How to help your gymnastics clubs connect with Gen Z

RACHEL DOHERTY

Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen

Is your gymnastics club struggling to keep kids engaged in the sport? Generation Z kids are different, and need a new approach to keep them turning up and tuned in.

Most gymnastics clubs, and sporting clubs for that matter, like to stick to a winning formula. Doing things they way they always had when running their programs and activities. But if you’ve noticed your enrollments dropping, it could be a sign that those old ways are now just too old.

Generation Z is here and if you’re working with kids, you have to understand what makes them tick. Especially if they’re you’re customers.

“Gymnastics taught me everything – life lessons, responsibility, discipline and respect.”

SHAWN JOHNSON

I’ve written another article about Generation Z and what their lives look like. But if you don’t know much about this generation, then let me give you the basics.

They were born between 1995 and 2009. The eldest are moving into the world of work or finishing off their university studies. The youngest are all in school now. And the world they know is still quite new to the rest of us.

Think about how much life has changed since the year 2000:

  • In 2000 digital cameras started replacing the old film roll you had to send off for processing
  • USB sticks, GPS and text messages were all introduced in 2000 too
  • WiFi and Wikipedia started in 2002
  • 2004 saw the launch of Google and Facebook for the masses
  • 2005 YouTube kicked off
  • In 2007 the iPhone heralded the arrival of the smart phone, with the first inbuilt camera

It’s these technological changes that have created a new way of life for Generation Z that most of us just dabble with in comparison.

“Gymnastics uses every single part of your body, every little tiny muscle that you never even knew.” – Shannon Miller

The hallmarks of Generation Z

The problem of lumping all kids into a “generation” is that there’s a lot of stereotyping. Not all kids will fit the trends.

But there’s a lot of science and researching involved in social demographics today. It makes these stereotypes well informed and worth paying attention to. Particularly when you’re looking at the bigger picture of what you do.

Here’s ten things every gymnastics club should note about Generation Z:

  1. They’re adaptive. Change is a constant in their lives. The world of work they’re entering has no certainty, so they need to be adaptive and adopt things early. Lucky for them, they’ve had lots of practice at it already.
  1. They’re reinventing multitasking. They take information in bite sized chunks, often from many channels at once. This multi-streaming has an impact on how they learn and think. Their focus is on doing things with speed not accuracy. In an the economy driven by productivity, these are vital skills for kids.
  1. They have a strong moral compass. These kids have or watched big events unfold that earlier generations weren’t exposed to at the same age. They have a strong commitment to human rights, social justice, equity and fairness. They want to make the world a better place and are willing to do something about it.
  1. They’re familiar with the frantic pace of life. Their lives are more scheduled than any generation before them. They’ll spend longer at school than ever before too. With both parents working in many homes, there’s less family time to download the ups and downs of life. This has an impact on how they process thoughts and feelings.
  1. Their digital and physical world is one. They use social media like we use a handbag. They’re early adopters and adapt technology to fit their needs. Without the ingrained expectations we hang onto.
  1. They’re discerners, not just consumers. They’re not passive when it comes to receiving information, they question it and consider different perspectives. Not always true ones, but they’re far less accepting than we were at their age. Kids can spot a shonky scam from miles away!
  1. Their world limits risks. Governments have worked hard to prevent harm and minimised risks. So most Generation Z kids like to play it safe. They’re not as impulsive as kids might once have been. Gymnastics is a sport designed to walk the narrow path between risk and safety. So for many Generation Z kids this can lead fear issues or recklessness from their lack of experience.
  1. They value social connection. Erica McWilliam wrote an article about teaching Generation Z and pointed out that they appreciate “social interactivity over passive receptivity”. Today’s kids are looking for adults to journey with them, to give them space to work it out themselves rather than telling them how to do things.
  1. Talk is over-rated in their eyes. They’re more into doing and seeing, so a long lecture is a waste of time.
  1. They’re still kids. Generation Z is curious. They want to challenge the way things are, so they can work out who they are and where they fit in the world.

How to create programs for Generation Z

If you want programs that are attractive to today’s children and teenagers, you have to build them around three promises: fun, friendship and fanfare.

Fun

There has to be an element of play in what you offer young people to keep them coming back.

For most Generation Z kids the rest of their life is full of seriousness, particularly at school. So don’t offer just to teach them skills. Whether it’s letting them design their own beam routines or putting them in charge of a strength circuit, there’s lots of ways to build fun into your everyday programs.

And don’t forget the role of technology in their lives. The use of video, whether on their phones or a Go-Pro can really lift the fun factor.

Friendship

It’s a myth that Generation Z are isolated by their use of technology. Today’s kids are more connected than ever and are just as good at forming childhood friendships as we were. But for them it takes place in structured activities, not on the street in front of their house.

Cement their friendships by having special days, sleepovers and camps.

Fanfare

They live in a world where everything is measured and rated. So celebrating their achievements and challenge them to go higher. Whether it’s chasing PB’s (personal bests) or pausing to watch a child show off their newly acquired skill, there’s lots of ways to celebrate development without it all being about medals, ribbons and trophies.

The secret to having programs kids want to be part of, is being willing to listen. To take the time to hear what matters to them and what they’d like to do, not assuming you know best. You have a much better chance of keeping them engaged if you pose questions and problems for them to solve. Get them to use what they already know and what they think might work.

Gymnastics is a sport built on traditions. The technicalities of getting skills right and putting a routine together. But there’s some great examples of creative ways of doing beam complexes or mid-body workouts that draw on other sports or areas of life.

Give kids space to try new ways of doing things. You can be sure that if they enjoy it, they’ll be even more motivated to keep coming back.

Keeping Generation Z kids involved in your gymnastics club

If you want to be a club that keeps kids well into their teenage years you have to see them as valuable customers. We live in a consumer society, and if your gymnasts feel you don’t value them, they’ll go to one of the hundreds of other things they could be doing with their time.

Think about intentionally focusing on these four things:

  1. Create pathways. Help kids to stay involved in your gymnastics club by offering different pathways. Not everyone will want to or be capable of making the next level, so give them options to move into less competitive or team gymnastics programs. Or offer other areas of the sport, like coaching or judging, or even to be part of the office management team.
  1. Treat them with respect. Don’t talk down to them or talk behind their back. Generation Z kids will give respect to you when you show it first and then have firm boundaries. Gone are the days where you get automatic respect for being older and wiser, you need to earn it first.
  1. Make gymnastic about something bigger than them. Give them opportunities to use what they’re doing to help others. Tap into that social justice mindset they have by raising money for a good cause or getting them involved in teaching others.
  1. Gamification. This is a learning concept where you use the elements of games to keep people engaged. Generation Z love a challenge, and will often work harder for a “prize” like earning badges or “levelling up”. Just make the rules of the game clear to everyone and stick to them.

Change can be a hard thing for sporting clubs, particularly those with a long tradition. If you’re finding there’s an increase in the number of kids coming and going, it’s time to look at how you’re catering to the unique needs of Generation Z. Tweak your programs to keep them engaged and feel valued.

If you need some guidance to get started, print out this free checklist to help bringing your programs into the 21st Century today.

What do you think? Have you found working with Generation Z gymnasts requires a different approach? I’d love you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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