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Want to Reach Millennials? A Simple Trick From a Successful, 70-Year-Old Basketball Coach

Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski is gearing up for another NCAA tournament run. Here’s how he reaches his players–despite being 50 years their senior.

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BY Justin Bariso - 13 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Connecting with younger generations has always been challenging. For centuries, older people have felt that the youth speak a different language... and with the rise of texting and emojis as tools of communication, that communication gap seems to widen.

Which is what makes Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski so remarkable. Coach K (as he's affectionately known to players and fans) is known for building quality relationships with his young players, despite being about 50 years their senior. He's also a proven success, having led his team to five national championships, second most in college basketball history.

As Coach K and his team gear up for another NCAA tournament run, it's time to shine some light on Coach K's successful communication style. And according to a recent article in The New York Times, it hinges on his ability to speak his players' language.

For example, Krzyzewski likes to take advantage of a popular app known as Bitmoji, which allows users to create their own personal emoji character, for use on social media and text messages. Coack K likes to text his players his bitmoji, along with short, encouraging messages to let them know he's thinking about them.

For example, in preparing for a recent big tournament game, Coack K sent a Bitmoji replicating a famous wartime poster, with the coach flexing his arm and declaring, confidently: "You Can Do It!"

"It's called communication," said Krzyzewski, simply.

His players swear it works.

"It's incredible to think he just turned 70," said Grayson Allen, one member of the team. "We don't feel that way."

Another player, freshman Jayson Tatum, was surprised when his coach texted him a joke about Snapchat. "I was like, 'He knows about Snapchat?'" said Tatum.

This isn't just an old guy trying to stay relevant. Skilled use of emojis and jokes about modern tech are just small examples of Coach K's ability to communicate in a way that his players understand and appreciate.

There's a major lesson here for anyone who's trying to reach those of a younger generation, whether you're a parent, teacher, or simply leading a team in the workplace:

Show personal interest. Learn what your young people like, what they're talking about. Then, use that information to show them you care.

Because when it comes to building trust, it's the little things that count.