What Football Can Teach About Managing Millennials

What Football Can Teach Us About Managing MillennialsSports metaphors have always invaded the business world: We “throw Hail Marys” and “make game-day decisions.” And, as a new football season kicks off, the connection between business and sports is everywhere.

I’ve taken particular notice this year because football teams have started to talk about the ways they’re adapting their tactics for a new generation of millennial players. No matter which team you’re cheering for this fall (Go Giants!), these strategies for managing millennials — and all employees —  are ones any manager would be wise to consider for your leadership playbook.

The San Francisco 49ers Tackle Shorter Attention Spans

Players arriving at the San Francisco 49ers 2015 training camp were greeted by some millennial-friendly changes: enhanced digital playbooks, weekly briefings on social media and a new meeting schedule. While meetings had traditionally dragged on for two hours, this year they were broken into 30-minute blocks with 10-minute breaks in between so players could check their phones and recharge.

From the locker room to the boardroom: These coaches are changing they way they do things to meet their players’ needs — instead of expecting things to work the other way around. Wouldn’t we all benefit from shorter, more focused meetings? Millennials aren’t the only ones with shorter attention spans these days.

Chicago Bears Quarterback Makes an Effort to Understand His Younger Teammates

Why would you watch someone else play a video game on the Internet, wonders Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. It’s hard to believe he might be out of touch at age 32, but in football years, he’s the “old man” on the team. He might not get his younger teammates, but he gets that it’s important to try to understand them. If that means watching them play video games online to understand them better, he says he’s up for it.

From the locker room to the boardroom: Sure, your employees’ social lives and pastimes seem bizarre to you. But does it hurt to try to understand? I’m a huge fan of reverse mentoring — older colleagues learning from younger colleagues — in the workplace and out of it.

University of Oregon Coaches Take a Kinder, Gentler Approach

The caricature of a football coach is often a red-faced, shouting drill sergeant. But University of Oregon football coach Mark Helfrich and his staff, who led the Ducks to the National Championship game in January, have stopped the screaming. They might not be hugging it out, but they’ve embraced a gentler approach that resonates with the younger generation.

“When you put your arm around a guy and say, ‘This is how it could be done better,’ they understand you care about them and want what’s best for the team,” said Marcus Mariota, Oregon’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

Another harsh tradition they’re ditching: routine two-a-day preseason practices, which the coaches hated when they were the players.

From the locker room to the boardroom: This is a prime example of a coaching staff displaying a concept I recently discussed: Do you want to do what’s effective or what was done to you? Sure, there could be someone on your team who responds to yelling, but most people don’t. In my latest book, Becoming The Boss, I talk to U.S. Paralympic athlete and wheelchair basketball coach Jeremy Lade, who says he has found “command and control” coaching no longer works across the board. He has realized he must find out what motivates each individual on his team — as do today’s managers.

Managers, where is your company making changes to respond to millennials’ learning and working styles? Millennials, what management style works best for you?

Lindsey Pollak helps the world’s top organizations understand the millennial generation and thrive in today’s multigenerational workplace. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to learn how she can help your organization understand and connect with millennials.

Share this post

hi, i'm lindsey!

Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


Learn 25 Practical Ways to Manage Across Generations