Coaching Generation Z: Part 2

Welcome to the second of a three-part series designed to help coaches better understand, connect with, and coach today’s student-athlete.

Let’s do a quick recap. Born during or after 1995, Generation Z has never known life without the Internet. This iGen has been dubbed the first true “digital natives” and most learned to operate some form of technology before they could form complete sentences. The facts about Gen Z presented in Part 1 are summarized below:

  • Visual communicators accustomed to chat-based forms of communication
  • Skim read & digest bite-sized amounts of information at an incredible rate
  • Short attention spans, stunted social skills
  • Highly educated, industrious & collaborative
  • More realistic than optimistic; value honesty in leadership
  • 79% display emotional distress when kept from personal electronic devices

With these statistics in mind it’s time to look at how we can better connect and communicate with this unique generation so as to maximize our coaching effectiveness.

Keep it short, make it relevant

Generation Z has an average attention span of 8 seconds and are accustomed to digesting bite-sized amounts of information. Rather than fighting an uphill battle, try to engage on their level especially when teaching or giving instructions. It may feel like I’m asking you to let them off the hook here, but don’t worry – later we’ll get to holding them accountable while helping to improve their communication and social skills. Having instant access to a plethora of information has resulted in Gen Z placing “a big emphasis on personalization and relevance.” (cmo.com) When teaching or instructing, begin with the “why”. Capture their attention by making what you are about to do next immediately relevant to them.

Co-create with them

Generation Z is highly industrious and collaborative. Whenever possible, give them the opportunity to have some agency in processes related to team goals or their own development. They are used to doing, so make your engagement with them interactive and participatory.

They’re not lazy, they’re bored

A concern I regularly hear from coaches relates to the apparent laziness of Gen Z student-athletes. We already know that their attention spans are limited, but what we don’t often take into account is that many have simply not had the experience of working towards an outcome over time. Their digital world is immediate and data driven, so finding ways to regularly incorporate metrics and analytics as constant feedback helps to bridge the gap between the work they’re doing now and the results you know they’ll see later.

They’re used to being “liked”

Literally. Studies have shown that Generation Z will take down their social media posts that don’t get a sufficient number of “likes”. Similarly, instead of having difficult conversations to resolve issues, Gen Z has the option to simply “delete” friends, “unfollow” or “unsubscribe” from that which no longer serves them. Equally important though is that Gen Z appreciates honesty and the comments they value most on social media start with “tbh”: to be honest. So be honest with them, be vulnerable with them, and engage with them in ways that illustrate that their value as an individual goes much deeper than being “liked”.

Generation Z is truly a unique group of individuals and coaching them provides us with new opportunities to connect and lead. Part 3 will translate the concepts above into actionable suggestions for implementation in your recruiting efforts, team and individual meetings, scouting reports, film sessions, practice plans and game strategies. Talk with you soon!

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