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The Modern Coaches Secret Performance Advantage - Providing Quality Feedback to Generation Z Athletes




As not only a sport psychologist, but as a sport parent and coach of a Generation Z child and her team, I know first-hand the unique challenges of providing feedback to this generation. Let me be clear – this isn’t an article about whether the generational differences are good or bad, its simply to explain the best approaches for the current reality. 

My belief is that the coaches that want to understand them, and the best-practices for communicating with them will be the ones that succeed in the modern era of sport. 

Feedback is a powerful tool for growth and development for athletes as they navigate the competitive world of sports. Unlike criticism, which tends to focus solely on flaws and faults, feedback offers a balanced perspective, acknowledging strengths while providing constructive guidance for improvement. However, providing effective feedback to Generation Z athletes comes with its own set of unique challenges, rooted in the characteristics, experiences, and preferences of their generation.

Feedback is ultimately a process of offering information about an individual's performance or behavior with the intention of facilitating growth and improvement. It differs from criticism in its tone, focus, and intent. While criticism tends to be negative and judgmental, feedback is constructive and supportive, highlighting both areas of success and areas for development. The goal of feedback is to empower individuals to reflect on their performance, identify areas for improvement, and take actionable steps towards growth. We all should be, and need to be, open to feedback – even us coaches!

However, Generation Z athletes, born into a digital era of rapid information exchange and constant validation, may have specific challenges – unique to the way their brains have been influenced due to this rapid information exchange - when it comes to receiving feedback. One of the primary challenges is their preference for positive reinforcement over criticism. Praise and recognition are readily available through social media likes and comments, Hence, what we’ve is that Generation Z athletes may struggle with feedback that focuses solely on areas for improvement. 

The strategic understanding than is that they may be more receptive to feedback delivered with a focused emphasis on their strengths and how to use them to reach their desired progress. Essentially, it’s not that we can’t give the feedback, but that delivery technique utilized will have a significant impact on how it may land.


Furthermore, Generation Z athletes (as is also common with people of all ages) may have a fear of failure, exacerbated by societal pressures to excel in all areas of life. And, again with the fishbowl lens of social media as the environment they’re constantly in, it seems to have intensified their experience of it. Even what we consider to be constructive feedback that highlights areas for improvement may be perceived as confirmation of inadequacy, leading to feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. Coaches and mentors must approach feedback with an understanding of these unique characteristics, recognizing the emotional reactiveness that we may observe in this age group. This certainly isn’t always easy to do, so we need to patient with ourselves in this process as well. We’ll miss the mark sometimes, and yet being more aware will ultimately help you get better and better at your delivery. 

Another challenge in providing feedback to Generation Z athletes is their preference for digital communication and asynchronous feedback channels. Face-to-face feedback, which requires direct interaction and communication, may seem intimidating or uncomfortable for some Generation Z athletes. Coaches may need to leverage digital platforms and technology to deliver feedback in a format that is more familiar and accessible to this generation, such as through email, messaging apps, or video calls.

Despite the realities of these challenges, providing quality feedback to Generation Z athletes is essential – and possible - for their growth and development both on and off the field. Coaches and mentors can enhance the effectiveness of their feedback by following these key principles:


1. Balance Criticism with Encouragement: Offer a balanced perspective by acknowledging athletes' strengths while providing constructive feedback on areas for improvement.


2. Be Specific and Actionable: Provide clear, specific feedback that highlights both what went well and what needs work, along with actionable steps for improvement.


3. Tailor Feedback to Individual Needs: Recognize and respect each athlete's unique abilities, preferences, and learning styles, adapting feedback accordingly to maximize effectiveness.


4. Remain Calm and Objective: Maintain composure and objectivity when delivering feedback, avoiding emotional reactions that may cloud judgment or lead to unfair assessments.


5. Empower Athletes with Solutions: Offer constructive solutions and strategies for improvement, empowering athletes to take ownership of their development and progress effectively.


To wrap up, providing quality feedback to Generation Z athletes requires coaches and mentors to be mindful of their unique characteristics and preferences. By approaching feedback with empathy, positivity, and a focus on growth, coaches can empower young athletes to reach their full potential and thrive both on and off the court or field.


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Stuart Singer, M.Ed., and PsyD (ABD) is the Director of WellPerformance, a Mental Performance Coaching and Consulting practice, and the creator of the DoSo app https://t.co/R61vbpda4X . For more information regarding this topic, he can be contacted at ssinger@wellperformancecoach.com or follow him on X: @wellperformance, or Instagram: @wellperformance

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