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Generation Z

Gen Z’s Love Affair With Sports

The obsession around sports is evident among multiple generations. Perhaps it’s the intergenerational relationships it fosters. Or with Gen Z, it’s likely the competitive nature ingrained with them. So, how will workplaces harness this trait?


They’re kind of a funny thing, aren’t they? Millions of people put their hearts on the line for a seemingly trivial contest, testing the ability of athletes to achieve greatness. We glorify sports so much to the point where people are willing to spend ridiculous amounts of money to attend sporting events and cheer on their favorite teams.

Nowhere is this more evident than the phenomenon of the Super Bowl, which just took place in my home state of Minnesota. And while it wasn’t quite as exciting as it would’ve been had my Vikings been in the big game (UGH), it was an incredible opportunity to showcase our state on a national stage. But why is the Super Bowl such a big deal? It was only for one football game, right?

Not necessarily. If you think about it, sports may be the only truly intergenerational aspect remaining in our society. Being a Gen Z, I’m going to remember Tom Brady and Lebron James as my childhood idols. Our parents, Gen X, will think of Michael Jordan and Joe Montana as their heroes. But above all, what we remember are our teams and the memories that we can associate with sports.

For example, I will never forget the absolute mayhem when I was in the stands during the famous Minnesota Miracle. And I happened to be with my grandfather. I challenge you to think of any venue other than sports where all generations can experience that emotional roller coaster in an incredible setting. Luckily for all us sports fans, the party isn't stopping, since we still have the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Another reason Gen Z is so enamored with sports is because we have been raised to compete –in school, sports, and life in general. We obsess over our GPAs, ACT/SAT scores, and class rank. We carry the mindset that we are not necessarily at school to learn, but rather to get good grades. We also put a huge emphasis on competitive youth sports, part of which stems from our parents’ competitiveness.

This trend of competition is surely going to carry into the workforce. When asked, “What would make Gen Z most excited to apply for a job?” in a global survey conducted by XYZ U, the top answer was a good salary. This is simply because we are driven by numbers. Another impact of our competitive mindset, shown in survey responses, is that 72% of Gen Z want to be entrepreneurs. See other survey findings and the full white-paper on Generation Z here.

Above all, the common theme that I’m seeing within my own generation is that sports, whether it be high school or the pros, isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s only growing! And it’s because of our fierce competitive mindset that has grabbed a hold of young people and gotten us so energized about sports.

Now, the challenge stands tall. How can your organization use that competitive mindset to get Gen Z on your team?

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Josh Miller

Josh Miller is a passionate and informed advocate for his generation—Gen Z. He started speaking on national stages at the age of 13. Now, at the age of 16, he’s an award-winning entrepreneur and thought-leader who has met and been mentored by several notable business leaders. Miller brings considerable research and insight to his presentations, drawing on his experiences as both a high school student and a young consultant to Fortune 500 companies. His presentations resonate with audiences that want to learn how to engage today’s students and young professionals, and glean valuable insights into future workforce trends.

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