by Mike Davenport, CoachingSportsToday.com
Do they hear only half (or less) of what you say?
Is it hard for them to concentrate during practice?
Are you wondering why they don’t respond to your emails?
If so, then when I say “attention is your new battlefront” you understand.
Right now, it’s tough getting and keeping your athlete’s attention.
But you have to, because if you don’t you won’t stand a chance of surviving as a coach.
Because a coach must guide, must nurture, and must protect — and that won’t happen if your athletes are zoned-out and ignoring you.
Curse You, Smartphones
It’s easy to blame smartphones for your athlete’s brains being somewhere else. But do that and you miss the big picture — and a few important reasons your words fall on deaf ears.
Here’s what I mean.
First, your athletes are a skeptical lot. If they are between 12 & 34-years old then you are coaching Millennials. A trait of Millennials is they are skeptical. They ask things like:
- Why should I believe you?
- What’s in it for me?
- How can you help me?
- Can I trust you?
You might not hear those questions but they are asked. And if you aren’t answering them to their liking, then why SHOULD they pay attention to you?
Second, a tidal wave of information is hitting your athletes square in the face — everyday. It’s almost impossible for them to hide from the incoming stream of messages/information/requests — making it hard for the athletes to concentrate. So, why SHOULD your words stand out? Is listening to your message more important, more engaging, more entertaining, more helpful then all the rest?
Third, the Millennials (yes, back to them) want to know what is going on. They want information — scratch that — they demand it. And they don’t like not getting it. Which means, if they feel that they are only getting half the story, they WILL stop listening.
Fourth, now to smartphones. At your athlete’s fingertips is that constant stream we just talked about. And it’s there all the time.
Most athletes don’t have filters or times limits on their phones. So they are the ones who have been put in charge of monitoring their own smartphone use. And you are a witness to how well that’s working.
As my dad used to say, “The kids have been given the keys to the candy shop.”
Finally, social media is this generation’s Cheers. It’s the place they go because everyone knows their name. So when the real word gets uncomfortable, boring, or stressful social media offers an engaging haven. Can’t blame them, I guess.
It’s almost like a perfect storm between their generation, smartphones and the appeal of social media. What’s a coach to do?
I’m glad you asked.
Your Attention Strategy
Here’s the centerpiece of any attention strategy — athletes GIVE you their attention. You can’t grab it or steal it. Screaming and berating won’t work. They have to give it to you, and to get them to give it I offer a few suggestions that might work:
A. Set up a distraction free zone. Have them put their phones away, off and out of sight.
B. Don’t be tempted to meet them half way. “Just turn your phones off and put them down,” is not enough. It has been shown that a smartphone in plain site, even turned off, is a distraction. Not just to the owner but to those who can see it. “Phones off and out-of-sight,” is a good mantra.
C. Matter more. With their phones away, explain to them what you are trying to achieve, and why. They want to know the why. “Because I said so,” just annoys them, and their attention is gone. “Because we will be working on you getting better, that’s what’s in it for you,” goes much further.
D. Tell the athlete’s “support-people” what you are trying to do, and what you are noticing. Those people could be a youngster’s parents or a college student’s friend. Maybe they can help.
E. Be the example. Turn your own phone off, and put it away. “Ah, but I use it for video, and pictures.” Get a digital camera or use a GoPro Hero. See B, and phone away.
F. Set the expectations. Expect your athletes to follow your lead, and help them to do it.
G. Be Engaging. When you talk to them, make your content so engaging that they cannot resist giving you their attention.
I. Have them write. In a meeting or class session, have the athletes write notes on paper. The act of writing deepens engagement and snags attention.
J. Reward them. Rewards like self-satisfaction and a sense of purpose grabs and holds people’s attention. Identify the rewards that most appeal to your athletes and use them to get their attention.
K. Use Your Reputation. If you’re trying to capture the attention of people who don’t know you, tell them about your expertise. Robert Cialdini calls this “directed deference.” His book, Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, is a must read.
L. Use Mystery. We love stories, and our brains are fine-tuned to remember incomplete stories and tasks. We also dislike uncertainty. Using stories at a base level grabs people’s attention.
M. Be brief. Respect them by getting right to the point. Don’t waste their time.
N. Use images. Words are only one-half of the way our brain is designed to process the World. Images are the other half. Simple images can grab and hold attention, and are a great way to promote long term memories. I wrote about that here, on Copyblogger.com.
O. Love boredom. This sounds strange, but if an athlete says, “I’m bored,” tell him that’s good. Solitude and boredom are a respite from our crazy world, and are times when we do some of our most creative thinking. Personally, I believe boredom can be very productive, giving the brain an opportunity to free-style think. Boredom isn’t a bad thing. Your athletes should know that.
— — —
You, and everyone else in the world, are vying for your athlete’s attention. You’ve got to:
those others. It’s a battle you need to win. I’d love to hear how you are fighting it.