Adapting to the iGeneration

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Many coaches are  struggling with the growing sense of entitlement in the iGeneration. If you aren’t then you are ahead of the pack!

Where do they get this sense of entitlement? Well, children aren’t being born differently; they are being raised differently.  So, who or what is to blame? Parents, technology, or is it just a mean prank of evolution?

Instead of asking questions that blame others, we need to ask ourselves: What can I do about it?

My Parents’ Tough Love

During my 6th and 7th grade years of school, my parents did something very simple, but very hard, that a lot of parents and coaches aren’t willing to do. My parents set an academic standard for me: All As and Bs. No Cs.  And while I wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box, it was very achievable with a little effort.

In 6th grade, during basketball season, I let my grades drop below that standard. And then my parents did something so few parents do. They didn’t yell, beg, or complain. They didn’t give me more chances. They did something simple…

They enforced the standard. That was it. They just suspended me from the basketball team until I got my grades up.

It didn’t matter that our biggest game of the season was that week! Or that the coach begged and pleaded for them to give me another chance. Or that I cried and told them I hated them. They pulled me from practices and games and every night, they helped me study and get my homework done perfectly, so I could get my grades up.

But I was hard-headed as a kid and I didn’t learn my lesson the first time. The following year, I dug myself a deeper hole, got an “F” in Latin class, and my parents pulled me off the football team. Since I was the star quarterback, the coach was just as upset as I was and without a doubt, other parents were critical of my parents as well. Still, they enforced the consequences of failing to meet the achievable standard they set and then they worked with me to get back up to that standard. Once again, there were no lectures about the importance of taking school seriously.  There was no pleading or begging for me to do my work.  Just a consequence.

After being pulled from the football team in 7th grade, that was it for me. Never again would my parents have to pull me from a team. I knew the standard and I wasn’t about to miss out on a single practice or game after that.


“They are not willing to confront players when they are not exerting maximum effort in achieving maximum performance because it’s a stressful, uncomfortable situation.”

—Anson Dorrance

My experience is far different than that of most of the newest generation (iGeneration). Today’s parents are afraid to enforce standards, so they are left with pleading and lecturing kids to work hard in school and act responsibly.  I don’t remember the last time I saw a parent pull a kid from the team due to academic performance or other behaviors.

Sometimes, it’s their fear of letting the team down, other times, it’s their fear of their child losing their spot on the team or their chance to get a college scholarship.

And it doesn’t help that today’s coaches are afraid to enforce the standards—they are so shortsighted, they rarely bench their top players who don’t meet team standards. I see coaches offer rewards or run kids to get them to practice hard, but rarely do you see a coach send a player home for the day when they fail to work hard. Why? Because coaches are afraid to lose their jobs, they’re afraid of kids transferring, and they’re afraid of parents criticizing them.

The lack of standards in sports for our newest generation not only fails to capitalize on the opportunity to develop character in sports, but it also breeds a sense of entitlement. Young people are not stupid; they understand what they can get away with and as much as they may not like a lecture, most lectures are not a painful enough consequence to get them to change their behavior.

The entitlement that comes from a lack of standards is only compounded by recruitment, as well as pressure that both coaches and parents are guilty of. My parents made me work for privileges such as basketball shoes, camps, and travel teams. Now, parents are pressuring and bribing athletes to work out and practice. I have seen parents punish their own kids for a lack of effort by making them run, while others offer promises like a new pair of shoes if they will “work harder”. Coaches aren’t any better, as they grovel and desperately plead with athletes to join their team. They try to entice them with new uniforms and team gear.

And we wonder why young people feel entitled!

The Effect of Enforcing Standards

My parents helped encourage and motivate me by enforcing a reasonable standard in a loving way. I didn’t want to be pulled from the team. I didn’t want to spend my evenings working with my parents on my homework. None of that was enjoyable. So, they created a scenario where the pain of NOT changing my work habits in school was greater than the pain of changing my habits. Thus, I started to change my actions, which helped develop good habits, and, in return, a strong work ethic. Ultimately, I developed character.

But something else happened as well. I became more grateful for the opportunity to practice and play basketball. I viewed basketball as a privilege, and as something I had to earn.

Take Action

So, how do we coach—or even parent—the entitled athlete?

We teach them to be grateful and to see sports as an opportunity they must earn, both on and off the field.

Set a standard and then enforce that standard with love and support. Don’t break or drop your standards, either to avoid conflict with athletes and parents or to buckle under the pressure of winning.

Stop desperately pursuing and pressuring players to play a sport or join your team. Instead, invite and encourage them to join—as long as they are willing to earn the opportunity, both on and off the field or court.

—J.P. Nerbun