Nothing drives me crazier than hearing adults despairingly utter the words, “kids have changed.”
I sure hope they have! The world has undergone rapid change over the past decade and will continue to do so moving forward. Today’s youth are different than the kids before them. But so were the kids before that, and the ones before that.
If coaches want to connect with their kids and lead a competitive team, they must adapt as well. Change is scary but essential.
With that in mind, here are five ways coaches can better meet millennial athletes where they are and help elevate them into better athletes and better people.
1. Give Them Time to Switch Gears
Rarely did I ever enjoy a school day as much as a sports practice. But that doesn’t mean I never carried stress from the school day with me into sports play. Getting kids to transition out of the “sit still and be quiet” mindset common in many modern classrooms to a more engaged, lively state is key to more productive practices and training sessions.
You don’t want kids to feel like they just walked into boot camp every time they get to practice.
Today’s student-athlete has more stress than past teens and finding ways to get them to transition to practice mode is key. Fun is the element that disconnects the school stress and invigorates their full court press. Allow athletes to connect with each other during warm-ups or through a game that loosens the body and focuses the mind.
Need ideas for a game? Here are 52 Team Building Activities from James Leath.
2. Help Them Communicate
Connections create learning environments, and great connections create commitment. Find ways to have your team collaborate or solve a problem related to the teams success. Take a step back and let them discover solutions and coach one another.
Collaborative learning is how many NFL and NBA players spend their summers. Think Von Miller’s pass rush camp or the countless star-studded NBA pick-up games.
Small-sided games can be one way to get greater collaboration out of your athletes, but really, putting them in any goal-based scenario where they have to work with their teammate(s) to figure out a solution is going to be beneficial. When the goal relates to something they need to do on game day, then you’re really onto something.
When we engage people’s ideas, we engage them!
3. Follow the ‘Commercial Break’ Rule
Student-athletes tend to learn best in small chunks. You can either complain about their attention span or you can adapt to use it in your favor.
If millennial athletes are doing the same thing over and over for a long period of time, learning is usually going to decline. Keep this in mind as you structure your practices and film sessions. Can you build-in a transition or adjustment every seven minutes or so?
This is called the Commercial Break Principle because if you don’t engage young people by the first commercial break, they are tuning in somewhere else. Teenagers also need a break often as well. This might be a quick several reps on your own at practice. A minute to get a drink and prepare for the next drill, etc. Micro-break is the idea. Then back to work.
4. Know Their Favorites
As coaches, we’re going to have to cover and drill some things that our teams may find mundane and stale. Such is life.
But we can counteract those potential energy-drainers by allowing our players to regularly perform their favorite drills.
If you don’t know their two or three favorite drills, simply ask them. Mixing these in to your practice plan will keep energy, focus and morale high. Think of it like letting kids out for recess before they come back into the class room.
And don’t just stop with drills. Asking your athletes their favorite plays gives you valuable insight into the strategies and concepts they’re most comfortable and confident in.
When a coach gets this type of feedback from their athletes and actually acts on it, the buy-in it can create is magnificent.
5. Admit Your Mistakes
Coaching is tough. We won’t be perfect. When we do make a mistake or see an error in our ways, one of the greatest things we can do for this generation is step up, take ownership, and explain ourselves. Display accountability by illuminating your errors, imperfections and mistakes.
If you don’t do it yourself, how can you expect it from your athletes?
Through the social lens of today’s athlete, not enough light is shown upon adults who handle their issues openly, honestly and productively.
The media provides more than enough examples of how not to do things. But as an athlete’s coach, you can be an incredible role model in their life. Showing them how to step up and handle difficult situations is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.
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