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- By Alex Kirby
As coaches, we’re problem solvers. When one problem goes away, there always seems to be a new challenge right around the corner.
Speaking of which, one of the biggest problems in sports right now is keeping players focused on what you’re trying to teach them.
Whether you’re installing the 2 Back Inside Zone, or just going over the mechanics of the quarterback mesh in the run game, player attention spans are at an all time low. No young person can leave the house without being plugged into something and keeping their minds constantly occupied.
(Speaking of which, there’s a good chance you’re reading this on your phone while you’re supposed to be paying attention to something else)
This problem won’t be going away anytime soon, so how do you compete with all these distractions?
You’ve gotta be creative.
Creative people can seem odd, because, well, they are. You don’t get something different by trying the same thing over and over again. So it’s no surprise that what often looks random or chaotic is actually well thought out and serves a real purpose.
Don’t believe me? How about an example?
During their heyday, the band Van Halen got a reputation for having some, let’s say “weird” demands in their rider. The most famous example had to do with a certain flavor of M&M’s:
Buried amongst dozens of points in Van Halen’s rider was an odd stipulation that there were to be no brown M&M’s candies in the backstage area. If any brown M&M’s were found backstage, the band could cancel the entire concert at the full expense of the promoter. That meant that because of a single candy, a promoter could lose millions.
This story has been told a million times already by now, but you may not know the other half of it. As it turns out, there was a method to the madness:
In now-departed arenas such as Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, the original Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium, Van Halen was loading in massive amounts of staging, sound equipment and lighting. Unfortunately, these buildings were never built to accommodate a rock band of Van Halen’s scope. Without specific guidelines, old floors could buckle and collapse, beams could rupture, and the lives of the band, their crew and fans could be at serious risk.
To ensure the promoter had read every single word in the contract, the band created the “no brown M&M’s” clause. It was a canary in a coalmine to indicate that the promoter may have not paid attention to other more important parts of the rider, and that there could be other bigger problems at hand.
Van Halen came up with a very creative solution to a problem they’d no doubt faced over and over again, a lack of focus and attention by the promoters and others they dealt with.
If they got to their dressing room and found brown M&M’s, they knew there were a lot bigger safety issues that needed to be taken care of.
As it turns out, 49ers Head Coach Chip Kelly had a similar system in place all the way back during his time in New Hampshire:
On Mondays, Kelly distributed comprehensive scouting reports, so detailed some players were tempted to gloss over certain pages – at their own risk. In those scouting reports, Kelly inserted paragraphs that read along the lines of, “When you get this, see coach Kelly and say the word elephant.”
What’s the message here? Trust, but verify.
There’s a good chance your players may not understand right away the importance of what you’re trying to do, but you’ve got to show that you and the rest of the coaches believe in what you’re doing.
Chip Kelly said it best:
“I’m not governed by the fear of what other people say. You have to have belief and conviction in what you’re doing.”
You can’t be with your kids all the time, and as soon as they walk off the practice field, out of the locker room and back into the real world, they’ve got a million other things competing for their attention. They may truly love football and want to do what you tell them to do, but it never hurts to give them a little more incentive.
Your success as a team depends on your ability to get your players to focus on what you’re trying to teach, and retain it. You can’t do that if they’re not paying attention to the scouting report each week and not preparing like they’re supposed to.
Be creative. Find ways to integrate this type of thinking into what you’re already doing, and you should start to see some immediate results.
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