Coaching Generation Z: Part 3 of 3

Welcome to the final installment in a three-part series intended to help coaches better understand, connect with, and coach today’s student-athlete. The time has come to translate the information presented in Parts 1 and 2 into actionable suggestions for more effectively coaching Generation Z.

Generation Z is highly visual and thus your recruiting messages should be visually captivating. Marketing experts agree that if you can’t communicate in 5 words and a big picture, your message may be lost on Gen Z.

Suggestion: A good question to ask as you develop recruiting material is, “Would this look great on social media?” Infographics play well with Generation Z so take information you that regularly tell prospective student-athletes and determine how you could, instead, convey it visually.

Generation Z is accustomed to skim reading and digesting bite-sized amounts of information. As coaches we prepare our team for competition by giving our players as much information as possible about the opponent. This is great in theory, but hand them a scouting report longer than one page and you risk overwhelming them with details. I should mention here that I love scouting and believe the more information we can give the better, but in recognizing the tendencies of Generation Z I suggest you keep written information short.

Suggestion: Stick to the most important facts, stats, or tendencies for each player on the scouting report and go into greater detail verbally while working against a scout team in practice.

Generation Z is used to chat based forms of communication so providing opportunities to engage them in longer form conversation (either written or verbal) helps to develop stunted social skills. Following a recent workshop a coach asked for my business card so he could get an outline of the session notes. A few hours later I received an email from a name I didn’t recognize and was delighted to find it was from the captain of his team. This coach had brilliantly taken what would have been an easy task for him to do and turned it into an opportunity for a player to work on her communication skills.

Suggestion: Have players on your team write a letter of recommendation for themselves in the 3rd person. This exercise immediately imparts a sense of perspective and begs several questions such as, “What do you want someone to be able to say about you to your future employer?” “How do you work with others towards achieving a common goal?” “How do you handle adversity?” etc.

Generation Z is highly educated, industrious, and collaborative. Given this fact one of the most engaging things we can do with Gen Z is to co-create with them. Actively seek out opportunities for your players to take ownership in determining an end result and watch them flourish.

Suggestions: Prior to a game our staff would write summary notes from the scouting report on the board in the locker room and then leave a section for “keys to success” blank. While the team dressed for warm-ups they would discuss and come up with the Offensive and Defensive Keys for the game. Typically these were 2 or 3 things that were measurable and if done well would positively contribute to our success.

Similarly, you can co-create with Generation Z in team meetings and during practice.

For example, the development of your team rules can be a collaborative process. Try letting your team determine what they feel the rules should be and have them present to your staff what they came up with and why each is important. Your staff can then make additions or revisions as necessary and present in kind to the team.

In practice, allot some time each week for the team to be in charge. Try allowing your captains or members of a certain class to be responsible for determining what warm-up drills they will do that day. Similarly, during position work you can rotate which player takes the small group through routine drills so each has an opportunity to lead.

Co-creating with Generation Z not only gives them desired agency in the outcome, it creates greater investment in the process while allowing you to hold them accountable for that which they have said they are willing or determined to do.

79% experience emotional distress when separated from their electronic devices.Many coaches don’t allow players to use their phones while traveling to competitions or during team functions. This is great in theory, yet many coaches find themselves so preoccupied by being the phone police that they miss the opportunity to enjoy interacting with their players. Most of Generation Z keeps their music on their personal electronic device and studies have shown that music can be greatly beneficial in getting an athlete into their “game time” frame of mind. Not allowing players to use their phones on the ride to competition can do more harm than good if it puts them into an elongated state of separation anxiety.

Suggestion: Players are accustomed to not having their phones at practice (typically 2-3 hours a day) so shifting the phone rule to “once we arrive on site, no cell phones allowed” can more accurately reflect the timeframe they are used to without inviting undue stress before competition. Similarly, instead of having to be the phone police, ask players to put their phone on silent and place it in the middle of the table during team meals to ensure that you won’t have to spend that time policing their behavior.

The goal here is to embrace their norms while enforcing your boundaries without causing undue stress to yourself or your players.

Generation Z is data driven and values honesty in leadership. When introducing a drill during practice keep the explanation short and make it immediately relevant. Remember that Gen Z is accustomed to sifting through enormous amounts of data to determine what is most relevant, so starting with the “why” will serve you well in coaching them.

Example: “Last week we lost by 3 and gave up 12 points in transition so we’re going to start today with a drill to improve our transition defense.”  

Once they know why they’re doing something, keep them engaged in the process of development by giving feedback on individual or team performance on a consistent basis.

Suggestion: During drills and scrimmages gather metrics at every opportunity so as to acquire as much data as possible for use in supporting individual/team development. Generation Z is accustomed to viewing data as “fact” and will more openly accept honest feedback (and criticism) when it can be supported by data.

While the changes in technology have uniquely shaped this generation of student-athletes, it is our offline connection with them as coaches that can best support the ways in which Generation Z is primed to have an unprecedented impact on all of us.

[Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your comments or coaching experiences below. Also, if you’d like “Lately with Betsy” delivered directly to your inbox you can subscribe here.]