Last week I posted a video of soccer coach Khris Clemens using correction instead of critique to help his players improve. Today I’d like to share another clip from Khris’ practice–this one highlighting an important but easily overlooked topic in coaching (and teaching)–maintaining attention.
Watching players attend (or not attend) to a coach often reminds me of parable of the frog in boiling water- allegedly a frog immersed in warm water will remain there as the temperature is slowly but gradually increased, so long as the increase is incremental, even until the water boils and the frog dies.
Coaches, for their part, often fail to realize the gradual dissipation of their players’ attention as they are speaking. An incremental progression in distractedness will often go un-noticed until it’s too late and things are at a boil.
So it’s important to pay attention to attentiveness, but it’s also important to know how to fix it…. And the fixing it part usually benefits from subtlety and early action. The first “fix” that some coaches find for wavering attention is a good talking-to, but this can have two problems in the face of poor attention: 1) It disrupts the action even more and can therefore remove whatever might be holding attention in the first place, thus making the situation worse. 2) If it’s left until things have gotten pretty bad, the lecture can come off as pretty caustic . In this regard coaching is just like the classroom, where devotes of TLaC workshops will recognize the power of Be Seen Looking, the Self-Interrupt, and the non-verbal intervention–all of which Khris uses here.
As the clip starts, Khris is preparing his boys for a scrimmage. He’s pretty quick in working through the business of what we’re doing and who’s on which team. But that kind of stuff can take a while and you can see that as Khris goes over some of the details a few boys get distracted- some starting to walk away, others not really listening. But Khris is on it quickly and he uses the following tools in order… the result is a nice recipe for correcting inattentiveness.
1) Self-interrupt. As soon as Khris notices that attention is starting to wane he cuts himself off at an obvious point–mid-word. At about 1:10:35 on the clock he says, “Those are the-…” and then stops abruptly. You can tell that Khris’ boys notice this move and that it signals something is wrong because one player immediately says, “Guys. Listen.”
2) Scan the room (or field). Once players know he expects more from them, Khris scans the group carefully. With his eyes up and engaging players actively, he reminds them that he sees what they do and notices who is with him.
3) Non-verbal correction. Khris uses a non-verbal gesture (a subtle wave of the hand) to bring players back into the circle. Using words here would cause a distraction and take more time. It would also show that he is willing to talk over the boys, which he’s not.
4) Quiet Power. After his correction, Khris does something counter-intuitive. Rather than competing with potential distractions by getting louder, he gets quieter and slower. This means that the players have to get quieter to listen fully. They circle up more intentionally and attentiveness is restored.
Coaching of course is teaching. This clip shows that setting high expectations makes more time for activity and that small subtle fixes made early and with attentiveness are better than big fixes made when the water is boiling. Thanks, Khris.