Coaching iGeneration Athletes

As confounding as Millennials have been to many consumer-driven businesses and entertainment companies (not to mention their own parents and the entire generation before them), the next generation may prove to be even more mystifying. They are the iGeneration. Seemingly pushed from the womb with an iPhone in hand, Generation Z (as they are also known) was born between 1994 and today. They are constantly connected—to wifi, each other, multiple screens, and whatever the entertaining Youtube video/meme/Instagram post of the day happens to be. They Snapchat with great proficiency and are more private than their Gen Y counterparts.

While its obvious that the iGeneration will change the way companies market their products and court customers, will they also change the face of sports?

At the youth sports level, the answer is clearly YES. The athletes on today’s teams aren’t the same kids you were coaching just 10-15 years ago. And they’re a lot different than the kids when you were growing up. Authoritarian coaches who bark orders from the sidelines are a relic of the past and will no longer achieve the same positive results on the courts and fields of today.

Like the Millennials before them, iGens distrusts authority figures; they expect their information on-demand; and they trust the advice of strangers and friends over so-called experts. iGens have a short attention span and approximately 11% have ADHD—something to keep in mind when discussing game strategy.

So what do iGens think makes a great coach? In her graduate studies thesis, “Preferred Coaching Styles in Youth Sports: A Qualitative inquiry of Soccer Players from Generation Z” at Georgia Southern University, Krisha Parker studied 10 athletes (5 males and 5 females) between the ages of 9 and 10 from Generation Z. They were selected from a soccer club located in the eastern region of North Carolina. The subjects were interviewed about their perspective on what makes a great coach. Parker concluded that according to her sample of Generation Z, a “great coach”:

  1. Does not yell and remains calm
  2. Is caring and encouraging
  3. Has knowledge of the sport
  4. Involves the team in decision making.

A democratic and inclusive style of coaching is clearly preferred, involving positive interaction and timely feedback. Coaches who are able to incorporate these characteristics and adapt their leadership approach may create a more positive and effective team environment.

iGens already has a positive image of sports as a health tool. Finding ways for players to engage in the training process, track their progress on devices (think training apps), and really listening to their feedback will help coaches build a foundation of trust.

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