Generational misunderstandings can frequently cause friction between older coaches and younger players. As a coach, it’s your job to get out in front of these issues by getting to know your athletes as people first and players second.
Always consider where a player’s perspective is coming from. They grew up in a different world than you did. Learn about it, and learn about them. Strengthening your relationship with your players will go a long way toward solving generational differences.
In my experience, Millennials and Generation Zers want to be led but are skeptical. You can work through that skepticism by showing each of them a genuine appreciation of who they are as people. And remember this: they are driven to achieve but they seek a clear path to follow. Provide them with organizational clarity – calendars are always useful – and, whenever possible, avoid last-minute changes. They like to multi-task, so their schedules are tight.
Another thing I have discovered is that younger generations like belonging to a family-type unit. Make sure that everyone on the team has a clear role, however small, so they can feel a part of that unit. And keep in mind that parents are part of this process, too, a bigger part than they were in previous generations. So have a plan for them.
When it comes to training, strive to make practices challenging, upbeat, innovative and technologically current. Connectivity is also important. Players need “social” time during stretching, warmups, on the bus, etc. This is an expectation of Millennials and Generation Z teammates. They are constantly in touch with each other and with athletes from other teams.
I have found that you need to work hard to assist dissatisfied players because the problem-solving strategies of these generations may not be as developed as those of earlier generations. Be sure to listen before you speak and make every effort to connect with each athlete on a daily basis in addition to having weekly meetings with them. During these meetings, leave the past behind and focus on the present.
Here are 2 other key considerations:
- Millennials and Gen Z athletes like to keep their options open. They may bail out sooner than older generations, so stay on top of their concerns.
- They often need encouragement to acquire self-discipline. They have high expectations but are not always used to paying dues, so rookie duties like shagging balls and cleaning locker rooms can be unfamiliar to them. Explain to them why these things are important for their development as players and for the development of the team.
Finally, don’t assume that your Millennials and Gen Z athletes will work things out on their own. Talk to them. Find out what’s wrong. Your team’s communication protocol is equally as important as its system of play. Learn to understand each other. You may come from different generations, but your goals as part of the team are the same.
Mike Hebert is a retired college volleyball coach who coached at Pittsburgh, New Mexico, Illinois and, most recently, Minnesota. He guided the Gophers to a Big Ten championship in 2002 and three NCAA final four appearances (2003, 2004, 2009). His Illinois team reached the final four twice: 1987 and 1988.