Coaching is an art. You can be the wisest, most passionate coach ever, but if you don’t know who you’re coaching, then you might as well be trying to teach a fish to climb a tree. Coaches have immense knowledge of their sport, but the question remains – how to deliver that knowledge and engage my trainees? With the world and people changing quicker than ever, we’ll have a look at how to reach the ones born in the 21st century – the Generation Z.
Business world has taken notice of different lifestyles of different generations to address their needs accordingly. Sports world needs to do the same. Of course, the most important thing for coaches, managers and parents to consider is the age-appropriate development of a child, but to get your message across, you need to be aware of the generational differences as well.
The kids that you’re coaching today aren’t the kids you were coaching 10-15 years ago and they’re definitely not the same as when you were growing up. Changes in the society, in the world and in technology are shaping the way Generation Z thinks and acts. Here’s how to understand them.
What is Generation Z?
Generation Z bears many different names – the Digital Natives, the iGen, the App Generation, the Selfie Generation or even Homelanders. These youngsters, usually defined as born in the last 15 years, are growing up in a world which is whole lot of different than the previous ones.
Youth sports of today is filled with Gen Zedders. Currently aged up to 15, they are the first ones who haven’t even seen the world without computers and smartphones. They are the ones who have been growing up in one of the toughest economic recessions and in a time when news is dominated by wars and insecurity.
All of this makes their beliefs, values and character inherently different from the previous generation who mostly grew up in the 1990s. Coaching Generation Z can sound tricky, but since they’re probably more down to earth than their predecessors, you will probably enjoy it once you get it.
So what makes them special?
To understand how to coach Generation Z, you really need to understand what makes them tick. There are some overarching qualities of Zeds that influence their behavior and character in all walks of life, including sports and training.
- They’re the first generation that is 100% digital native – they’ve grown up to the world of technology, not with the world of technology
- Generation Z craves for constant and quick feedback. Always being connected is not a choice but new normality.
- Although they’ve grown up in the digital world, they are actually relatively comfortable talking face-to-face. Text messaging is so last decade, video chats have made Gen Z excellent in face-to-face communication
- Growing up in unstable times in world politics and economy, they are slightly distrusting and are looking for stability more than their predecessors. They grow up faster and one can say less naive about how stuff works.
- Generation Z is also concerned about their privacy. Don’t try to track their every activity!
- They think sports is a key to good education – 90% of them want to do more sports in schools. However, Gen Z sees sports more as a health tool not a play.
How should a coach approach Generation Z?
A good coach is aware of the aforementioned peculiarities of Generation Z. Technology is the obvious talking point here, but good communication is the key for understanding and coaching Generation Z.
Krisha Parker of Georgia Southern University has conducted a good case study that illustrate the importance of communication for coaching the modern kids. Using youth soccer players as an example, four main themes come out as particularly important.
According to Parker’s study, these are the qualities of a good coach for Generation Z:
- Does not yell and remains calm
- Is caring and encouraging
- Has knowledge of sport
- Involves team in the decision-making process
These qualities signify the importance of democratic and inclusive training methods to Gen Z. Perhaps using technologies such as video chats to give honest feedback or including the team in the decision-making process builds that trust, sincerity and stability that Generation Z craves for.
Given that Gen Z already has a positive image of sports as a health tool, it is up to the coach to harness that potential and understand the Zeds to make the whole training process engaging for them. They love to track their own progress on technological devices, but as a coach, limit your tracking activities to best serve their interests.
One thing is certain though. The days of authoritarian coaches are over. Listen to what Generation Z has to say as well and you’ll gain their trust to build a solid foundation for their future.