I hit â€œSend Messageâ€ and waited.
My head began to spin â€¦ I muttered, â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with these athletes â€” why donâ€™t they respond?â€
- Do they hate me?
- Have they quit?
- Were they kidnapped?
- Are they conspiring against me?
Nothing but silence. Argh â€¦
Youâ€™ve probably had the same experience
Many coaches asked, â€œhow do I get athletes to respond to emails,â€ in my digital impact survey. Itâ€™s something that annoys a lot coaches â€” not just me.
Hereâ€™s the good thingâ€¦its an issue WE can do something about.
Hereâ€™s the bad thingâ€¦WE are probably the problem.
Itâ€™s a generational thing
If you coach high-school or college athletes, then you coach a very special generation â€” the â€œMillennials.â€ Born between 1984-2002 (thereâ€™s no agreement on these actual dates) they are the first generation of digital natives. Their lives have always had computers and email and quick communications.
They are comfortable around different platforms and quick exchanges. And drumroll please â€¦ THEY prefer YOU communicate with them on THEIR terms.
And if you donâ€™t communicate their way, then youâ€™re not going to get an answer.
As I found out.
So, How Do You Get Responses?
Hereâ€™s a few questions to consider:
- Do YOU have to communicate by email?
- Are YOU open to trying other methods?
- Have you discussed with your athletes what method THEY prefer?
Hold onto your answers for a moment.
Yâ€™see, the email thing drove me nuts. Then I realized that I can get a timely response, if I did a little tweaking.
So I tweaked and hereâ€™s what I did.
A) I meet them where they are. This generation values the right tool for the right job. Email might have worked for me â€” but it did not work for them. Which means it no longer worked for me â€¦ right?
So I asked what they used, and then starting using it.
To reach my team quickly, itâ€™s GroupMe.
To reach individuals fast itâ€™s SMS (texting).
For info to be digested later, its email.
Phones hardly get answered.
Thatâ€™s what they prefer. I didnâ€™t. They did. So now I do.
I look at it this way â€” who wins if I were to take a stand and demand they use email? Not me. And not the team.
Yet, there are times when I HAVE to send email.
B) I send only necessary emails. When I HAVE to send an email (say, an important message from the College needing action) Iâ€™ll forward that to the athletes. And Iâ€™ll send along a group text prompting them to answer the email. I donâ€™t send wasted emails such as â€œI appreciate that â€¦â€ or â€œno worriesâ€, because those get in the way.
Also, I â€¦
C) Set their expectations. I told the team we will need to communicate for many reasons (schedule changes, emergencies, organizational issues, etc.). So they knew I was going to send them emails to respond to. Usually no more than once a week. And they let me know they get a lot of email so if there was something that I had to send by email,
I needed to â€¦
D) Use the subject lines smartly. When sending an email that needed a response, I am specific in the subject line. If I need an immediate response, Iâ€™ll put [Immediate Response Need]. If itâ€™s a mission critical missive that doesnâ€™t need a response, Iâ€™ll put in the subject line [Read NOW, no response needed].
Another tweak to my system that helps my emails get through is I â€¦
E) Set a time. We often have practice time changes due to weather. Our team knows that by 3:30 pm each day Iâ€™ll send out an email with any changes. So they know to check their email by then.
I also â€¦
F) Set a date. Every Sunday night I send an email to the team that outlines the schedule for the upcoming week. Here's a sample:
Itâ€™s not live-rocket-surgery, or original (I borrowed it from a neighbor-coach), but it works.
Another tweak Iâ€™ve done is â€¦
G) I try to be the example. There are times when the athletes send me an email. For instance, a recommendation request to be a peer mentor. As soon as that arrives I do my best to be the example of how I want them to act.
Iâ€™ll send a brief email to the athlete along the lines of, â€œI just got your request, and will get to it as soon as my schedule allows.â€ After Iâ€™ve completed the form, I let the athlete know, by email, itâ€™s completed. All the while acting like I want them to act.
I also let the team know that I â€¦
H) Learn and try new tools. This is an important step. Hotter & Grant reported, â€œMillennials are comfortable in a digital world where improvement is continuous and learning happens all the time. In fact, they are a little puzzled that [others] do not have the same emphasis on learning and development.â€ This was in their book, When Millennials Take Over.
By trying to learn a new method of communicating, Iâ€™m showing the athletes that Iâ€™m trying to meet them where they are. And for this generation, thatâ€™s important.
Try This For YOU!
Try just one of those actions and see if after a week or two, you donâ€™t get a bit more responses. They have helped my emails get through and improved my response rate. But I know if I need a quick responses I donâ€™t count on email.
â€” â€” â€”
Is this something you struggle with? Do you have other suggestions you could share? Iâ€™d love to know what works and what doesnâ€™t. Itâ€™s how we all get better.
Thereâ€™s a great week ahead for you. Enjoy it!
PS: Speaking of helping us get better, Iâ€™m working on my next book, Coaching Sports In A Digital World (working title). Hereâ€™s the thing, Iâ€™m looking for coaches who have a story or tweak theyâ€™d like to share. If youâ€™re interested, you can drop me an email by clicking right here. (Iâ€™ll respond, promise). Who knows, you might just end up in a book ; )
And my recent book, Build Your Team, will be back from the editors shortly. It will be sold through Amazon but you can get a copy for no cost by clicking right here. (And if youâ€™ve completed the survey already, your copy will be coming PDQ)
Either or both steps could help us all get better. Thanks.