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Attention Span

Justin JB Brandt

Attention to detail and paying attention in general is a problem that all coaches battle
with their athletes during practice, film sessions, games, etc.

Whether its the occasional side conversation while youre speaking, wandering eyes to the floor
or the opposite sex being present in the gymnasium, you have had something challenge their
attention from you at some point in time. The question we will attempt to answer today is, how
can we effectively keep our athletes attention when it is needed?
I do not believe there are a lot of people out there that will challenge the statement that people
tend to focus their attention on the topics they are interested in. Many times we find that our
student athletes struggle with the little details because they are not fun or entertaining. Take the
example provided below. Most students see a biology book and roll their eyes because they see
it as a required class and it can be challenging. What they do not see is an opportunity to get a
good grade in an important class that will boost their GPA and increase their chances at getting
into the school they want to attend or eventually landing them the job they want.


Now I am NOT suggesting that everything we coach/teach needs to be fun or entertaining. The
fact is that the majority of the jobs in the world do not involve fun games and at some point in
their lives they need to figure out how to continue to focus and be productive. With the same
argument, us as coaches and/or teachers cannot use the same excuse of their complacency to not
help this generation of student athletes. Sometimes, it is our own laziness or comfort of
conventionalism that hinders us from helping them. While we may very well want to say to
them, suck it up and pay attention, thats what I had to do you may find your job a bit easier if
you meet them halfway.
Studies show that 78% of Americans aged 12 to 17 have a cell phone, 95% use
the internet and 81% use social media outlets. This means that well over half
of that teen population that we work with spends the majority of their time
gathering information from entertaining sources. So the information you are
trying to convey to them via a ten-minute talk, it probably isnt reaching home.
65% of teens report that they have either participated in, or have been affected by, cyber
bullying. This takes us into a complete different issue, conflict resolution. Ask the majority of
people what a conflict is and their mind goes to something serious or even physical in nature.
However, conflict by definition is a disagreement (n.) or something to be incompatible or at
variance (v.). Is this not what we see whenever we redirect an athlete or inform them they are
not performing the way we expect them to?
The issue here lies in the fact that they simply are not used to communicating and coping with
criticism face to face where appropriate and immediate reaction is required. When presented
with a challenging statement via an electronic source, users are given the safety net of time and
privacy to respond with freedom in private. Consequences are dealt in a delayed format which
promotes bravery in both actions and speech. Think about this the next time you try to challenge
an athlete on their performance and they give you that look as if to say, Who me!?

So how can we help our athletes focus better and get most out of them?
Firstly, it should be noted that the goldfish won the competition when it comes to adults attention span
when browsing the internet, so dont stress too hard over the fun fact above. However, the first 8 seconds
is CRITICAL to capturing the audiences attention. If you do not grab their attention in the first 8
seconds, youre going to have a big struggle on your hand. Movie makers have known this for years and
thats why they introduce a new stimulus every few seconds to keep their audiences attention throughout
the entire movie. This is why during this article you have seen the introduction of either new fonts, colors
or pictures every few seconds or minutes.
*Fun fact it took teens on average 6.3 seconds to read the first sentence of this article*
The perfect adult attention span lasts around 20 minutes with the average down to around 5 minutes.
However, scientists have noticed that your attention tends to dwindle or reset every couple of minutes. So

Great research Coach, but how do I actually apply this on the court or in the
You can apply the information provided in this article in a variety of ways. The easiest and least
invasive to your coaching/teaching strategies to apply this knowledge is to simply change your
tone or positioning while speaking. If you have been explaining something for more than a
couple of minutes, and you have other coaches present, get someone else to pick up in the middle
of the talk. If you have already done this, another simple way to keep their attention is to change
your court location. Doing this not only provides a stimulus of eye focus location, but it causes
changes in heart rate which naturally demands the bodys attention.
For a more challenging and invasive approach of how you can better your practices, review the
following practice plans.
Traditional Practice Plan
10 minutes
20 minutes
15 minutes
15 minutes
Time Total

Set Plays
Press Offense
Press Defense
60 minutes

Attention Based Practice Plan

10 minutes
6 minutes
2 minutes
6 minutes
2 minutes
6 minutes
2 sets of
6 minutes
3 minutes
4 minutes
2 sets of
4 minutes
2 sets of
3 minutes
Total Time

Set Plays Basket #1
1v1 All Baskets
Set Plays Basket #2
2v2 All Baskets
Press Offense Full Court
Sideline Retreat Dribble Series
Press Offense Full Court
Break/Shoot Around
Press Defense Full Court
Defensive Slides All Baskets
Press Defense Full Court
Triangle Closeouts All Baskets
Press Defense Full Court
58 minutes

As you can see both practice plans have an agenda and will accomplish their tasks for the day.
However, as you can see from the attention based practice plan, the team has accomplished their
tasks, they have promoted personal growth while focusing on a team oriented workout, they have
changed locations, promoted a demand for attention changes (one activity to the next) and
allowed time for attention resets no longer than six minutes.

One last point that I would like to make is focused on the highlighted section above, promoted a
demand for attention changes. Many coaches would deem this as a little chaotic for the practice
liking and rightfully so. However, I would like to remind coaches that basketball is a very fast
paced and chaotic sport. During the 2015-2016 NCAA Division I season, the team that averaged
the most amount of possessions per game was the Citadel with 83ppg. The lowest team, the
University of Virginia, had 62.7ppg, thats a league median of 71.1 possessions per game. With
those statistics in mind, would you rather have a traditional practice that transitioned from one
activity to the next four times or an attention based practice plan that transitioned 14 times?
Attention to detail or paying attention in general is truly a characteristic that we all struggle with
in todays society. Whether it be us as coaches trying to demand our student athletes attention,
or us trying to pay attention when were sitting through a meeting. If we have the opportunity to
enhance our attention skills, we should meet that head on as it will help us be more successful
down the road. In closing I ask you to remember what Shane Battier stated about analytics,
Analytics arent something that you solely rely on, they are a tool to your success.