For the past 3 years, I coached wrestling at Augsburg College, a small ELCA college in Minneapolis. That time has given me the gift of hanging out with young adults – wrestlers, in specific. Because of the nature of the sport and the coach-athlete relationship, I’ve learned some important lessons about young adults and their lives.
1. Athletes are typical young adults. If you grew up disliking athletes/athletics in school and still do, I’d say get past it. The only thing “typical” about young adults is that they don’t fit any mold – and don’t wish to for the most part.
2. Young Adults are easy to love, but can be really hard to like. I love my athletes like little brothers and sons even….but they piss me off too. They miss practices, make excuses, their fail classes, they sell themselves short, etc.
3. Young adults are ideological – which is both good and bad. They’ll say some profound and great things, and some boneheaded and insensitive things too.
4. Young adults are gonna “do what they do,” in the words of one of my wrestlers. Which means to me, stop trying to convince them of whatever YOU think is important for them.
5. It takes A LOT of time and effort to earn their trust…..
6. ….and the best way to do that is simply be yourself around them.
7. Young adults like knowing you’re a person of deep faith – even if they’re not. Go ahead and talk about it; just don’t proselytize. (See #5 & 6)
8. Young adults are dealing with a ton of stuff in their lives…..but they won’t tell you.
9. But if you’re paying attention to the non-verbal cues, and you simply ask – they will.
10. Young adults can be some of the most insecure and fearful people I know – and they’ll do just about anything to cover it up. Wrestlers are the worst offenders, I’ve found.
And, the “bonus insight.”
“Young adults” hate being called “young adults.” To the older generations’ question of “how do we get young people (adults) back in church?” a friend of mine replied, “Stop calling us young people.”
Maybe if we simply starting seeing them as people – meaning we accept them on their terms, and also hold them accountable for their action/inaction or words/silence, the divide wouldn’t exist so much.
Because when I come to think of it, I don’t think of any of the athletes I’ve coached as “young adults.” They’re simply my athletes…they’re simply people living, trying to make their way in this world, and at times trying to make sense of it – just like you and me.