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Game Changer

Generation Why: Communicating with Millennials Poses Challenge For Youth Coaches

Is sending a text message really the only way to communicate?

You don't have to read very much business literature to see that there are critical differences between the current generation and the ones that came before. Millennials, or members of Generation Y as they're sometimes called, have different expectations for just about everything. They question more, need instant gratification, expect their parents to bail them out of any uncomfortable situation, desire a relationship before they'll engage, and demand an explanation before they'll act. And, sadly, communication is electronic-driven.

I deal with these generational differences constantly in the workplace, but I somehow thought they didn't apply on the baseball field. Okay. I know, I know: an impossible dream of a Gen X'er. But I'm adamant that there are certain lines that shouldn't be crossed. Baseball, after all, is a sacred institution and, admittedly, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to the game.

I was talking to my coaching friend, Marty, the other day and he told me a story that made my skin crawl. During a game a couple of weeks ago Marty was trying to get his right fielder to move four or five steps towards center-field. He was yelling and waving his arms, doing everything short of sending smoke signals from the third base dugout. Jeffery, though, was oblivious.

Jeffery's dad, a doting, if not engaged, Gen X parent, was on top of things. He'd been watching Marty wave, yell, jump, and gyrate. In a helpful tone, he asked the coach through the chain-link fence, "Marty, are you trying to get Jeffery's attention?"

Exasperated, Marty sighed, silently gestured several times toward the outfield with both hands, and then said, as politely as possible, something to the effect that, it wasn't necessary for his right fielder to hug the foul line.Baseball coaches pointing to outfield

Dad said he'd take care of it and whipped out his Blackberry. With only a few nimble keystrokes he'd dialed Jeffery's number and had the phone to his ear, ready to give instructions. Testifying to the exceptional cell network coverage at this field, in less than six seconds Jeffery turned his head down and to the right, reached into his back pocket and pulled out his cell phone.

Dad said, "Yeah, Jeff hang on," turned his head to Marty and said, "Five to the right, correct?"

Marty's jaw hit the dugout floor as he stared into the distance. Disbelieving the scene in which he was now an integral participant, the only reply Marty could muster was to slowly nod his head up and down.

Marty found Jeffrey's dad's final words especially stinging, "Good job, son. Proud of you."

Jeffrey quickly took the five steps to his right.

Wounded, Marty staggered backwards, balanced himself against the chain link with his left hand, and slowly sat on the bench. Sadly, I don't think he'll ever be quite the same man.

Our game is changing.

Adapted from the book, A Perfect Season: A Coach's Journey to Learning, Competing, and Having Fun in Youth Baseball (Quiet Path 2010) by Dan Clemens. It is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores.

A Perfect 
Season book coverDan Clemens is a leadership and communications consultant, and has been a youth coach for 9 years.  You can email him at Dan@CoachClemens.com. 

Posted May 16, 2011