Okay Millennials, Snow flakers, and up and coming Gen Z’ers, Linksters or whatever else they are calling you these days. I am referring to those of you who are entering into adulthood, and more specifically, those entering college campuses these next few years. We coaches are starting to accept the fact that you are not going to change or meet our long-established expectations and norms. Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s us?
We are taking a hard look at ourselves, our relationships with our players and starting to do the difficult, painful work of reflection and change. We are craving information to learn more about your generation, so that we can better understand how we might best work together going forward. We are going to lectures from experts that are focused upon your generation’s thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes, your preferred communication styles and looking at the influences in your life that have brought you to your current mindset. We are reading books to better educate ourselves on what approaches might actually be impactful in helping US get the most out of YOU. We are lowering our expectations in many areas, and trying to meet you where you are at. We are no longer going to bang our heads against the wall, complain about your lack of understanding, ability to handle criticism and your low levels of resiliency. Instead, we are going to regroup, start a fresh and work towards a more enjoyable, sustainable relationship with you all.
However, we can only go so far. What are you willing to do to try and understand our generation? What are you going to do to better educate yourself on what the older generation of coaches are going to expect from you? How are you preparing yourself for your college experience with coaches and professors? Are we really supposed to give you a pass for everything because you were rewarded with a medal every time you sneezed, or soothed with an iPad when you started to get a little antsy?
It is widely recognized that every new generation brings about a higher level of tolerance for other people, but does that progressiveness extend to older generations, or is it based solely on class, religion, race and sexual orientation? Will you take the time to bring this same level of broadmindedness to understanding older generations, or will you just write them off every time you disagree with their decisions or feedback? Yes, we are the adults, we should know better, and many of those that have invested their lives in the coaching profession have done so to have a positive influence on future generations. It is their job to take the lead on bridging the generational gap but they also don’t want to lower their expectations too much, or stray too far from their coaching philosophy. If they do this, they will come across as phonies, and may lose their connection with why they are coaching in the first place. I assure you, you don’t want that. You will spot the phonies a mile away, and will have a hard time buying into their message, even if they are “fun” and allow you to stay in your comfort zone. You may not be aware of this just yet, but I do believe you want those that are coaching you to be authentic, honest and demanding. Despite your need for instant gratification, history shows that looking towards the long term is the safer bet, and that some short-term pain will lead to long term gains.
Let me try to explain some things from a Generation X coach’s perspective, which will be the generation that currently assumes most head coaching positions. Believe me, we are not nearly as tough as the generations preceding us. We did not experience war, major depressions, life without electricity, no indoor plumbing and many other daily scenarios which we can’t possibly comprehend. Our generation have plenty of our own issues and have been accused of being quite self-obsessed ourselves. We have lived in an age of technology and convenience too, we just didn’t spend the majority of our free time engaging in these technologies. We were provided a lot more freedom and independence which allowed us to fail consistently, and forced us to figure out things for ourselves. When it came to our tennis, we were mostly responsible for organizing our own practices with one another and had very little supervision. We did not have all the latest and greatest development information at our fingertips, and Facebook feeds of drills and strength exercises we should be doing. Our parents took an interest in our tennis and supported us a great deal, but they left a lot up to us to figure out, and for the most part we just got on with it. Based on our upbringings and experiences, we are going to be scratching our heads when we see you do the following:
· Getting to the tennis courts and having to wait for the coach to start warming-up
· Assuming that all criticism is an attack on your soul
· Believing that every difficult experience you face is the end of the world
· Focusing on what you don’t have instead of what you do have
· Setting big, hairy, audacious goals but doing little to actually pursue them
· Needing Instagram posts to inspire action in you
· Quitting at the first sign of adversity
· Blaming others every time you make a mistake
Perhaps we might find a productive middle ground if you meet us half-way and understand that we are different from you. Understand that we only believe we are doing our job well if we are pushing you out of your comfort zones in many areas of your life. Understand that we have a very good sense of what it will take for you to improve as a tennis player, and as a person, but that you are not always going to like it, nor should you like it. We hope throughout your college years that when things get arduous, you learn that these are opportunities for you to grow, and ask some questions of yourself, rather than looking for an escape hatch.
As coaches start to lower their expectations around your ability to handle criticism and your levels of self-awareness, you will do well to lower your expectations around how much “fun” you are going to have every day during your collegiate career. You should also lower your expectation on how the coach is somehow a perfect person and is going to get every decision right, and handle every challenging scenario that arises with great diplomacy. Have an understanding that the coach is usually operating and making decisions based on a lot more information than you might be privy to at the time. That they are looking at issues that arise from many different angles where you might be seeing it through a narrow lens. Despite this, they will still make mistakes in their efforts to help you, and your team, accomplish all your goals.
In order for any relationship to work, both sides must be invested in the relationship and willing to make compromises. The player-coach relationship is no different. Yes, your relationship with your coach might be strained from time to time, this is normal in any relationship. Don’t be surprised when such disputes occur, and have the courage to discuss them face to face with your coach rather than behind their back.
You can’t just take from your coach at all times and never invest in who they are as a person, or your relationship with them.