|Things evolve and change.
Football offenses have evolved from three running backs and a tight end to no running backs and 4 wide outs.
Basketball has evolved from a two guards, two forwards and a center to five guards of all different shapes and sizes.
Baseball has evolved from pitchers running distance to pitchers training for explosion. It has also evolved from scouting and development using the naked eye to using technology and analytics to give us specific measurable information.
As things evolve, we can either grow and change with the evolutions or we can hold tight to ‘what we have always done’ and get passed by.
*Quick note: I am not referencing principles. Some principles stand the test of time and are unchanging.
The Evolution of the Modern Day Athlete
There is an evolution happening right now that leaders must be aware of…the evolution of the modern-day athlete.
Kids change and are different in every generation. My parents (baby boomers) were probably frustrated and confused with my generation (Generation X). So this evolution should not surprise us.
Leading this generation requires collaboration, empowerment, & sensitivity to their struggles. Now if that sounds like something that should cross generational boundaries, I agree. But I don’t think it always has.
Once upon a time, you could say and do almost anything to a young athlete and it could be excused away with some gibberish about getting tough and teaching them to fight through adversity.
In 2021-2022, this is no longer the case.
We can refuse these changes and approach the current struggles by saying “back when I played…”
Or we can see that life is different, parents are different, so it stands to reason, that kids will be different. We, as leaders, must adapt.
If you don’t think things have changed that much, do this exercise: write down all the things that kids deal with now that we never had to deal with while growing up. I won’t influence answers, but let’s just say there is a LOT on this list.
If we don’t change our approach to coaching today’s athletes, we will get passed by. Getting passed by means your athletes will underperform, which means your program will underperform and your athletes will hop in the transfer portal at alarming rates.
Here is a short list of ideas to better develop the modern athlete.
High challenge, High Support. In some cases, I think we have done young people a disservice by lowering standards and expectations. Keep those high, and treat young people like they can. It’s called the pygmalion effect. Treat people like they can, and they often will. Support them as they strive for excellence, and they will often reach it. If you have high challenge without high support, they will feel used and uncared for. If you have high support without high challenge, they will be frustrated because they will not reach their full potential.
Collaborate. Many leaders complain about the lack of buy-in and investment from young people. I have seen time and time again, if you will collaborate, young people will totally buy-in! Give them a say. Ask them their opinion. It doesn’t mean they run the show…just give them space to collaborate. It is human nature to invest more deeply in something that you have a voice in. If leaders would collaborate, I think they would be surprised at their athlete’s level of commitment and buy-in.
Empathy. There has been an increase in the amount of people who struggle with real anxiety. Not just young people either…but adults. This is real. It is not just ‘soft’ people who are struggling with this. Having empathy should lead you to create systems and processes to check in on people, to have open dialogue about this topic (and others), and to be on the lookout for signs that people are struggling. Empathy must lead to action or else it is not true empathy. People are struggling. As a leader, your primary role is to make sure your people know you care and are willing to help them in their struggles.
This topic can take me down a rabbit hole…so I will stop with just these three examples. I am not an expert on this topic (look up Tim Elmore) but I have been around enough student-athletes and coaches in the last 4+ years to know that those who are adjusting how they lead the modern athlete are having great success.
“Back When I Played”
I hear pretty frequently, comments about how kids are not the same, how ‘back when I played…’ etc. My response: It is a leader’s job to figure out how to adjust and evolve. There are programs and coaches who are having huge success…so we know it is not impossible to lead the modern-day athlete to excellence.
Honestly, I think we as leaders use the ‘kids are not the same’ as an excuse…as an ego defense mechanism. “We are failing so someone else has to be at fault. It can’t be us.”
Adjust. Evolve. Find a way!
*If you would like to further discuss what I am seeing and learning from the best of the best in regards to leading the modern-day athlete, shoot me an email.