Co-authored by Evan Mitchell, Co-founder Millennial Brand/Communication Specialists HOW&Y
An issue that won’t go away
In recent articles we examined the inherent risks for professional football club owners, coaches, and managers in having their player groups drawn from the Millennial generation:
Unprofessional behavior by professional football players nowadays, whether on the field or off, has its roots in the Millennial mindset. Sure, football in Gen X and earlier days had its share of dumb actions, on the field and off. But it wasn’t a generational thing. That behavior occurred under a looser set of social norms and a totally different media environment. There wasn’t an all-encompassing groupthink driving it. Players then didn’t grow up in a generational cocoon with core beliefs that overrode culture, upbringing, and education – as occurs now.
Today’s Millennial players are radically different from past players. On the positive side: stronger, fitter, faster and more game-skilled certainly. But also, according to overwhelming evidence, far less stable mentally, emotionally, and socially. While the positives are great, they don’t offset the negatives. Uncontrolled, these can cripple any team from within. Until your management group recognizes this, you’ll never be free from the performance and reputational damage caused by senseless player behavior.
Let’s start with the approaches that won’t work.
Do nothing and wait for them to “grow out of it”
Many businesses have chosen the patient approach. But the ultimate verdict on this comes from the comprehensive and authoritative Gallup “State of the American Workplace” 2017 report:
The one thing leaders cannot do is nothing They cannot wait for trends to pass them by, and they cannot wait for Millennials to start behaving like baby boomers. That won’t happen.
Waiting it out is a mistake, particularly in the football business. By the time your current roster has been mugged by reality, you’ll have Gen Z (the iGeneration) to deal with. Which means more of the same – with additional twists.
What about surrender as an option? Don’t smile. Lots of organizations have opted for the indulgent approach, attempting to secure their Millennials’ loyalty and stellar performance, with workplace concessions. Very popular in the world of Big Tech.
But finding out what favors Millennials want and bribing them with those, makes no sense (unless it’s to do with money and contracts – and that’s a different dynamic.) They’ll just accept them and carry on as before. It’s also hypocritical and patronising, erodes organizational culture, and brings performance-distracting problems of its own – as The Wall Street Journal reported on Google’s efforts in “unbridled indulging of employees.”
Whatever the concessions might be, too often they’ll involve compromises that lower standards.
Educate them out of it
Do professional footballers benefit from studying a course during their playing careers? This is a no-brainer. Of course. It keeps them usefully occupied in part of their free time. Which lessens the opportunity for mischief and can lead them instead towards positive life choices. The right course can also lay a foundation for a career after retirement. It’s tough to think of any downsides.
But does it correct the negatives a Millennial mindset and ingrained habits will bring to a team? No. Admirable as these courses can be, they are not a remedy against poor choices on and off the field. The players concerned still live in a Millennial group bubble – and all that comes with that: the misguided sense of entitlement, exaggerated self-esteem, impulsiveness, restlessness, resistance to criticism …
These dynamics remain because they’re a core part of Millennial programming during formative years. And they continue to be reinforced in the players’ daily lives. Education doesn’t replace the need to learn the right kind of coping and decision-making mechanisms. In fact, the reverse applies, educational initiatives will be more successful when these are in place.
Stay in the dark
This is the best of the bad options – missing the point altogether. It has the advantage that nothing’s been done that’s already backfired. In any pre or post-game appraisal session, there’s an elephant in the room that goes unrecognized. In a way this is understandable. We see the problem in front of us and rush to fix it. So instances of poor communication on the field becomes a communication problem to be solved. Seems logical, but it’s not intuitive. It throws up the wrong solutions because we’ve focused on a symptom, not the cause. A year later and we’ll be no wiser as to why what happened, happened – and why it continues to occur.
A solution that will work
Start by understanding what the Millennial mindset brings.
We need to “get” the basics of what makes this generation tick. Motives that are far broader than just the business of football. It’s convenient to treat the mind as a surface primed to lay strategies on. As if it’s a clean slate. In fact, it’s a palimpsest – there’s stuff already there: Generational attitudes and beliefs, tendencies and habits deeply ingrained, that can run interference on the most legitimate game plans or essential off-field standards, out of the blue – while the public watches gobsmacked.
The Millennial traits that spell danger for teams – entitlement, aversion to criticism, exaggerated self-esteem, image and identity conflict, impulsiveness, peer group domination, and others (we’ve identified fifteen in all) – lead to individuals lacking in self-confidence, self-discipline, and any true sense of self-empowerment.
That’s where the problem ends up and where the solution needs to begin. You can’t immediately reverse a player’s predispositions, the result of years of conditioning. But you can modify these if it’s done the right way. And that’s not by the usual nagging and threats. Threatening players with the loss of their livelihood for stupid actions off the field hasn’t so far worked. And even if it did, it wouldn’t reduce stupid actions on the field, and these are the damaging ones that pass under the radar – except to irate fans. (We addressed some of the common on-field gaffes, in the first article above.)