Why Organizations Lose Young People

Working with teenagers and people into their early twenties is not the same as working with adults. Many people say that in the context of biological and mental development. I am saying it in the context of experience.

When talking about values, ownership, buy-in and commitment a 40 year old woman has experience with those things, both personally and professionally. She can choose employers, religious institutions, brands etc. based on her own values. When she presents these things to one of her peers they can agree or disagree with her. They can listen to her or walk away. They can grow together, learn together or move on.

When working with young people they have not lived through enough experiences to understand how values are formed. They don’t know who they are yet and therefore are not ready to commit.

When working with younger people you need to change your perspective. If you present them with your value system and beliefs and expect them to take ownership and buy in you will be confronted by a wall. They will not want to do what you want them to do. This is not because what you are presenting to them is bad, it’s because you have not allowed them the opportunity to develop themselves.

Everyone needs to come to their own understanding about who they are and why they will undertake future challenges. In order to retain young people you do not need them to buy-in to what you believe, you need to lead them through a process of self discovery. They need to make their own decisions about what they believe and what they will do.

If you are not willing to let young people set their own values, beliefs, and goals you will not successfully develop and retain exceptional young people. 


Coach K

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Transformational Experiences

Many organizations that work with people, youth groups, schools, coaching organizations, sports teams, HR departments try to offer opportunities and experiences that transform people’s lives for the better. Working with teens the most common and lauded ways to do this are weekend conventions and summer camps. Whether these are academic, religious, sports etc. centered experiences they are usually good things. The people attending them have great experiences and have great memories and may even learn a thing or two. However there is always a kind of hangover and regression back to the norm that happens when everyone leaves.

                No matter how “good” these experiences are we cannot deny that we have failed to transform lives. You can provide great speaking, loads of fun, accurate teaching and whatever else you want, but if everyone just goes back to normal, you aren’t providing a transformational experience.

                Weekend conventions are simply too short and most summer camps provide more fun than whatever they claim to be peddling (spiritual growth, academic learning, leadership development). Transformational change requires a lot of work, complete dedication, emotional experiences, rational decisions and a serious helping of relationship building.

                If your organization wants to change lives, you need to get people out of their comfort zone, away from their friends and into a new environment. You need to keep them there and work them to the point of exhaustion.

                If a person has a great experience for a weekend/week (no commitment) with their friends (no new perspectives) and is provided a comfy chair to learn from (no struggle), they have not gained anything new. They will still be themselves when they go back.

                Create a program where they cry, sweat and bleed. Create a program where they can’t rely on anything familiar. Create a program they will never forget, not because it was an unforgettably “good”, but because it changed who they were. 


Coach K

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Fear: Game Time

When confronted by fear you really only have two major options. Step up or get out of the way. I am scared of heights and this fall I had the opportunity to supervise a camping and rappelling trip for high school students. There is a lot going on in this video. Encouragement from teenagers, huffing and puffing from a terrified grown man…. a bark. I will expand on it once I learn more about posting videos to wordpress.

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Follow the Leader

Have you ever thought your boss, teacher, coach or friend was wrong? Have you ever had a feeling that something you were doing wasn’t quite as good as it could be? What about the opposite situation. What about when you completely trust your boss? What if you have placed yourself in a team known for high achievement? Before I continue, watch this video…




First of all, these penguins are hilarious. Second, it is a perfect illustration of how we can get tangled up in a culture of blindness. The first penguin did nothing wrong. It took a chance at a possible solution to their problem. It worked, the penguin got beyond the rope, but it certainly wasn’t ideal. Then, all the other penguins did it the same way, almost every one of them fell flat on their face.

One of the situations that this happens to us, as humans, is when a leader or organization has a traditional way of doing something. Most of the followers know it isn’t great, but it’s “the way things are done”. Traditions aren’t necessarily bad, until they start hurting us. Keep your traditions, build new ones. Traditions help build identity for a team. However, never allow yourself to fall to in love with traditions. If you do, then people will become afraid of questioning them. Once you stop questioning, you stop innovating. Once you stop innovating you become stagnant.

The second way this blind following happens is when you have a great leader or organization. I know I have followed people who it is very hard to question. Not because they create a culture of fear, or do not want the criticism, but because they are right all of the time, because I generally agree with them. However, in order to grow and avoid stagnancy we need to question the good people too.

I remember one time I was helping lead a hike. At one point in the hike we were supposed to stop for a swim. We had heard some thunder earlier but the skies were clear. The leader of the hike allowed the students to go for a swim. I was a little uneasy about it but I thought because the leader was ok with it, that everything would be fine. A few minutes into the swim there was a loud crash of thunder and we rushed everyone out of the water. It was pretty scary.

I still trust that leader 100%. I would follow him anywhere. However, I learned a valuable lesson that day. I tend to be a person on a team with contrary ideas. I like to think differently and throw wrenches in other peoples plans in an effort to make them better. If I feel something is wrong I speak up. However, that day I learned that I need to speak up even when everything feels right, even when the person speaking has been right every time previously.

“If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking” – Benjamin Franklin

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What is a Coach

Today I got the news that my high school football coach Rob Martell had passed away. I do not think it has fully sunk in, but my day has been filled with memories. I remember grade 12 fairly well. I thought, at the time, that Coach Martell was an angry old fart. He was hilarious and kind of a jerk. I loved it. I still do. I remember the crazy dress up days and how frustrated he was when i showed up in spandex. He chirped me all practice…. but i looked great. He was speechless the next week when I stole Jenny Zwickers (we had a girl on our provincial championship team) clothes and wore them to practice. 

I remember when I ran a 70 yard touchdown, up the middle of the field, as a fullback. I was pumped, I actually scored 5 touchdowns that game. I got back to the bench after what would end up being the longest touchdown run of my career and all my coach said was “”that was the slowest run I have ever seen. You ate up the entire quarter”… what a turd. 

I remember he used to throw a tackling dummy at me when I was running the ball in practice. it weighed 50 lbs or more. I am actually fairly certain it was a punching bag. This eventually evolved into what became known as “Kill Nathan Day”. Two practices a week were dedicated to the starting defense. I would line up with the backup offense with instructions from my coach to “Run through everyone as hard as you can because they are going to beat the hell out of you, and I want them to do it”. after sharing these three stories, I am not certain if Coach liked me or not. But he knew what I needed.

he knew I needed to be pushed. That in order to achieve greatness on the football field I needed to be run through the dirty, beat up and hammered daily, verbally and physically in order to be able to rise to any occasion. 

I have no natural athletic talent. I have short legs, small hands and I have had a beer gut since before I knew what beer was. I couldn’t catch a pass or sprint to save my own life. My coach used to make me catch 25 passes before every game just to make sure I wouldn’t screw up when the time came to do it in a game (because i dropped every pass that came at me in practice). 

My coach always yelled the words “Mental Toughness” through every single practice. His greatest lesson was about the power of will. Rocky said “It’s not about how hard you can hit. Its about how hard you can get hit and keep on going”. Rob wasn’t a movie star. He spat everywhere when he spoke (he mostly yelled), but he spent a large part of his life teaching, mentoring and working with youth so that they had the opportunity to learn this valuable lesson. 

At the time I thought this lesson was about being tougher than your opponent. Taking all the hits they throw at you and rumbling on anyway. I was good at that, I built a reputation on it. But now that I am older I can appreciate the real lesson my coach was teaching. He wanted us to know that life was Fredericton High School. Life wants to ruin your day. There are people who want to tear you down. You wont always get what you want. You will fail to meet expectations. You will fail. these are harsh realities.

You can’t avoid hardship, hurt and sorrow. Successful people are mentally tough though. they get back up, they hit back. The get over it and rumble over, through or by whatever just knocked them down. 

My coach taught me to win. He taught me to take a hit and give one. He taught the slowest most useless athlete on the team that toughness not only had its place, but could score 13 touchdowns… one of which was through the air. He gave me a role and mentored me to the point where I could look back at my football career and be proud. 

He was my coach.

Coach K.

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