As a High School graduate of the Class of 2006, I grew up with a vastly dated high school experience. As an eighth grader, I remember calling my mother AT&T Collect to pick me up from Field Hockey Practice. I remember yelling upstairs to my parents every night to stop talking to friends so that I could access the dial-up modem on our ONE desktop computer. I remember getting handwritten letters and photocopies of articles from College Coaches (some of which I still have). Let’s be frank, THINGS HAVE CHANGED.
I have been fortunate to be a head coach since 2012 and have loved every class I have come to lead. However, I am astounded that in just 8 seasons, the incoming freshman that I welcome into my program in the class of 2018 have experienced such a starkly different existence than my class of 2012, and furthermore, have no understanding of the disconnected existence I experienced in my four years of high school. As I reflect on each season, and each incoming class that has followed I have noticed this steady, albeit significant change.
Whether we like it or not, we are now coaching a completely different type of athlete; An athlete that hasn’t had to go to the library to check out books. An athlete that has had to wait minutes for a response via text, while WE waited days for a response via regular mail. Recruiting is different, communication with student-athletes is different, and most importantly, the way in which these young women are motivated IS DIFFERENT.
For those of you that do not know, in January 2018, two of Apple’s biggest shareholders released an open letter to the company asking them to take action against the addictive nature of their products, and expressing concern over technology and social media as a whole. The Guardian’s coverage of the letter illuminated the core issue: “The investors cited several studies on the negative effects on children’s mental and physical health caused by heavy usage of smartphones and social media. These range from distractions in the classroom and issues around focus on educational tasks to higher risks of suicide and depression.”
This sense of immediacy and ultra-connectivity has inserted itself into the way in which this new generation of athletes must be coached. Boiler plate requirements like run tests, locker room etiquette, and parent correspondence have been affected, and methods that have been working for decades seem to be less effective and face more resistance. Female athletes in particular are facing more anxiety within their daily lives, and we as their leaders have had to adapt.
To my mentors, Bonnie Rosen, and Michele DeJuliis, I don’t know how you do it. Your ability to constantly adapt and evolve with each new class of athletes is something that I admire and try to exemplify. As I approach this upcoming season I have tried to subscribe to a few new philosophies in hopes to better serve my athletes and work to bridge the communication gap I sometimes face.
1. Information is King – I find that the more detailed I can make our calendars, spell out run tests, provide detailed itineraries, the less stressed my players seem to be. When Google is a thumbprint away, that immediate access to answers helps quell the unknown, which current players are not used to.
2. Saying yes to new forms of #communication – although I refuse to enter the “World of Snapchat,” embracing social media; i.e. hashtags, GIFS, and Emojis allows me to have a common dialogue with my players and connect with the onslaught on texts, snaps, DMs, Tweets, etc, that they experience EVERY DAY.
3. “I am not them and will never be” – As much as I want to relate my experience to theirs, they are “unrelatable.” The locker room is different, the bus ride back to school has changed, and the level of stress and pressure they experience is tenfold.
4. The Mental Game – Mental health not only needs to be acknowledge, but also discussed and supported. Whether you have the resources interdepartmentally or not, help athletes find the support they need.
Millennials are experiencing higher levels of anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide than generations past. According to research by Thomas Curran, from the University of Bath and Andrew Hill, of York St. John University, this generation feels overburdened with a perfectionist streak unknown to their parents or grandparents. It isn’t simple perfectionism doing Millennials in but “multidimensional perfectionism,” meaning these young adults feel pressure to measure up to an ever-growing number of criteria. Striving to reach impossible standards increases the risk of anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, and even suicidal ideation. As coaches, we must acknowledge this uptick and look to ease this burden. Our goal is to lighten the load.
My goal is to be a career coach. I love this profession and want to be a part of this amazing community for as long as the Universe allows. However, as a recent mother to my 11-month old son, I can’t begin to comprehend his reality as a High School senior. In 18 years how will I have changed? What will the world be like? What will my philosophies be? Will they have stayed the same, or is this an ever-evolving profession? Regardless, we are in the business of human interaction. As a human, I am flawed, but that cannot get in the way of my development as a leader, surrogate mother, and mentor. All I can do is make a promise to myself and to my “smart phone generation” players:
“I am here for you and will do whatever it takes to be the leader that you need.”