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home | Sample Articles | Seven Keys to Coaching Todays Millen . . .

Seven Keys to Coaching Today's Millennial Generation Athlete
Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center
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Is today's generation of athletes different than years past?

Do you at times feel a little disconnected from the current generation?

Wonder why some of your coaching analogies, examples, and stories seem to go over your kids' heads?

You might be familiar with Beloit College's annual Mindset List linked below. The list shows how this year's incoming class of freshmen, most of them born in 1990, have a vastly different world experience than that of their 30, 40, 50, and 60 year old coaches.

As I approach 40 myself, I feel the generation gap widening a bit as well. I've noticed many differences between my children's sporting experiences and my own and have created a list of observations between the two that you might find both revealing and amusing at:

Thus, I too am making a conscious effort to stay connected and current as best I can and encourage you to do the same.

This article is designed to help you better understand what motivates today's Millennial generation of athletes (those born from roughly 1982 to the present), how they are different, and what you can do as a Gen Xer (born 1961 to 1981) or Boomer (born 1943-1960) coach to continually adapt and stay connected and relevant to your team.

Fortunately, you don't necessarily need to be up on all the catch phrases, hottest websites, and latest dance moves, yet you do have to understand what makes your athletes tick and coach them accordingly.

According to authors Neil Howe and William Strauss of an interesting book called Millennials Go to College, today's Millennial generation is significantly different than years past in seven primary ways.

1. Special

As a group, Millennials have been taught that they are special and vital to the success of their family, team, and community. They have received an unprecedented amount of focus and attention from their parents and other adults so they naturally feel that they are entitled to the best.

2. Sheltered

Most Millennials have been protected and sheltered from birth. They have had a multitude of laws and gadgets designed to protect them from the many harms and dangers of the world. While this sheltering has created a generation that is much healthier and less prone to injury, it has also prevented them from experiencing, learning from, adapting to, and overcoming the important and inevitable hard knocks of life. Because of this sheltering, many are crushed when they receive less than an "A" for a grade, get cut from teams, and receive negative feedback. It's as if they don't know how to handle it.

3. Confident

According to the authors' polls, Millennials tend to be a more confident generation when it comes to their ability to achieve the American dream. While many of them do believe they can achieve anything, they sometimes forget that success is not going to come instantly but must be worked at consistently and is anything but a linear journey.

4. Team-oriented

Millennials are the most interconnected generation yet. Between emailing, texting, and staying connected through Facebook, peer networks are a huge part of their daily experience. They have strong team instincts and like to stay connected with their social group on a regular basis.

5. Conventional

Rather than the usual rebellious teen years, Millennials tend to embrace the more traditional values of their parents. They are much less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana than the generations before them. Howe and Strauss write, "Millennials describe closer ties with their parents than in teens in the history of postwar polling." Many are in continual contact with their parents and share tastes in clothes, music, and other entertainment.

6. Pressured

Because of the increased competitiveness for grades, school admissions, and jobs, today's Millennials are feeling much more pressure to succeed than generations before them. They believe the stakes are high and the price of mistakes and missteps are more consequential than in the past. Further, many of them are overscheduled and overwhelmed from childhood with private lessons, camps, and tutors all designed to help them try to get ahead of the ever-increasing global and local competition.

7. Achieving

With higher standards, Millennials are highly focused on achievement and "are on track to becoming the smartest, best-educated adults in U.S. history" according to the authors. Their test scores are continually rising and more of them are focused on going to college than ever before. They have a strong need to achieve.

The authors make the case that everyone from college professors, admissions officers, high school teachers, school administrators, employers, and coaches all must understand these seven differences that make the Millennial generation different than the Gen X, Baby Boomers, and others who sent before them.

More specifically for coaches, I do hear a lot of coaches say that today's athletes seem more fragile because they have been sheltered and protected from many of the natural disappointments of life. It also seems that many of the Millennials think that today's "instant-gratification" society also applies to athletics. They think that they can master skills in a short period of time without going through the natural and time-consuming process that it takes to learn and master a complex sport skill.

Coaches also realize that Millennials are much more influenced by their parents. And many Millennials have extremely short-attention spans if you not physically or mentally engaging them in some type of activity.


Based on the changes outlined by the authors of Millennials Go to College and the ones observed by coaches, here are some tips to help you coach your Millennials.

1. Help your Millennials understand that adversity is inevitable, temporary, and helpful in the long-term. You will need to teach them how to maintain their composure and confidence - and how to refocus on to the next play.

Resources for doing this are available to our Championship Coaches Network members at:

2. Help your Millennials understand that getting better is a long-term process. Help your Millenials create a long-term training schedule that takes them from where they are now to where they would like to be. Encourage them to make the choice to stick with their plan over the long run. Remind them that success takes a long term investment of time.

3. Understand that there are dozens of things that compete for your Millennials' attention and time.Don't get frustrated when your athletes are involved in a multitude of other activities. Make your sport and team one that they enjoy being a part of and see real gains when they participate. If you can do this, they will gravitate to you.

4. Don't lecture - Edu-tain. Short attention spans are a hallmark of the Millennial generation because of the fast-paced world of technology. They have hundreds of television channels to choose from if they are bored, a plethora of video games, billions of websites to surf, and ways to instantly communicate with friends. Thus, you too have to try to build entertainment in when you coach - or you will quickly lose their focus.

5. Provide opportunities for young Millenials to engage in free athletic play. I tried something a year ago called Free Play Fridays. I piled a bunch of sporting equipment in the back of our mini-van and drove to a local park. We invited two dozen of my son's friends and acquaintances to join us for a morning of free play. The kids could choose whatever sports and activities they wanted to play, make up the teams, and have fun on their own in a minimally supervised environment. I was there merely to keep them safe and to attend to any injuries that might occur. Despite having a low turnout because most of the kids were so overscheduled, the kids got a chance to experience sport without the pervasive, well-meaning interference of adults for at least a few mornings. Give it a try in your community.

6. Develop your parents into allies, not adversaries. Because Millennials and their parents still seem in some ways to be attached at the umbilical cord, you need to find ways to include them rather than fight them. By reaching out to your parents and coaching them on what is appropriate and what isn't, you have a better chance to turn them into allies than adversaries.

Our Championship Coaches Network members can find ways to work with parents at:

7. Help kids fight their own battles. Along with the parent issue, many athletes try to have their parents fight their battles for them, Instead, encourage your athletes to constructively fight their batteles on their own first. Teach them how to maturely approach conflict and how to work through it effectively. These conflict management skills will be vital for them as they have families and businesses of their own.

8. Remember that people are people. Finally, even though there are differences from years past, ultimately remember that people are people. Make your practices engaging, challenge them to improve, build their confidence, support them when they struggle, and you too will have a great time coaching athletes of all ages and watching them improve.

For more information on understanding and working with different generations, visit

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