Authentically Coaching Gen Z

According to Business Insider Generation Z is the youngest, largest, and most ethnically-diverse, generation in American history. How does this impact coaching Gen Z athletes? They currently comprise 27% of the US population. Pew Research defines Gen Z as anyone born after 1997. Gen Z grew up with access to technology, the internet, and social media, which has earned them the stereotypes of tech-addicted, anti-social, or “social justice warriors.”

Just like every generation, we can’t summarize Gen Z with one label or box them into a summary that’s a few sentences long. In many ways, their preferences are as diverse as their racial makeup. This makes understanding how to rally this generation around a common cause challenging at times in particular team sports.

Who Is Gen-Z?

  • 88% of Gen-Z is optimistic about their personal future. – Vision Critical
  • 42% of Gen-Z says they are happy. – Vision Critical
  • Gen-Z is expected to make up 30% of the U.S. workforce by 2030. – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • The average Gen-Z attention span is eight seconds, four seconds less than Millennials. – Vision Critical

What Matters To Gen-Z?

Winning and feedback rank first on the list of 10 things a 16-year-old thinks everyone believes adults need to know about Generation Z. Josh Miller explains that the generation of elite sports with stereotypical bleacher parents yelling at refs in the stands carries their competitive nature to their debate and robotics competitions as well. Josh says:

“We carry the mindset that we are not necessarily at school just to learn but to get good grades that will secure our place in the best colleges. Generation Z has been thrown into perhaps the most competitive educational environment in history. Right or wrong, we sometimes view someone else’s success as our own failure or failure as our success.

We are also accustomed to getting immediate feedback. A great example is the online grading portals where we can get frequent updates on our academic performance. In the past, students sometimes had to wait weeks or longer to receive a test grade. Now, we get frustrated if we can’t access our scores within hours of finishing an exam—and sometimes our parents do, too.”

Why this Matters in Athletics:

The country watched Operation Varsity Blues play out with fake athletic scholarships funding collegiate programs and in some cases, college coaches savings accounts. The parents who yell at referees during elite sports are going to also yell at the refs during high school athletic events. Parents and athletes who express frustration, when feedback isn’t immediate, is something coaches will need to manage or consider how to preemptive strike.

Players who are used to feedback will expect that to continue, however that doesn’t mean that coaches should make up inaccurate details about an athlete’s performance to appease them. Coaches must figure out ways to accurately communicate where players stand performance-wise and how to motivate them to keep working. While Josh feels that Generation Z brings competition to every aspect of their lives, the reality is, they aren’t great at self-assessing their performance against other athletes. Very few hold the skill to accurately self-assess, it takes maturity and life experience to hone this discernment.

Here are a few other things that matter to Gen Z:

  • 66% of Gen-Z says that product quality matters most to them when making a purchase. – IBM Institute for Business Value
  • 65% of Gen-Z sees value in discounts and rewards programs. – IBM Institute for Business Value
  • 71% of Gen-Z wants to see more diversity in advertising. – Facebook IQ
  • 68% of Gen-Z expects brands to contribute to society. – Facebook IQ
  • 61% of Gen-Z is willing to pay more for products that are produced ethically and sustainably. – Facebook IQ
  • 77% of Gen-Z feels more positive about brands that promote gender equality on social media. – Facebook IQ

Gen Z is Cell Phone Addicted

  • 55% of Gen-Z uses their smartphones for five or more hours a day. – Pew Research Center
  • 26% of Gen-Z uses their smartphones for 10 or more hours a day. – Pew Research Center
  • 73% of Gen-Z uses internet-connected devices to communicate with friends and family, followed by entertainment (59%) and gaming (58%). – IBM Institute for Business Value
  • 61% of Gen-Z has purchased a product via mobile in the last month. – Global Web Index

The Connected Generation

  • 74% of Gen-Z spends its free time online. – IBM Institute for Business Value
  • 66% of Gen-Z uses more than one internet-connected device at a time. – IBM Institute for Business Value
  • Gen-Z streams an average of 23 hours of video each week. – Criteo

The Power Of Influencers

Generation Z wants to be influencers just as much as they are swayed by them. Josh Miller says, “Given how socially aware and concerned its members are, Generation Z seeks jobs that provide opportunities to contribute, create, lead and learn.” 

“One of the best ways I have seen leaders engage with Gen Z is to ask them how they would build a product or service or design a process,” Carney says. “Gen Z has some amazing abilities to bring together information, process it and take action. When we do allow them to share ideas, great things happen.”

Contribute, lead, take action; these are all excellent descriptors of team players. The types of athletes coaches can depend on to step up and rally teams. But the players most eager to lead aren’t always the ones who other players are willing to follow. Coaches may need to help players develop discernment around leadership communication.

Consider these stats about Gen Z and Influencers:

  • 4 in 10 Gen-Z-ers say they are easily swayed by other people’s opinions. – Global Web Index
  • 54% of Gen-Z says social media influences them more than any other marketing channel. – CMO Council
  • 52% of Gen-Z trusts social media influencers for product or brand advice. – McKinsey & Company
  • 82% of Gen-Z trusts their family and friends for advice on products more than any other source. – McKinsey & Company
  • One in three Gen-Z-ers follows brands on social media they are thinking of buying from. – Global Web Index
  • 76% of Gen-Z follows an influencer on social media. – Morning Consult
  • 45% of Gen-Z follows more than 10 social media influencers. – The Center for Generational Kinetics
  • 73% of Gen Z-ers use their internet-connected devices primarily for texting and chatting. (Source: IBM)
  • 71% of Gen Z-ers watch more than three hours of online videos every day.
  • 75% of Gen Z-ers don’t consider college the only path to a strong education.
  • 89% of them also say that they aren’t keen on taking on debt to cover the costs of higher education. (Source: Forbes)
  • 77% of Gen Z-ers say a company’s diversity would be a deciding factor when they look for jobs. (Source: Forbes)

Authenticity is Vital

Above all Generation Z values authenticity. Kudos says, “Gen Z workers value authenticity over aesthetics. They respect companies that steer clear of gimmicks. Instead, they appreciate those that provide unpretentious and thoughtfully designed physical spaces.”

Authenticity applies to the products they buy and the people they listen to for advice. The best way to authentically coach Generation Z is by striving for authenticity.

How does this translate onto the athletic field? Coaches must have a consistent message and be willing to practice what they preach. For example, if a coach insists the team shouldn’t swear then the coach shouldn’t use any swear words. If the coach demands players are on time for practice and games then they should also be on time.

These small examples are just two of thousands of ways that coaches can portray authenticity.

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