Coaching Gen Z High School Age Players

The Gamers coaching staff has spent a lot of time learning and talking about how to coach Gen Z athletes (kids born after 2000). This is now our entire group of high school age players. This generation of young men is different (Click Here ). The most astounding difference is this: they are the first generation in human history that does not rely on adults (parents, teachers, coaches) for information. That raises the bar on the role that adults play.

Luckily the Gamers coaching staff includes a number of educators that are on the front line in high school classrooms teaching and interacting with Gen Z students. Gen Z players are energizing to coach, because they force us to do things differently — and better. But we have to be willing to change!

These changes needs to be substantive and real. Not silly youtube videos, shallow Instagram images or related social media noise. Gen Z players deserve much more than this.

We started making this transition with pitcher development several years ago and now are making a lot of changes across the board. Here are the underlying principles that we are building throughout the Gamers program to make it even more impactful for Gen Z players:

  • Gen Z players learn by doing and seeing, not listening. Our practices are full of live action drills and not a lot of talking. Drills are becoming more live action simulated game situations, on the mound, in the field and at the plate.
  • Constraints-led coaching and non-linear pedagogy is now incorporated into every element of our practices. OK — we were doing some things like this before Coaches Beckmann and Aboussie told us what is was called. Now we are doing it even more. Cones, med balls, weighted balls, weighted bats, resistance bands, uphill mounds, etc … are everywhere. We are providing an practice environment for players to use their own muscles and neurological system to “figure it out” in dynamic situations. Our coaching staff is now constantly coming up with dynamic, non-linear drills. This is why our 150 minute practices fly by.
  • Immediate data feedback is everywhere. The players understand the goal of their athletic movement, and they are provided immediate feedback, in many cases through a screen, bluetooth device or a visual cue. They then use their natural athleticism to make adjustments based on the feedback. It is very impressive to watch these athletes make themselves better with feedback.
  • We are interacting with them on their mobile devices across a number player apps, ranging from Sportsengine and Twitter to TrainSmart, SwingTracker and Hittrax. We now encourage them to bring fully charged smartphones to practice. What a change over from just three years ago!
  • Different words and cues from coaches. More questions than statements. How did that feel? How was that different? Why were those numbers better? Gen Z players want to be fully engaged in the process, not just the target of shallow compliments, high fives or criticism. These kids are too smart for shallow coaching. The Gamers program is built on process, so it’s a great fit!
  • Personal Responsibility & Accountability. Gen Z players are independent. They need to do it for themselves. Our job is to give them the right resources, right support and right environment. From there, the Gen Z player is on his own to succeed or fail. And most of them would not have it any other way. Self-reliance and independence are great traits in athletes.
  • Holistic Approach — this is not just in baseball practices. The Saturday team workouts following practices adopt the same philosophies. If you have ever seen the Speed Treadmill, you know what we are talking about. Same with our college process, nutrition program and weekly life lesson sessions. All elements of the program are incorporating these principles.

This journey with Gen Z players is fun and energizing. The changes that we are making as a program are significant and important. Gen Z players are making the Gamers program even better.

And, they are a lot of fun to coach — once you figure them out.

Below is an excerpt from great resource about leading Gen Z kids. Highly recommend that parents/coaches read it.

From the Book: Elmore, Dr. Tim; McPeak, Andrew. Marching Off the Map: Inspire Students to Navigate a Brand New World

To connect with Generation Z, we should:

  1. Keep it short. Remember, they have strong filters and short attention spans. They can binge watch Netflix for hours, so they can pay attention to a long stint of content. The key is to engage them within six seconds. That’s how much time we have for them to make up their minds about engaging with us.
  2. Make it visual. They are visual learners. Images are the language of the 21st century. Images are the language of the 21st century. Among teens, Instagram is the fastest growing social media tool. In short, pictures beat words. This means we’d do well to anchor our big idea with a metaphor, or better yet, with an actual image or visual on a screen.
  3. Feed curiosity. Whet their appetites. They want to discover new content and pass it on. Build a hunger for interesting facts, and relay why some are important to know. The numbers tell us they’re naturally curious, consuming Buzzfeed and all sorts of daily data. Feed it and channel it in a positive direction.
  4. Give them ownership. Students support what they help create. Help them own the message. Don’t do the work of learning for them. 5. Make it interactive. They love connecting socially. Place them in small communities to talk. They are an “upload” generation who wants to talk, create and offer their opinion. So let them. While it takes longer to teach something with interaction, it sticks longer as well. If you want retention, foster interaction.
  5. Gamify your content. Make your message an interactive game with quests, points and badges. A huge percentage of Generation Z is gaming in some way. Try utilizing points, competition and achieving badges (with or without technology) to position them in their natural habitat. Learning has gone from Gutenberg to games.
  6. Offer a cause. Most kids want to do something very important and almost impossible. This has always been true for adolescents. They have a natural bent for risks as their teen brain (the frontal lobe) develops. Why not use this for redemptive purposes? Give them something meaningful, not hypothetical, to pursue.
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