Controlling a team of any kind is complicated. When the teams are large, the complications expand. And when those large teams are increasingly made up of Millennials, the expansion is exponential.
After proving an unexpected source of disruption as consumers, Millennials are spreading their mayhem to the workplace. For all the positives they bring as employees, and there are many, it needs to be recognized that this is the entitlement generation, with a mindset radically different from previous ones.
The opportunity for Millennial disruption is nowhere greater than in professional sports. Especially top-level football – in any code. Elite football is unique in the sense that not some, not most, but all of the front-line performers are Millennial age (born between 1980 and 2000).
The opportunity for Millennial disruption is nowhere greater than in professional sports. Especially top-level football – in any code. Elite football is unique in the sense that not some, not most, but all of the front-line performers are Millennial age (born between 1980 and 2000). Modern elite footballers are more adaptable in the talents they bring to the game. Unquestionably stronger, fitter, faster, and more skilled. But they’re less adaptable mentally, emotionally and socially. And far less mindful of what follows from their actions.
This shouldn’t surprise. It fits the mould. The fact that this Millennial mindset came about through educational and societal factors beyond the generation’s control, doesn’t alter the real and inevitable challenges they present. In other professional areas, Millennials are steadily changing the culture. In the case of football, the change is completed. Football is already subject to the full range of generational complications and challenges – for all to see.
Let’s look at the issues – by way of a primer for coaches and team managers.
Do your homework on this generation – you’re stuck with it for quite a while
Millennial characteristics are the elephant in the room you can’t just ignore. You need at least a firm working knowledge of what makes this generation tick. Or you’ll be continually second-guessing the reasons for their actions – and mostly getting it wrong.
Don’t assume the good will outweigh the bad
In many industries, Millennial attributes such as creativity, tech-savviness, innovativeness, idealism, independence, curiosity and adventurousness are seen as benefits to an organization, and might be thought to offset the negatives. That’s not the case in professional football. The negatives weigh in much heavier.
Don’t confuse self-esteem with self-confidence
Millennials were brought up on a strong diet of self-esteem. It dominated educational practice in the eighties and nineties. That’s how the generational sense of entitlement was formed, and the resistance to criticism that comes with it. They appear brash and self-assured but don’t be fooled. Beneath the surface, it’s invariably different. Research shows that 80% of this generation would prefer to communicate digitally rather than face-to-face. This and other evidence points to a broad lack of confidence in interpersonal situations. This creates problems for football management – but, as we’ll see, it also creates an opportunity.
Too often media commentators and others will call young players as “full of confidence” on the back of a few daring plays, or because it seems like a compliment.
Too often media commentators and others will call young players as “full of confidence” on the back of a few daring plays, or because it seems like a compliment. Wrong! It’s tough enough playing at an elite level at a young age, without the world dumping erroneous expectations on you. Confidence comes from knowing we’re competent, not the other way around. That’s the way we’re made. And competence has to be measured in a far more exact way than a few slick moves.
Player self-esteem isn’t self-confidence, and assuming one from the other will only lead to errors of judgment about players and the reason they do things – both on the field and off.
There are at least fifteen Millennial attitudes and behaviour patterns with destructive potential for teams. Here are a few.
- conflict between image and identity: how the world views me (terribly important to this generation) versus how I view myself – letdowns from this inevitably flow into performance.
- omnipotentiality (the belief that “I can be/or do anything”): the main driver behind low percentage plays, which only needs the occasional success to keep it firing.
- fear of inertia (the need “to always be moving”): saturates every aspect of Millennial living, often emerging in ill-considered “change for change sake” – of teams or even codes.
- peer group bubble: invariably a key factor in the off-field indiscretions that plague every football code and have managers and coaches reaching for the Valium.
- tech and social media obsession: a mindless use of free time that diminishes performance now, while derailing prospects for a successful post-football future.
- conflict aversion: the generational unpreparedness to face disputes head on leads to tensions and ill-feelings in a team that can linger, even when apparently settled.
These problems and others are not contained within a narrow area of influence.
When a player disappoints – on or off the field – the damage reverberates
In a typical team brand, those in the reverberation loop include:
- the code – and its reputation
- team management
- coaching staff
- the other players
- general public
- advertising sponsors
- player agents.
The comprehensive 2017 Gallup “State of the American Workplace” study sounds this caution for Millennial employers – “The one thing leaders cannot do is nothing. They cannot wait for trends to pass them by, and they cannot wait for Millennials to get older and start behaving like baby boomers. That won’t happen.”