How to Connect to Athletes

As an older coach, how do you stay relevant to the younger generations? I get this question often. Pop culture is constantly evolving and it can be hard to stay knowledgeable about what is going on. A few years ago I took about 30 minutes to figure out what Pokemon go was all about (see here for an article I wrote about it). When I dropped it in a lesson during class, it was instant street cred! I was not very good, but as soon as they found out I at least knew what it was and had attempted to catch a few of those monsters I had a line into their attention. They were suddenly more engaged in what I was teaching because they knew I was trying to understand their world (as opposed to trying to be in their world and be like them).

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Here are a few suggestions I have used to connect with my athletes:

    •    Ask your team about a few things you should look into to help them relate. The question, "What is cool right now" shows them you are at least interested. Many coaches will see this as crossing the line from the coach to a friend, but the kids don't see it that way. They see it as an adult taking an interest in their world.

    •    Ask the team to define what they want in a captain,— beyond athletic ability. Provide some examples of leaders you have coached in the past to help guide the discussion. A discussion like that can lead to non-starting athletes recognizing that talent is only one way to be a leader on the team.

    •    Extend water breaks and let them goof off. This will teach there is a time and a place to mess around, and that you recognize these are kids, not min-adults. One thing we did with the football team at IMG Academy was when the different position groups broke for water, they were encouraged to create a "secret handshake" for each member of their group. This took about 10 minutes and always seemed to raise morale.

There are many ways to connect with a student-athlete to help them feel like you “see” them. What are some things you have done to stay connected to your student-athletes?