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Defending Gen Y

Previously called: Reply to (Journalist) Peter Fitzsimons

I read, with interest, Peter Fitzsimons’ articleWhy, oh why, does Gen Y not get it?‘, not because I agreed or disagreed with it but because I felt he was looking at the symptom and not the cause.

We are a product of both Nature and Nurture, and our ‘nature’ hasn’t changed much in the past couple of generations. The point of difference is that Gen Y are a product of our ‘nurture’. In other words, they are the product of the environment that we, Generation X and the Baby Boomers (BB), have created.

Current Gen Y sportsmen and women are accused of having a sense of entitlement. This, in my experience, is fairly typical. But why is this so?

For one, we, the X’s and BB’s, have created these false environments we call Academies that foster this sense of entitlement.

These environments, and other false economies, are filled with prodigies who feed off each others arrogance, instead of getting the proverbial clip around the ears and told to pull their heads in by the stalwarts.

This sense of entitlement is created by the X’s and BB’s, as we step over each other to offer a ‘professional environment’. We contort ourselves to ensure the young, unchallenged athlete stays in our program, our sport, our environment.

In rugby, our developing players are pulled out of club competitions to improve their Beep Test score, or reduce their skinfolds – numbers on a Excel spreadsheet – instead of learning their trade by tackling grizzly men. Cricket seems to the same. And is it possible the national u20 Rugby League comp will do the same: creating an inflated sense of self worth?

The idea that a 12-year old athlete receives a years worth of (insert Brand Name here) gear every few months when they meet the bare minimum requirements may contribute; or that they are given specialised, isolated coaching might add to this sense. In the greater scheme of things none of the these athletes have achieved anything yet.

At u10 and u12 footy matches there are well-intentioned parents (X & BB) offering to give the players pre-match massages! This is at club level! These over pampered kids are at the height of their re-generational abilities, and are only going to expect more come u14, u16 and the rep teams.

Watch what happens when a Gen Y sensation threatens to quit or change sports! Every X & BB decision maker will call, visit, even beg the young athlete to reconsider their thoughts. Who wouldn’t feel entitled?

‘Top’ coaches (X and BB) have taken on the mantra that ‘an athlete should want for nothing’. This has filtered down from the professional ranks into the Academies and Schools where we are breeding athletes who cannot think for themselves. 

Our society laments the fact that these Gen Y superstars haven’t learnt from their mistakes, yet their teachers, coaches and administrators (all X & BB) have removed every consequence they should have faced: late homework? ‘Take your time’. Slept in? ‘I’ll speak to the teacher’. Stole a car and crashed it? ‘Leave it with me’. 

And when that teacher or coach tries to enforce a standard? The over-zealous parent (X or BB) would be straight on the phone to the highest authority to complain about the unfairness. Sure enough, the Authority (X or BB) would overturn the punishment; reinforcing to the Gen Y wunderkid that ‘consequences weren’t for them’.

Just this year, two of the players I coach at club level received fairly lucrative contracts to play rugby overseas. They withdrew from playing from the team that helped them get those contracts because their advisors (X & BB) told them to protect their bodies; negating the very essence we encourage team sports: we before I.

It’s possible that the Gen Y problem is our own creation, and it’s going to have to be up to us to ensure the slide doesn’t continue.

So let’s make sure our developmental pathways:

  1. Don’t pamper, but develop grit.
  2. Foster independence and ownership.
  3. Have consequences to actions.

As my mother used to say to me, ‘When you point your finger there are three fingers pointing back at you.’

Grant Jenkins is a Gen Xer who thinks that developing people is more important than getting the ‘W’. Follow him on Twitter @Grant_Jenkins.

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