Coaching the ‘New Generation’ Athlete

As a coach, one of the hardest things to do in this day and age, is to keep our current generation of athletes engaged in our messages and have continual buy-in to our philosophy. Not only coaches, but parents, now find that its continually getting harder to talk to their kids and get them to listen and stay engaged in what they are saying.

Do you find that you are always having to ask several times for something to get done? This generation of athletes are fueled by computers, smart phones, games and have access to any information they want via the internet. They have the world at their fingertips and the answers to everything at the click of a button. These athletes always require a reason to do things and before accepting your advice they will compare your opinions with what they have read on on the internet or seen on social media.

This current generation is coincidentally named Gen Y. The reason we name this generation, “Gen Y”, is because these days our athletes want to know ‘Why”.

“Why are we doing this?”  “Why do I need to know this?”  “Why?”

If you have worked with athletes in recent years you no doubt have heard “Why?” over and over.  More than ever, athletes want to know the purpose of things.  They want to understand your rationale for the decisions you make as their coach.  This is in stark contrast to previous generations. Coaches always make the comment, “When I was playing you just did what the coach said and didn’t ask questions.”  That statement highlights why many coaches have difficulty with Generation Y athletes.  They simply don’t understand why they ask so many questions.  They think, “Why can’t they just be like I was and do what I ask?”

Whether they like it or not, coaches have to become comfortable answering the “Why?”.  As a coach be prepared to explain your decisions.  Keep in mind that, “Because I said so,” or “Because I’m the coach,” will probably not suffice in this day and age.  So, take a little time to explain yourself and the decisions you make and remember, when they ask “Why?” they aren’t necessarily challenging your decision; they just want to know the rationale behind it.

So how do we connect with this generation? How do we get them to listen, understand and execute the things we, as coaches, want them to execute? In order to connect on a better level with your athletes you first need to;

1. Understand Your Athlete.

  • Use personality profiling to understand your athlete better.
  • How does your athlete learn best? What is their learning style?
  • Understand the reason behind your athlete training in your sport.
  • What are your athletes goals?
  • What drives your athlete?

Secondly, once you have understood your athlete and there needs and ways of learning and retaining information, you need to be able to;

2. Connect with Your Athlete.

  • What outside interests does your athlete have? Do you have a grip on their interests?
  • Know your athletes triggers? What motivates them to strive for success?
  • Do your athletes feel valued?
  • Do you give your athletes a role? Do you make them feel relevant?

Lastly, you have come to the conclusion that you know your athlete well enough to get the best out of them, now it’s the practical application of coaching. Keeping the athletes coming back, day-in day-out, and keeping them engaged is what today’s coaches feel are the toughest challenges with so many distracting elements in life. Training should always be fresh, challenging, engaging and you must;

3. Use varying coaching methods to keep athletes engaged.

Do you:

  • Show vision to your athletes?
  • Use a whiteboard?
  • Connect with them using smart phones?
  • Allow your athletes responsibility in researching their own answers on the internet?
  • Coach via different social media?
  • Use Skype, whatsapp or viber to connect with internationally travelling athletes?
  • Use statistical data to back up your views and philosophies?
  • Allow athlete contributions to planning and implementing sessions?
  • Use language associated with their everyday life?
  • Use video analysis to show the athlete ‘what’ they are doing?
  • Use real life examples to back up your messages?
  • Use the latest in sports science with the most up-to-date technology?

Remember with the ‘WHY’ generation it’s all about the connection and the variation. Use evidence to give reasoning behind your practicality and always be ready to answer the question Why?

The ‘Gen Y’ athletes preferred coaching style is one that is more consensus than command, more participative than autocratic, and more flexible and organic than structured and hierarchical. Gen Y’s want to create a culture where interaction can take place, where those of different ages can mix and, thus, where inter-generational perspectives are shared.

In short, Generation Y wants the 4 Cs: Character, Communication, Co-operation, and Competence. They are primarily concerned with social connection, being entertained, having fun, and being presented with life-enhancing experiences (character). Their ideal coach is someone who values the exchange of ideas and creates an environment of transparency and respect for the team (communication). They want a coach who is willing to listen to their ideas and opinions, and is happy to oblige with public displays of affirmation and positive reinforcement (cooperation). And finally, Generation Y wants someone who is experienced, friendly and who will take the time to get to know them (competence).


Marc Sophoulis

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