How to Engage and Coach this Generation of Student Athletes

Camp Elevate by True North Sports is a personal and professional development experience that goes beyond the X’s and O’s of sport to develop student-athletes. It is run by Celia Slater who is a nationally-recognized leader committed to providing professional development opportunities for coaches of all sports interested in pursuing excellence in their profession.

Celia is trying to change the whole culture of coaching for the better of coaches and student-athletes. I encourage you to check out what she is sharing. Please follow Celia Slater @CPurposeSlater and learn more about Truth North Sports and Camp Elevate. 


Tim Elmore – Understanding the Next Generation @TimElmore

We are just 1 of 10,000 messages they are receiving in the day – how do we get ours’ to stick? For example. know their birthdays and give them a hand written card on their birthday.

Today’s players:

  • Don’t need adults for information.
  • Need adults for interpretation.
  • Can broadcast every thought or emotion.
  • Experience external stimuli 24/7.
  • Social contact at all times, but often in isolation.
  • For the first time, will learn more from a portable device than from a classroom.
  • Actually enabled to be narcissistic – The selfie generation.
  • Scientifically proven to have the same level of anxiety as a psychiatric patient in the 1950’s.

Gen Z
Three Ways Coaches can Better Engage with Today’s Athletes

  • Build in them an “internal locus of control.”
    • An external locus of control would be, “the fates will decide, it’s not up to me, it’s raining so I can’t make it to the workout, my mom forgot my shoes, etc.”
    • An internal locus of control says, “it is within my control, and it’s up to me to make it happen.”
  •  Enable them to practice “metacognition.”
    • Metacognition is active thinking and engaging about what you’re doing and why. Think: “you don’t truly know a subject until you can teach it.”
    • Ask critical questions at practice… Why did you make that decision? What did you see? What do you think this drill is important?
  • Help them to choose mono-tasking instead of multi-tasking.
    • There is no such thing as mutli-tasking. That is just your mind switching from one subject to the other very quickly. These kids are habitual multi-taskers, which really just means they aren’t focused on one thing.
  • Use of images to reach them.
    • Thermostats vs. thermometers
      • Thermometers can’t do anything but read the temperature of the room.
      • Thermostats set the temperature – they live by values & add value.
    • Trains vs. tracks
      • Trains are all powerful, but without systems and processes, they’d be wildly inefficient.
      • We need the tracks to give the trains their best chance to be successful.
    • Rivers vs. floods
      • Floods are powerful but chaotic.
      • Rivers are focused and can be channeled to do great things.
    • Tollbooths vs. roadblocks
      • Is this problem a roadblock? Do we have to turn around and choose another path?
      • Is this problem a tollbooth? We might have to pause, but if we’re willing to pay the price, we can keep moving forward.

How to lead them well:

  • Don’t think control – Think connect.
  • Don’t think rules – Think equations.
  • Don’t think what – Think why.
  • Don’t think prescriptive – Think descriptive.
  • Don’t think impose – Think expose.
  • Don’t think tell – Think ask.
  • Don’t think cool – Think real.
  • Don’t think manage – Think mentor.

Heather Macy – Emotional Intelligence @ECUCoachMacy

Three Rules to their Team’s Culture

  1. Elite performers leave nothing to chance, EVER!
  2. See issues & drama simply as they are: a distraction.
  3. You are the chief interpreter of your own reality.

Emotional Intelligence

  • Emotional intelligence is the ability to control – You, others, your environment.
  • How much of the game is mental? 5%? 50%? Assuming you didn’t say zero, then how much time are you spending working on the mental?
  • When we are emotionally distressed, high alert levels – biologically our decision making abilities go down.
  • Assistants – Your job is to caddy… Caddy’s “you should go with this club, you see the shot?, you got this, let’s go make it happen.” – positive, focused, and eliminate the distractions.


  • Practice ways to “get green” – find your go-to playlist, rearrange your office, etc.
  • We never make decisions in the red.
  • You can’t speak logic to someone in the red.
  • Put specific parameters on what gets you green & make sure the people around you know (ex. I need my gameday to go like this, so that I can get green for the game).
  • Postgame – never speak to them if you’re in the red. You’re not thinking straight and they’re in the red so they can’t hear logic. There’s no point in it.

Amber Selking – Championship Team Cultures @DrSelking

Different types of preparation

  • Physical – Training and conditioning.
  • Technical – Fundamental skills.
  • Tactical – Strategies & game plan.
  • Mental – Thinking clearly and confidently.


In order to focus our thoughts, we must be in the present.

What’s important now?

  • Productive self-talk “Don’t miss this free throw” vs. “ice in my veins.”
  • Composure.

Concentration: Each person is different for how well they can handle different levels of emotional intensity. Know how intense you are at your best and focus on getting there.

Confidence: Lock onto the right information.

A thought that you can control

Emotional Stability

  • Flexibility – Absorb & adopt changes.
  • Responsiveness – Engage & connect under pressure.
  • Strength – Sustain a fighting spirit.
  • Resilience – Bounce back after blows.


  • Do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it, the way you’re supposed to do it.
  • Habits of excellence – How you do anything is how you do everything.
  • Culture of accountability – Autonomy and ownership in the culture.

Tiffany Jones – Sport Psychologist @DrTiffJones

Technique to get a team to go dry for a season:

“If you do it and you don’t win, then you’ll always know you tried. If you don’t go dry and you don’t win, you’ll always wonder, ‘what if?’ So the question becomes, ‘Do you want to win a championship or do you want to party?’”

  • Create highly stressful moments in practice/workouts and then talk through the moment.
  • “What do you think could help?”
  • When a drill goes poorly, measure and discuss their ability to self-correct.
  • Don’t worry about practice going poorly, that will only help them in games that go poorly.

Thanks to Little Rock Arkansas assistant coach Mark Wise for informing me about the great work Celia Slater and True North Sports are doing, Follow Coach Wise on Twitter here @mfwise11

For some of my thoughts on better engaging and coaching student-athletes check out these two blogs: How we use Culture Conversations to Shape our Team and Q&A: How to Build the Coach-Athlete Relationship

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