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Dealing with the Generation Z Athlete

"The game is the game but the method of instruction has changed tremendously. We are dealing with a new player. A player called Generation Z that is very saavy in terms of international technology,’” said local football coach and now head coach of Guyana Jamaal Shabaaz when he spoke about the recently launched TTFA A Licence Coaching Course. "Our communications skills have got to improve... not just what we know and what we want to impart but trying to understand how does this generation of young people learn. I think this is critical in us educating ourselves going forward. This is what a course like this TTFA A License course has done for us,” Shabazz added Today’s young athletes belong to a group known as Generation Z (a.k.a., Gen Z), or the Post-Millennial or iGeneration (Twenge, 2017). This group was born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, and is also the demographic cohort following the Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. Generation Z youth, in general, have grown up in a completely digital environment. They were born after the advent of the Internet, growing up with smartphones, laptop computers, and iPads in their homes and schools, enabling them to possess superb technological skills. Athletes are now exposed to the best of digital technology from analytics to real time playback video apps. Unlike previous generations, Gen Z goes through intellectual stages too quickly. They’ve always had information within reach. They’re young, in their twenties, and some have seen more football from different periods than a boomer could have seen in their entire life and all thanks to Youtube and other streaming platforms. In the end, it resumes to hours of video and Gen Z has an infinite offer which is available to them. The possibility of understanding a game, by breaking it down and understanding the player’s performance, has been within reach since they were introduced into the sports discipline.

They have tools at their disposal that not even the most experienced journalists in the past could have enjoyed. And certainly players from previous generations didn’t have such speedy access. Most players from the 70s, 80s and even 90s had to wait several weeks or even month before they could access VHS or Beta Max copies of their matches or highlights. Critics also notice Generation Z’s shorter attention spans, need for frequent (positive) feedback, lack of independence, and increased screen time. However, Twenge (2017) also discovered that Generation Z youth are growing up more slowly, avoiding adult responsibilities such as moving out of their parents’ houses and becoming financially independent. They are also the most protected and safest generation, meaning they spend less time in direct contact with friends and loved ones, leading to the highest generational marks of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. During a recent study, stakeholders, eleven from the United States Tennis Association identified strengths of Generation Z athletes as being highly motivated and educated, having strong technology skills, desiring to know the ‘why,’ and being visual learners. The participants also cited challenges of working with this cohort of athletes, which included short attention spans, poor in-person communication skills, lack of independence, entitlement and ungratefulness, difficulties dealing with adversity, preoccupation with social media and smartphones, and complications working with their support networks (e.g., parents or other coaches). There are a few methods identified in helping to deal with the Gen Z athlete. Explain the 'Why.' With technology and information at their fingertips, Generation Z athletes expect adults to have done their homework. Providing a quick rationale for training methods and practice plans can improve motivation and effort of young people. It also reduces the inevitable ‘why’ questions from both athletes and parents. Be Direct. With shorter attention spans of Generation Z athletes, coaches and support staff can adapt by making their messages more direct at the start and end of training sessions and during pre-game or half-time speeches. Focus on Quality Over Quantity. Today’s young athletes (and their parents) are more in tune with strength and conditioning techniques as well as injury prevention. Coaches and support staff can assist by being aware of overtraining and burnout symptoms and using periodization principles when scheduling training and competitions. Communicate Effectively. While face-to-face communication is not a strength of Generation Z athletes, coaches and support staff can challenge young athletes by asking open-ended questions, using text messaging only for logistical communication, practicing face-to-face conversations in team meetings or training, and switching up the methods of communication (i.e., videos, articles, and demonstrations) to aid messaging. The world of sport is not in crisis. But it needs to adapt if it wants to continue to attract more and more players and fans, to adapt to new social issues and to win over Generation Z. We are seeing today that sports clubs no longer attract Gen Z. Today, young people are looking for more sociable practices, more focused on enjoyment, on new, more flexible formats. "Old style" sport is finished, with training on Wednesday evening and a match on Sunday. Generation Z wants to experiment, to try out different sports and to share everything with their friends. Changes in consuming and practices will not happen overnight, but those involved in the world of sport should be anticipating the movement now. The biggest generation in history is also a big opportunity for everyone involved in sport. Next week we'll take a look at the Generation Z of Fans.


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