Tough Love: How Millennials as Parents Will Change Youth Sports

Millennial Mom at Swim MeetThe millennial generation is keeping the hotel industry up at night.

I recently attended a conference hosted by corporate Marriott and the #1 topic of the three-day event was how millennials’ expectations are changing the hospitality business. Millennials play by their own rules, which also impacts us in the youth sports business and that should keep us up at night too.

Who Are Millennials?
The millennial generation is most commonly defined as those born from 1980-2000, so they are approximately 14-34 years old. For this blog, we will focus on 20-34-year-olds. They are also known as Gen Y, the Boomerang Generation, the Me Generation and even the Peter Pan Generation. According to Marriott, they will comprise 50% of the work force in just five years as more Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) start to retire. Forty five percent will be racial or ethnic minorities, according to Experian Marketing. They are also reaching their prime spending years. Today, it is mostly older parents sitting at swim practice, but that day will change soon. Millennials are the business travelers of tomorrow and the parents making choices for their kids’ activities.

The “Rep” on Millennials
The harsh reputation of millennials is that they are impatient, lazy, entitled and have a closet full of trophies. Every generation is known to disparage the generation that follows. Dare we acknowledge the next generation is better than us? Let’s settle for just saying they are different. That way we compromise and everyone gets a ribbon (sorry, couldn’t help myself). They would rather lose their car than their cell phone. They want to be rewarded for daily actions with nearly 70% saying they would change where they shopped if it meant getting more program rewards, according to eMarketer. Millennials also want to be promoted at least every two years in the workplace. They grew up in a Facebook (for now), Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram culture and want to be communicated to in short bites. What used to be a full lecture is now defined by an 18-minute TED talk.

 parents on phone at event 2The Reality
Don’t shake your head and get fooled by the “rep” though. That would be missing the point. Millennials are tech driven, with almost every one of them having a cell phone. They are more social and they care about the world more than other generations. They are inspired by causes. They want to be part of a unique experience and then share it, immediately. They are more comfortable “being alone together” in a public space with their device as long as that place has a good vibe. Ordinary is their enemy. Their life is an experience to share and they are the star. Experian also says they are more aspirational with 46 percent wanting to start their own business and they are more optimistic about the future of the economy.

How Do We Become More Millennial Friendly?
There is some good news. In a recent USA Swimming research study* we found 36% of millennials were most likely to consider swimming for their kids, the highest segment by 10% or more. Just know they are instant secret shoppers and will share their experience – good or bad – faster than any other customer. Understanding this group is vital to your business, as this is the next wave of parents, and even young, assistant coaches in your program! Here are a few ideas on how to adapt:

Add Wifi – They get it free in airports, coffee shops and public places. They expect it. (This is a great way to recognize a sponsor by the way.)

Add Power – Literally. This device driven culture needs juice!

Add Flare – I recently attended a gymnastics meet for my daughter. It was an extremely ordinary meet, but it had a 1980s music theme, which provided Twitter material, countless topics of conversation and a few scarring memories of my teen years. Give them a reason to share normally ordinary moments.

Get Behind a Cause – Create cause-driven programs to get them engaged such as learning to swim or a supporting local charity that has a connection. Community service opportunities feed their desire to make the world better and further engage them with your team.

Show Some Personality – It’s recommended that coaches’ personal social media accounts keep professional distance from parents and athletes on social media, but your club accounts can (and should) show personality and fun. Make it very visual and show what your team is about. If you’re not on Instagram, start an account soon. The application ranked as the most important social network, exceeding Twitter and Facebook for the first time in survey history, according to Piper Jaffray.

Keep it Short – It’s a 140-character world and is even more about visual imagery. Don’t write 1,000 word blogs. (Oops!)

What’s In it for Me? – With so many options for people’s entertainment, you need to remain top of mind and pertinent in their minds. What do you have to offer in your team that is a “must have” that they can’t get anywhere else?

Be Inspirational AND Informational – Mix in some daily motivation to your social media updates. Engage them with more than just practice time updates.

Create Rewards – They want to be rewarded for credit card usage, hotel stays and grocery store purchases, so create ways to reward them and their kids for volunteer hours, meeting certain performance levels, etc.

Provide Live Results – They can follow stocks, news and every sporting event in real-time. They expect the same with your activities.

Go Digital – Paper heat sheets are so old school and kill trees.

Mom Taking Photo at EventCreate a Photo Zone – Now, parents cram in with each other to get the best shot of their kids. Create a roped off area for parents to get the best vantage point for pics of their kids. They can rotate in and out, because they sure as heck don’t care about your kid!

Be Mobile – 50% of the traffic to is now coming from a handheld device, such as a phone or tablet. Your club website should similarly adapt. Think mobile first, web second.

Do You Have Other Ideas?
No matter what you do, be authentic with your ideas. If you’re trying too hard to be cool, you won’t be. Share your ideas with us and we will post the best ones (and then give you a ribbon).

* = 2014 State of the Competitive & Fitness Swimming Industry Report. Find the executive summary here.


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4 replies

  1. “In a recent USA Swimming research study* we found 36% of millennials were most likely to consider swimming for their kids, the highest segment by 10% or more.”

    Interesting. I wonder what drove this surge in swimming interest. Perhaps Michael Phelps, a millennial himself, brought swimming into the forefront. I’ve read that fewer kids are playing baseball and football now than they used to, perhaps swimming is stealing some of them away?

    • I came to a similar thought, which was especially interesting to me as a millennial [born in 90] and a competitive swimmer from 95 until 2005.
      I’ve always thought very highly of swimming as a sport, safe exercise, and mental and physical development.
      I hope this trend continues.

  2. I think there are a lot of factors coming together – Michael, Missy, Ryan are great ones. I think the sport is also promoting itself more. The phenomenal ratings of NBC and the Olympics and Olympic Trials all contribute also. A lot of good signs right now! The other big factor is parental influence – more Boomers and Gen X parents learned to swim than previous generations, so they started the Millennials out with good habits!


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