's student-athletes

Millennials are loosely defined as the generation born between 1982 and 1998. As one of the older millennials, the technology shifts during my time have been nothing short of incredible.

I remember when you had to stand next to the phone in order to talk on it. At time when very few people had answering machines, if you called a friend and nobody picked up you simply called back later or went to their house and knocked on the door.

I remember the stale air smell of the library where I used the Dewey decimal system to locate potential resources for book reports.

I can hear with perfect clarity the scratchy, high pitched sound of the computer connecting to the internet as I waited patiently to sign on to AOL.

And years before my first cell phone I experienced the cryptic joy of decoding texts on a Motorola pager – I still smile when I see the numbers 143.

The point of this trip down memory lane is that the young people we are coaching today grew up in a world where the nature of communication is dramatically different from anything we ever experienced.

If you’ve ever had a player tell you about the guy or girl they’re “talking with” they almost always mean texting. No actual phone calls have been made in this pre-dating ritual, but they have absolutely already stalked bae’s Instagram, Twitter, and Vine accounts while simultaneously adding them on Snapchat.

Coaches, meet Generation Z.

Born during or after 1995, the young people we are coaching have never known life without the Internet. This iGen has been dubbed the first true “digital natives” and most of them learned to operate some form of technology before they could form complete sentences.

In a world that has never been more globally and instantaneously connected the challenge I frequently hear from coaches centers around a disconnect in communicating with today’s student-athletes.

“My players have such short attention spans."

“So much texting, it’s crazy. They text each other when they’re in the same room!”

“It’s like they can’t accept criticism, even if it’s constructive… They’re so sensitive.”

“I used to love the individual conversations, the one-on-one interactions. But now… some of them seem so strained or awkward. Almost as if it’s painful for some of my players to actually sit down and talk face to face.”

Reasons unique to Generation Z serve to explain the concerns above and I invite you to join me in a 3-part series designed to help coaches better understand, connect with, and coach today’s student-athlete.

Part 1: Who is Generation Z?

As coaches we’ve experienced how diverse one team can be. The array of our player’s cultural backgrounds, personalities, learning styles and life experiences is staggering and we learned long ago that knowledge is power. The more we know about who our players are the more effectively we are able to coach them.

What follows are researched facts about Generation Z to help educate ourselves about the population we are now coaching.

“Studies show that constant exposure to screens changes the neural circuitry of developing brains, leading to shorter attention spans, stunted social skills, and a heightened ability to multi-task” (The Center for Generational Kinetics)

“Research suggests that their brains have evolved to process more information at faster speeds… but, getting and keeping their attention is a challenge.” (National Center for Biotechnology Information).

“We tell our advertising partners that if they don’t communicate in five words and a big picture, they will not reach this generation.” (Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding).

“Looking at the popular apps, you can see that we are raising a generation now of tremendous visual communicators. It’s the most powerful form of communication.” (Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Center).

Technology has made information instantly accessible, and Generation Z has mastered the various tools to get it. They skim read, looking for applicable bits of information and if they don’t quickly find what they want technology allows them to switch sources immediately.

Studies on Gen Z revealed that thanks to technology they are one of the most educated generations, accustomed to digesting bite-size amounts of information at an incredible rate.

They are highly industrious and have adopted the DIY spirit at an early age. If you want to learn more watch 13-year old Logan Laplante’s TED talk “Hackschooling Makes Me Happy” which has received over 5 million views.

Gen Z is collaborative and loves to co-create. “Social Entrepreneurship” is cited as one of the most popular career choices and 61% of current high school students want to be entrepreneurs (

Growing up in a post 9/11 world, Generation Z was raised in an age of school shootings, terrorism, global recession and climate change. As a result, studies have found that Gen Z is overwhelmingly more realistic than optimistic. They crave constant and immediate feedback and “52% cited ‘honesty’ as the most important quality for being a good leader” (Millennial Branding).

Lastly, a study done at the University of Maryland found that 79% of the iGen display symptoms of emotional distress when kept away from their personal electronic devices.

Great. So what do we do now?

Part 2 will take into account everything you’ve just read and offer techniques for communicating and connecting with Generation Z so we may more effectively coach this group of unique individuals.

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