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Still Coaching In The 1970s?

Critical Keys To "Managing The Millennials"

By: Bill Salyers, Basketball Coach, Winning Hoops Editorial Advisory Board, Miamisburg, Ohio and Sue Ramsey, Head Womens Coach, Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio

It hadn't dawned on me until I attended one particular coaching clinic last year.

As I sat through that clinic, the question hit me like a freight train. Was I coaching in a style in which my players would really understand me?

I was in my 14th year of coaching and had been successful each season and I’ve been an active part of the Winning Hoops Editorial Advisory Board, so things must have been working, right? But suddenly, after 2 hours of listening intently at a coaches clinic, I found myself re-evaluating all of the coaching techniques that I had, or had not, been using. It wasn’t a matter of X’s or O’s, rather, I found myself questioning how I had been presenting the information to the players.

I’ve always believed that the teams who are the most successful really understand what the coach is trying to accomplish. Additionally, I understood that players play harder when they feel they’re a real part of something and they buy into the priorities and goals that the coach has set down. So, what did I hear in those 2 hours of clinic lecture that made me question what I was doing after 14 years?

Adaptability: Knowing Your Players

The first two coaches who lectured that day had at least 20 years of experience each and they were discussing how the 3-point shot had changed the game. One of the coaches stated that it took about 4 years before every team in his league had put in plays to take advantage of the 3-point shot. This fact really surprised me, as I just assumed that coaches would quickly adapt to rule changes, game changes, etc. This really set the stage for a “coaching epiphany” that was about to occur.

Sue Ramsey, the head womens coach at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio then lectured on “Coaching Today’s Generation — The Millennials.” I have three children of my own who are in this generation and have coached hundreds more, so I knew that this would be an interesting topic for me personally.

Ramsey did not let me down. I’ve kept in contact with her since that clinic and she has been kind enough to share her notes and thoughts with me so that Winning Hoops could pass this valuable information along to its coaching readership. Much of the generational information that Ramsey was presenting was from a 60 Minutes television program that aired on October 3, 2004.

Ramsey lists several characteristics that make up the millennial generation of players. The Millennials:

  • Make up 21-percent of the current population.
  • Are materialistic and often referred to as “the generation of consumers,” which also makes them extremely brand conscious.
  • Are more likely to spend time conducting research and buy things online.
  • Are wireless-, mobile- and technically-savvy.
  • Are “masters of multi-tasking.”

The Most-Watched Generation

There are other aspects of this generation that we need to take into account. This current generation is classified as the “most-watched” generation to date. As young children, they rode their bikes while wearing helmets. As infants they rode in a cars while strapped into a car seat. They never used a medicine bottle without a childproof cap.

They also grew up with many options: hundreds of TV stations to watch and tens of thousands of Web sites to surf. They had a plethora of electronics to choose to use VHS, CD, DVD, I-Pods, MP3, etc. This generation is much more “connected” than prior generations — via e-mail, cell phone, instant messaging, text messaging — and they becomes easily irritated when responses are delayed.

Millenial Attributes

Keeping those prior facts in mind, there are other attributes of the current generation that you should consider as well. In general, the millennials:

  • Worry less about being a leader and more about being accepted. There are few leaders in this group. Being accepted as part of a team is very important to them.
  • Are trusting individuals. It’s been calculated that 50 percent of these young people trust the government and 75 percent trust their parents — both of which are all time highs. This statistic indicates that they loyally follow an authority figure who earns their trust.

Other general characteristics of millennials include that they also:

  • Do not think long term.
  • Want immediate feedback.
  • Want immediate gratification.
  • Have limited attention spans.
  • Have limited creativity.

I certainly have seen these attributes in my own kids. Several of the coaches in our youth organization have discussed what we see during our open-gym sessions. Many of these players have never played “unorganized” basketball. They wait around for a drill to start or wait for some direction. Even concepts such as the give-and-go aren’t part of their “scrimmage always” mind set.

Putting The Knowledge To Good Use

So, how has Ramsey taken the knowledge of the millenials and applied it to her program? There are several things she now incorporates into everything the Ashland program does. Understanding that these student athletes are visual learners, have shorter attention spans, want immediate gratification, want to be part of a team and are technically savvy, there are good coaching techniques that can be used.

Visual Learners:

  • Use your gym clock during practices.
  • Color code your defenses.
  • Post the practice schedule and game goals for all to see.
  • Film study is more effective if it is broken down into small segments.     Write down your philosophy and program vision and put it in each player’s playbook.

Limited Attention Span:

  • Teach new concepts during the first hour of practice.
  • Repetition of drills or patient offenses may not be as effective as a run-and-gun offense or use of quick hitters.
  • Coach your corrections on a small scale (one at a time).
  • Keep team drills to a 10 minute limit and individual work to 7 minutes.
  • Immediate Gratification:
  • Find every opportunity to make practice competitive with immediate rewards.
  • Set short goals to work toward (such as “the next game” or “this week” — not this season).
  • Acknowledge off-the-court successes as soon as possible.

The Need To Be A Part Of A Team:

  • The worst thing you can tell a millennial is that they are selfish. They can be held accountable for their “part.” Make sure your expectations are clear and that they will be held accountable for knowing and accomplishing them.
  • All named drills should be in the playbook and the players are expected to know them when practice starts.
  • Build a family atmosphere with your team.

Technically Savvy:

This is one of the most difficult parts for many coaches to accept. This past season, Ramsey tried several things which got great feedback from her players.

  • All team handouts were e-mailed to each player and/or their parents.
  • Utilize text messaging after games to send a positive message or to congratulate players.
  • E-mail small video clips of something you want to stress to the team or to an individual.

Note: Do not allow cell phones, iPods, etc., on the bench. It’s important, however, to find out what sort of electronics young players are into and at least understand them.

Building Family Atmosphere

One of the important aspects of this study, and those items that Ramsey stresses, is the aspect of building an extended family. For Ashland University, this starts very early with what they call the “summer-letter series.” Each player and coach is assigned a week when she is to write a letter to all of her teammates and coaches. It must be postmarked on that Monday and come through regular mail. These letters serve as both an introduction to one another and as a motivational tool for all members of the team.

Each season, they also have a “theme” consistent with Ramsey’s philosophy, which she calls,“Commit To It!” The “It” stands for Integrity and Trust.  Everything starts with the commitment.

A simple example is leaving the locker room on road trips better than you found it. Other relationship building ideas include a freshmen-upper classmen buddy system and a laminated information card with all player and coach cell phone numbers on it.

Ramsey also feels it’s important to communicate both formally, with 1-on-1 scheduled meetings, and informally, with an open-door policy. She also stresses that coaches keep current with the latest vocabulary used by the athletes.

Finally, to help keep things simple and focused, Ashland has created a simple, concise and understandable acronym for their seasonal performance goals called “PROS.”

COMMENTS: 1
Acronym called PROS
Posted from: Matt Sayman, 3/20/12 at 9:09 AM CDT
What do these letters represent?

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