Archives For Generation iY

Today’s blog is a guest post from a stellar athlete, Ashley Priess. Ashley was a National Champion Gymnast at the University of Alabama, who recently finished her Masters degree and now works in our office. She writes about her transition from “backpack to briefcase.” It’s a story I think most graduates will appreciate:

 students transition

It was almost 5:00 PM…and nearing the end of my first week of a real job. My head hurt, my legs ached, and my brain was about to explode. How could this be? I was sitting down all day. I stared at a computer. 8 hours and mental fatigue was hitting me like a ton of bricks. Transition.

During the last 5 years of college gymnastics, I had mastered the art of being a student-athlete. Each day brought a new and exciting challenge: a thought-provoking class, a near perfect competition, a private plane trip to a competition, new Nike apparel, or an interaction with an administrator that fueled my career dreams.  My life was busy, I learned the value of time management as I worked my tail off to earn my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, lead the student-athlete body as SAAC President, devote grueling hours to be the best gymnast I could be, and maintain a close group of friends and mentors who helped me think clearly and succeed during my 5 years at the University of Alabama.

Well…that phase is over. And no matter how many times someone advised me that I would no longer be of celebrity status in the “real world”, it was hard to believe that until facing the reality of transition. That’s me now…I’m no longer the prize of the town, my face isn’t on a billboard anymore, and people don’t recognize me for my contributions to the gymnastics team or on an everyday basis. I’m searching…searching to re-invent myself and my skills to apply to the real world.

I think about what society values in present day, and immediately Athletics comes to mind. Colleges are in a constant competition to out-do each other in facility upgrades, student life improvements, coaching salary expectations, and an overall “bling bling” results-focused lifestyle. Why is this? My belief is that athletics are one of the few categories of life that can be measured. We like tangible results…and athletics provides that from the entertainer to the fan and everyone in between. The by-product: competitive athletic departments that breed celebrity-status athletes who experience great opportunities, success and exposure.

The issue however, is what happens in the transition following those 4-5 years of college eligibility. Only about 1% of college athletes go pro. That’s 99% of NCAA student-athletes who must navigate the transition from celebrity world to real world. You see this all the time in magazines, and Google alerts: young talented athletes, movie stars, musicians, and TV hit phenomenons who experience success without perspective.

So how can student-athletes, coaches, educators, and parents help pave the way for a smooth transition? My parents breathed perspective into me by continually reminding me,

“I do gymnastics” versus “I am gymnastics”.

Gymnastics was the outlet through which I expressed my goals, my ambitions, and my personality and drive for success. It did not define me. My identity stretched far beyond my sport. My mentors and influencers throughout my life helped me gain perspective in the transition by:

  1. Encouraging me to step into campus leadership roles aside from gymnastics (my schedule was crazy, but worth it now).
  2. Encouraging me to seek out 5 friends I wanted to be like, because they would determine my future.
  3. Encouraging me to re-evaluate 6-month plans, 3-year plans, and 10-year plans every year.
  4. Encouraging me to develop business professional skills (etiquette, dress, public speaking, presentations, responsibility, time management) from my arrival on campus as a freshman and throughout my education.
  5. Encouraging me to never stop learning. This has been the source for my desire to read, seek out internships and job opportunities, and stretching me beyond my athletic talent.

I’m only 23 years old. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know what and where I will be in a year. The transition is hard yet humbling. I no longer live in a world where I’m given constant feedback via scoreboard and grades. But I’m thankful to have learned through my athletic experiences, the value of hard work. The value of using my platform to make a difference and influence lives around me. The value of patience to peak at just the right time. But the real secret? Clinging to my true north: the mentors in my life who remind me it took 23 years to reach the top tier of college athletics, and trusting it will take more than 6 months to reach that point in the workforce. A wise friend once told me,

“It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint”.

I hope to bring clarity in the midst of confusion for those of you in transition.  Now, sparks a time to transfer timeless skills; hard work, mental toughness, commitment, discipline, heart, fearlessness, and emotional maturity gained through athletics and confidently run with it in the workforce. The groundwork has been paved, it’s a new game now.

Will you thrive in the midst of discomfort? Or stick with comfortable? The choice is yours.


During September, I got a direct tweet from a friend/follower on Twitter. The sender was questioning why I used the word, “harness” as I spoke of developing young people. He felt like it implied “control” instead of releasing young people to pursue their own aspirations. It was respectful and legitimate. My message back, however, needs to take the form of a blog post…it’s just too long for a tweet.

First, let me say—I recognize the word “harness” can feel a bit controlling. If you know me, you understand I’m an opponent of trying to “control” students. In fact, I believe “connection” not control should be our aim. Control is a myth and a terrible goal. If we genuinely connect with young people, however, we’re able to guide them and as a result, the sense of being under control is a by-product. The mentor and young mentee align and make progress.

However, I still believe the word “harness” is a good word to describe what we must do for young adults.  Here’s why.

Think: Wild Stallion

Think of a wild stallion for a moment. Young adults today have grown up in a culture where they receive data on-line 24/7, can tweet their every thought or emotion and have options coming from all directions. It’s no wonder the word “overwhelmed” is the top word college student use to describe their life.

young leader

They are a little like a wild stallion. Lots of energy, but often going in many directions. They often receive no wise counsel from others. I realize this will sound a bit controversial, but twenty-somethings and teens may need exactly what an untamed horse might need:

1.    To be broken.

By this I don’t mean harmed. I mean broken of their self-absorbed ways, broken of their immature attitudes that fail to see the big picture. I needed to be broken on my first job—and I bet you did too. Life’s not about me. Like wild horses, this is a good thing. They’re exposed to a bigger picture mission.

2.    To be harnessed.

A harness is used with a horse to be able to guide them. As an analogy, I do not mean we are the “rider” or the master, but we do need a way to provide direction. We are “guides” not “gods.” This enables them to align their energy and move in a direction, like a river not a flood. They desperately need this.

3.    To be led.

Leading a horse means gently tugging a bit to the right or left, as they need help…but they do the walking or running. For a young leader, this means we show them the ropes and enable them to flourish with the insight or wisdom we’ve collected over the years, then let them run toward a goal.

It sounds so wonderful to say—we don’t want to harness kids today, but I’ve been working with students since 1979. Ugh. Helping them harness their energy is not the same as hindering them. In fact, to fail to help them harness their energy into something positive is abuse. Karaoke Parents, who want to talk like their child, look like their child, dress like their child so they can remain a “pal” more than a parent, usually don’t lead them well. They may “connect” with their teen, but they likely fail to provide the leadership their child needs to flourish as an adult. Think about it. Once a wild horse is broken and harnessed, their energy is aligned and purposeful.

I understand the wild horse analogy breaks down if you take it to an extreme. But I wanted you to understand what I mean when I say “harness.”

OK. Talk to me. What are your thoughts?


A Coach Who Stuck to His Guns

September 27, 2013 — 15 Comments

Yesterday a story broke, that I just had to comment on.

A football coach at Union High School in Utah took bold action to get the attention of his players after Friday night’s loss. Coach Matt Labrum suspended his entire team.


After discovering several of his players were cyber-bullying another student, and that nearly all of his team members were acting disrespectful to teachers and even cutting classes—he felt the boys needed to earn back the privilege to play football. So he told them so, and suspended them all.

Football Coach Suspends Whole Team

This all came after he let them know he was unhappy with their conduct and that it was unbecoming of them in the influential role they enjoyed as football players. Instead of practice this week for Friday’s game, the players had been performing community service. It didn’t do the trick—so he added a suspension. He gave his players a sheet entitled: “Union Football Character,” detailing the next steps the boys would need to take to be reinstated.

I am certain there are more angles to this story, and that I don’t know all the details, but allow me to detail why my hat is off to Coach Labrum.

When young athletes get the idea that they are indispensible; when they become cocky and disrespect others (whether they are fellow students or faculty); when they start believing that sports is the centerpiece of the universe, which allows them to do whatever they want off the field—this is the time for action.

Some caring adult must show some backbone to stand up to it.

But where do young athletes get this idea that they’re untouchable prima donna’s who can act this way?  Uh—do you think maybe it’s us, adults?  For years, we’ve excused immature behavior in student-athletes (and sometimes pro athletes) and allowed them to continue using their gifts on the field, when they don’t deserve to do so.

Why? Because we love to be entertained. We don’t want to give up seeing those youngsters throw or catch or kick that ball. So…we make excuses for them.

This not only sends a wrong signal, in my opinion, it’s a mild case of child abuse.

This is the kind of thing that enables them to grow up brats, and continue acting like “boys” even when they’ve turned 30 or 35. If you’re wondering why we read about millions of students who act entitled, arrogant and narcissistic, then here is your answer. We allow them to. We don’t have the backbone to stop the game, until they correct themselves.

Thanks Coach Matt Labrum for getting fed up with inappropriate behavior in your athletes and reminding them that humans can’t act this way, no matter how well they throw a ball or how fast they can run. It’s a reminder to us, who say we care about kids: if you want them to mature into adults with character, you must be willing to give up the team for a while. We say we care like this—but do we?

Sometimes I think we’re more concerned about building their biceps than their backbone. We get far more preoccupied with W’s and L’s than with the loss of their moral intelligence. We become more focused on cash than character. We need a reminder of what it’s all about.

Thanks for the reminder Coach Labrum.


HabitudesForAthletesWant to prepare athletes for excellence in sports and life? Check out Habitudes for Athletes.




photo credit: BabyBare11 via photopin cc

I just read a new study funded by American Express and Millennial Branding. It was all about comparing and contrasting young twenty-something employees and their managers. You may be surprise at how they saw many things alike, and others, well, not so much. I have copied a summary of the report below:

According to the study, both managers and Gen Y’s are on the same page when it comes to workplace success. However, while Gen Y workers have a positive view of their managers, believing that their managers can offer experience (59%), wisdom (41%), and a willingness to mentor (33%), managers have an overall negative view of their Gen Y employees. They feel said employees have unrealistic compensation expectations (51%), a poor work ethic (47%), and are easily distracted (46%).

On March 12th, 2012, Lightspeed Research collected survey responses from 1,000 Gen Y employees (22 to 29 year olds) and 1,000 managers across U.S. companies of all sizes, in various industries. The study examined the criteria managers look for when promoting, their impressions of Gen Y, how they view intrapreneurship and lateral moves and the role of social media in the workplace.


1. The skills managers look for when promoting Gen Y. Managers and Gen Y’s both agree that soft skills are the most important, followed by hard skills and then digital/tech savvy skills (social media). 61% of managers and 65% of Gen Y’s believe that soft skills are the most important. Both managers and Gen Y’s agree that being a subject matter expert is important to career advancement. 65% of managers and 66% of Gen Y’s say it’s either important or very important. The most important skills that managers are looking for when promoting millennials is the ability to prioritize work (87%), a positive attitude (86%) and teamwork skills (86%).

2. Managers are supportive of Gen Y’s entrepreneurial ambitions. Managers are willing to support entrepreneurial Gen Y’s who want to chase business opportunities but fewer Gen Y’s are interested in that pursuit. 58% of managers are either very willing or extremely willing to support Gen Y’s but only 40% of Gen Y’s are very interested or extremely interested in taking on new business opportunities.

3. Managers are willing to support Gen Y’s who want to move around. 73% of managers are very willing or extremely willing to support Gen Y’s who want to move within the corporation but fewer than half of Gen Y’s surveyed (48%) are either very interested or extremely interested in making the move.

4. Social media’s role in and out of the workplace. Gen Y employees feel that they should own the rights to their own social media profiles even if they use them during work hours. Fewer managers agree that their Gen Y’s should. Out of the managers, 54% said that Gen Y’s should have the rights to the profiles, yet 69% of Gen Y’s said they should have them. Only 16% of managers and 17% of Gen Y’s view using social media profiles to actively contribute to online industry conversations as either very important or extremely important.

5. The manager and Gen Y relationship on social media. When it comes to Facebook, only 14% of managers are either very comfortable or extremely comfortable being friends with Gen Y’s, while 24% of Gen Y’s said the same. When it comes to connecting on LinkedIn, 32% of Gen Y’s and 24% of their managers are either very comfortable or extremely comfortable. Gen Y’s (38%) are more comfortable making social media introductions than managers (19%).

6. Gen Y’s don’t get enough feedback at work and want mentors. Both managers (48%) and Gen Y’s (46%) give and receive annual performance reviews. 20% of managers and 19% of Gen Y’s don’t give or receive any type of formal review. 53% of Gen Y’s said that a mentoring relationship would help them become a better and more productive contributor to their company.

7. In-person meetings and email trump technology at work. Despite new technologies like Skype and social networks, traditional forms of communication are still the most common ways that both managers and Gen Y’s interact. 66% of managers say that in-person meetings are their preferred way of communicating with Gen Y’s and 62% of employees feel the same way about communication with their managers. The second most popular way of communicating between managers and Gen Y’s was email. 26% of managers and 25% of Gen Y’s prefer using email.

8. It takes time to become a manager so Gen Y’s have to be patient. More managers say that it takes at least four years or more to become a manager than Gen Y’s. 75% of managers say four years or more and 66% of Gen Y’s say the same. 32% of managers say it takes eight years or more and 27% of Gen Y’s say the same.

9. Advanced degrees aren’t required for advancement. 43% of managers say that an advanced degree can be an advantage but not required, while a mere 10% say it’s required, which is probably true for certain industries and/or professions. As for Gen Y’s, 60% say an advanced degree is either strongly recommended or recommended but not required. 22% of Gen Y’s think that it’s required.

Growing Leaders is now engaging workplaces to help them bridge the gap between generations and these youngest team members from Generation iY. If you’d like help, email Ted Weyn:


Five Upsides of Generation iY

September 25, 2013 — 1 Comment

Most of you who read this blog are familiar with the challenges of teaching, coaching or parenting this emerging generation of students, the ones born since 1990 that I call Generation iY. Adults must be more intentional than ever about cultivating life skills and emotional intelligence in these “screenagers” today. Most of what you’ll read on these young adults is negative—in magazines, journals and nationwide surveys.

generation iy

However—it’s easy to forget the incredible “upside” to these students. They possess characteristics, based on the culture they’ve grown up in, that we can capitalize on, enabling them to become incredible adults as they mature. I just spoke about these at Kansas State University to staff and coaches: 

1. They feel special and are confident.

This research has remained constant for over a decade. Young people from Gen Y enter school and sports with a confidence that reflects how they’ve been affirmed by mom and dad. 86% of high school students believe the next “Bill Gates” is in their generation; 51% believe they “know” the next Bill Gates; 24% believe they “are” the next Bill Gates. Receiving trophies and ribbons throughout childhood and being praised by family has enabled many to be bold and audacious in their dreaming. We must help them align their strengths with those dreams and take wise risks.

2. They are social and love operating in community.

The average high school student is disconnected from friends only one hour in a 24- hour day. Many sleep and even shower with their cell phones—they love staying in touch. Half of teens today show up high “I” on the DISC profile. They see themselves as a social generation that can multi-task, text and communicate with others; they’re the new TGIF Generation, except theirs is about: Twitter, Google, Instagram and Facebook. Their native tongue: social media. We must help them use these amazing skills for redemptive purposes and prevent them from being overwhelmed by it all.

3. They are tech-savvy and intuitive with portable devices.

Pew Research tells us that teens would rather give up their “pinky finger” than their cell phone. They put technology in the same category as “air and water.” It’s like an appendage to their body. In the Land of Tomorrow, we are the “immigrant” and they are the “native.” They will learn more from a portable device than a classroom. We all know—technology isn’t going away. So, we must enable them to control it rather than vice versa and learn to utilize it well, as they pursue their mission in life.

4. They love family and want to create it wherever they go.

This one has remained constant over ten years of research. Teens continue to love family and want to “create family” in their college experience, their jobs and on their teams. In one annual nationwide high school survey, high school students were asked the question: Who is your hero? For the first time in years, they did not list an athlete at the top of the list. Number one was mom and dad. Number two was grandma and grandpa. In response, we do well to create a sense of trust and support as we put them to work and guide them as mentors.

5. They are aware of their influence and want to use it.

Young adults in Generation iY have grown up in a world where they know that one of their tweets could go viral; one of their YouTube posts could go viral; one of their blogs could go viral…you get the picture. This is a new day where one touch of a screen or button can send a message to thousands. Receiving Likes, Comments, Retweets and Views is the new currency. Influence is a conscious thing. So, we must help them channel that influence into places that result in positive outcomes.

I get excited about the possibilities for their future. Are you ready to lead them?

I’m certain you’ve seen other positive characteristics in young people. Let me know what you see.