Strategies for Adolescents to Sustain Attention

Kids these days. Coach Ted Schruender and Paul Tanglis gave some strategies for helping a generation of players that are quick to lose focus. The phone and the endless scrolls of information are difficult to compete with. As frustrating as it is, I empathize with them. I find myself increasingly frustrated when I go to meetings and one person is talking for a long time. Instead of complaining about how the players need to be different, the coaches provided some ideas for how coaches need to change their tunes. Here are some ideas to sustain attention with adolescent players.

Length of Practice

Coach Ted advocates cutting down on the amount of time that each practice lasts as the season evolves. In December, he shoots for two hours per practice. By January practices are an hour and 45 minutes. Practices only need to be a little longer than an hour by February. Listening to the coach lecture for two hours is too hard for kids that cannot sustain attention for more than 15 minutes according to research.

Similarly, Jay Wright advocates that late in the season one day of rest is more important than one more day of practice. Keeping players physically fresh is essential. Coaches have a hard time recognizing the physical aspect of what the players are going through because we just assume they are young and they can handle it.

Structure of Practice

Coach Tanglis used all Sunday practices in January for getting up shots and conditioning. He intentionally stayed away from scrimmage competition and did not give instructions longer than 15 seconds. The players listened to the music blaring over the sound system instead of the coach. The conditioning was pretty brutal compared to the typical practice, but the players and coach loved it.

On normal practice days, Coach Tanglis has increasingly decided to give the players a variety of small-sided games and drills. Six minutes is the most amount of time that North Andover High School will allocate to any one drill or game before transitioning to something new. Additionally, they will use a variety of drills throughout the season. There might be a couple of staples which the players always get up for, but in general players become stagnant with the same drills and games. Most importantly, Coach Tanglis wants them competing. Competition is the ingredient that elevates a practice. If there is no competition in a given drill, that drill needs to go.

Personally, I try to end practice on a fun note. My team will typically end with a collaborative team shooting drill where they can blast music. Coach Ted often does a half-court shot competition. The drill seen in the picture here is blindfolded dodgeball which I stole from another coach.

Technology Is Not All Bad

It is easy for a coach to lash out at technology being the driving force behind players not doing pick up basketball or diminishing their attention span. Keep things in perspective. Technology is allowing us to communicate with players in simpler ways than ever before.

Take HUDL as an example. When I was in high school, the film was on a VHS tape. Now, we can take find the exact twelve clips we want for each individual player and give custom feedback. I try not to be one of those people that screams about how evil social media is to the players because I think they are hearing it often. The reality is that social media is not going away. It is a better use of our time and energy to explain the benefits of social media and provide guidelines for ensuring that you are not spending too much time on social media.

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