Developing Success-Driven Student Athletes
Dec. 5, 2013
By Chris Jenkins
MILWAUKEE -- Today's student-athletes -- and college students in general -- no longer rely on adults as their primary source of information. They don't have to; anything they'd ever want to know is at their fingertips.
For a student born after 1990, the phone in their hand is often so important that they almost consider it a part of their body. Some are so hyper-connected that they can't even shower without taking their phone along with them.
And they routinely use that technology to broadcast their every thought and emotion to the world.
That doesn't mean, however, that they're too busy texting and tweeting to accept leadership from adults. They need it, perhaps more than ever. They even want it -- as long as it's coming from somebody who understands how to talk to them.
That was the message delivered by Dr. Tim Elmore to a recent gathering of Marquette coaches and athletic administrators.
"I actually think these students want to follow a leader," Elmore said. "But show me a life worth following. Don't talk to me, don't lecture, don't yell at me, don't say `back in my day.' Show me a life worth following, and I will follow you."
Elmore, an authority on how to understand the next generation and prepare them to become leaders, has worked with a wide range of educational institutions, collegiate sports programs and even a handful of Major League Baseball teams.
For vice president and director of athletics Larry Williams, Elmore's presentation emphasized Marquette's mission of helping student-athletes find success in all facets of their lives.
"We were excited to bring Dr. Elmore to campus," Williams said. "He has done some fascinating work relative to understanding the young adults that we are developing today, and his presentation was fantastic. This visit was part of our effort to continue to grow our coaches and administrators in the important work they do in the development of success-driven student athletes."
Elmore separates so-called "Generation Y" into two groups: Those born in the 1980s and those born since 1990s.
Elmore calls those born since 1990 "Generation iY" -- iPhones, iPads, iTunes ... I, I, I. He notes research that shows they're generally less empathetic, less likely to do work on behalf of social causes they believe in and more narcissistic and self-absorbed than even the older members of Generation Y.
"We did this to them," Elmore said. "Ribbons and trophies just for being on the team."
Elmore sees an overall expansion of adolescence, with children trying to grow up more quickly while simultaneously putting off the acceptance of adult-style consequences.
"26 is the new 18," Elmore said.
But they're also more confident, more social, more diverse, more tech-savvy and more influential than previous generations. They're more family-oriented, too; asked in surveys to name their hero, they're more likely to list a family member than a professional athlete.
So how can adults -- especially the Marquette coaches and athletic administrators who work closely with them every day -- help members of this generation become leaders themselves?
"You need to go where they are, and carry them to where they need to be," he said.
Elmore believes authority figures should do everything they can to help build student-athletes' emotional intelligence -- soft skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. The same goes for moral intelligence, reinforcing the principle that a goal isn't worth reaching if it can't be done ethically.
"They're longing for a mentor," he said. "They may not know how to ask you, but they're longing for someone to show them."
Elmore's advice to coaches and administrators is to teach through experiences rather than lectures, and allow student-athletes to have some say in the direction of the teams they're playing on.
"They're not looking for a sage on the stage, they're looking for a guide on the side," he said.
And Elmore says sports teams may be one of the best vehicles to teach the life skills that the latest generation is lacking.
"Playing on a team, a stellar team, gets you ready for life," he said. "This is a chance to build men and women when they come to us as boys and girls."