Coaching Millennials

One of the beautiful things about coaching is that every season offers the opportunity to get to know your runners, both returning and new, in a totally different way. They grow and change individually but even more significantly, the team dynamic shifts every year and new parts of each runner are revealed. We just returned from our weekend training camp and yet again, I was blown away by the talent and character of the girls I have the opportunity to coach.

This year, our training camp was a whole new experience for all of us. For years, we’ve been heading to Northern Vermont with the boys team. For various reasons, we decided to shake it up this year and split up the boys and girls teams. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the co-ed nature of cross country but after our experience last weekend, I am so glad we embraced the change. We had a full weekend to just be together with no distractions and what came out of the weekend was a bonded, focused team with extraordinary positive energy.

I recently read an article on coaching millennials, the colloquialism for those of us born 1980s to 2000s. Born in 1983, I’m on the cusp of Generation X and Millennial but am definitely more X than Millennial. The article points out a few key differences that coaches need to acknowledge when coaching millennials:

  1. Strong emphasis on teamwork and collaboration
  2. Desire to have ideas matter
  3. Lack of organic leadership skills
  4. Need for affirmation

From my perspective, numbers 2 and 4 are the biggest influences on a day to day basis. One of the biggest things I’ve tried to do over the years is get real buy-in from my runners. One of the ways I approached this at our training camp was to have the team generate their expectations and come to consensus on team goals, both process and outcome oriented. Not surprisingly, they all came up with a relatively homogeneous list for both that was reflective of our team ethos. The process of discussing what they want from a team culture, however, is far more important than a polished list of expectations. As the season goes on, I look to my team for input on any decision that they can help me to make. Ultimately, it’s their team, I’m just the person responsible for getting them places on time with both shoes on.

Number 4 is a far trickier issue. For all their amazing qualities, I would say that we have a team crisis of confidence and occasionally a crisis of niceness. I am blessed with 25 caring, gentle young women who take great care of each other. In so doing, however, they sometimes question whether they earned their spot on the team and struggle to pass each other in races for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Tied into this is the aforementioned need for affirmation. One tactic I’ve employed is to give concrete, regular feedback whenever I see great things rather than waiting for an athlete to need affirmation. When someone has great form, I’ll comment immediately so that they can remember what their arm swing or knee drive feels like. After a race, I try to be as specific as possible with feedback so that it is personalized rather than vague.

What generation do you identify with? If you coach, what are your collective team strengths and weaknesses?

2 thoughts on “Coaching Millennials

  1. Ryan

    I was born in 1978, towards the end of Gen X but just before the Millennials. I would say I more-or-less identify with Gen X, but have always felt I was born too late to get the full Gen X experience but definitely too early to fully relate to the Millennial experience. With a birth date of 1983 it is surprising to me that you identify more as Gen X than as a Millennial, I would have considered you solidly in the first wave of Millenials. The start and end dates of generations are so blurry and ambiguous and change (cultural, technological, etc) happens so rapidly that I think there is maybe a 5 year birth window during a generation where someone can fully relate to that generation and not feel some ties to the preceding or following generation.

    1. Runner Under Pressure Post author

      I think it depends very much on the age of your parents as well. My parents were older when they had my sister and I (born 48 and 53) so we have a lot of boomer influence in our lives. I agree with you, though, I feel like I’m right between the two groups with no real identification with either.


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