Throughout my playing and coaching careers, I’ve spent plenty of time around kids who struggled with paying attention. In these instances, it’s important to be patient and understand that each kid learns in their own way and at their own pace.
How do you coach young athletes who struggle with paying attention?
The best ways to coach young athletes who struggle with paying attention are: figuring out what’s causing the lack of focus, determining how to regain that focus, teaching the athletes to focus on the task at hand, creating fun environments and keeping your cool as the coach.
When coaching athletes who struggle to pay attention, it’s important to keep in mind that no two athletes are the same. Coaching these athletes can be tricky but I’m confident this article will set you on the right path.
Pinpoint the Source
When trying to determine why athletes don’t pay attention there are some key things to consider. First of all, do you think they even want to play on the team? Maybe they were signed up for the sport despite their best wishes.
Try to think back to when you were a kid. You probably played several sports throughout the year. I’m sure you enjoyed playing some more than others.
That might be the case in this situation. These athletes may be playing a sport they don’t necessarily prefer. Don’t take it personally as a coach.
One reason they might feel this way is because they’re more comfortable with another sport. Maybe they have more experience and therefore confidence in another sport, or maybe the current sport is too slow-placed.
A sport that comes to mind right away is baseball. While I love baseball, it isn’t the fastest sport out there – especially if you’re playing a position that doesn’t see a ton of action at the younger ages.
For example, if you coach baseball, try to play these athletes at positions (the infield) that see a fair amount of action.
All the athletes you coach over your career are going to play sports for various reasons. One of these reasons is that their parents made them play. It can be tricky to get these athletes to focus up as they already don’t want to be there, but it can be done.
You should offer these kids plenty of positive reinforcement. Don’t yell at them and try not to be over-the-top as some kids don’t respond well to that. Growing up, I’d say I was one of these kids.
If a coach started to continuously instruct me on how to do something I would “check out”. At some point you just have to let the kids play.
Another thing to consider is if your athletes check out when they’re ahead or if they’re behind in the game.
When your team scores, do they get cocky and become lackadaisical? How about when your team gets scored on? Do they think the chances of coming back are impossible?
Let your players known they should always play as if the game is tied. Players shouldn’t let the score dictate how hard they play.
Regain the Athlete’s Focus
Arguably the best place to regain an athlete’s focus is at practice. By creating practices that are fun and fast-paced you can keep their attention and better learn how to keep them engaged.
You can even offer to work with certain players right before or after practice if you think they could use the help. If you want to go this route, make sure their parents are on board first.
The great thing about working on skills away from team practices is that the focus is on one or a couple of players. There are minimal distractions and the fear of failure is diminished as there are less on-looking eyes.
These environments also allow players the opportunities to brush up on their skills, learn more about the game and ask the coach questions.
During your team practices, try to switch up the activities somewhat regularly. Don’t hit ground balls to your players for an hour straight, as even the most disciplined players are likely to lose their focus.
Put a time limit of 10-15 minutes on each drill and them jump right into the next activity.
You should also try to give athletes who struggle with paying attention specific roles. Roles could be something like captain of the outfield (centerfield) or sweeper (last line of defense) in soccer.
Make your athletes accountable and see how they respond. Also don’t confine your athletes who struggle with paying attention to positions that don’t see a ton of action. For example, outfield in Little League Baseball.
As the coach, do your best to simplify the game. Not only for your players who struggle to pay attention, but all your players. The best way to do this is to keep instructions to a minimum.
Give your players an overview of the concept or drill and go straight into it. Less talking and more action.
Focus on the Task at Hand
Getting players to focus on the here and now is a lot easier said than done. Try to encourage your players to focus on certain things: getting into a ready position in baseball, getting open in soccer or running certain plays in football.
One thing that may distract younger players is their parents. Younger players tend to pay more attention to the sidelines and their parents than to the game.
I wouldn’t worry about this too much as this is fairly common in the younger age groups, but you should still encourage your players to keep their heads in the game as needed.
Create Fun Environments
In my opinion, the best way to keep the focus of your athletes is to create fun and engaging environments. It’s not rocket science that kids are more likely to pay attention if they’re having fun.
You can do this by keeping your practices fast-paced and by incorporating little games and competitions.
Doing this may help keep kids interested in playing sports, who otherwise would be at home playing video games. Kids should want to play for their own reasons such as: wanting to try a new sport, making new friends, the love of exercise and because it makes them happy.
Athletes who subscribe to all of these reasons, or even some of them, are more likely to stay engaged throughout practices and games.
To go along with these reasons to play sports, some other reasons may influence kids to want to play a sport. These other reasons are less than ideal and they shouldn’t be the deciding factor to play a sport.
A couple of these reasons could include: playing for trophies and to “go pro”.
The odds of any player making it to the big leagues is very low. Those who have a love for the game and are quite skilled shouldn’t even worry about this possibility until they’re already in high school.
That means you should let kids be kids until then. Don’t put too much pressure on kids as this often has the opposite effect of what you intend and it can lead to burnout.
Lastly, offer plenty of encouragement. Positive reinforcement is your friend. Younger players will take most of what you say at face value. For this reason, it’s important to build them up rather than break them down.
Remind yourself that you’re coaching children. You’re not coaching grown men in Game 7 of the World Series. At the end of day, we’re all taking part in a game that’s meant for kids.
Your attitude and how you carry yourself should reflect that. Your players are playing to have fun. Don’t ruin the game for them.
The odds of any scouts being in attendance during your games to watch your superior coaching style and philosophy in action is 0%. In reality, the outcomes of most of the games you coach don’t matter.
What matters is that your players have fun, get better over the year and become better human beings in the process.
For these reasons, staying relaxed and offering plenty of encouragement is the way to go. You might have all the passion in the world but kids are more likely to stay engaged if you’re calm and collected.
If you think you’re overdoing it as a coach, take a step back. Chances are your intuition is right.
Your playing days are over. Let the kids go at their own pace. Guide them throughout the process but don’t try to live vicariously through them.
Players should be focused on the sport they’re playing and having fun. Their focus shouldn’t be on their obnoxious coach on the sidelines.