Attention is becoming the scarcest — and so most strategically vital — resource in the value chain. Attention scarcity is fundamentally reshaping the economics of most industries it touches.
– Umar Haque, The Attention Economy
[This is part one in the series on effective persuasion for sport coaches. Click here for the other articles.]
Persuasion is one of the most important tools a coach can have in the coaching toolbox.
Here’s the thing, for persuasion to be effective, you MUST have the attention of the other person. Without their attention, there will be NO persuasion. Without persuasion, poor coaching. So what works, in terms of attention?
What Is Attention?
Athletes care about their muscles. Besides looks, muscles help them perform. Interesting thing, one muscle that is often ignored is the Muscle of Attention.
Yes, I know. Attention is not really a muscle, but the two do have several things in common.
First, you can develop attention and make it stronger, like a muscle.
Second, if you don’t use attention, it will whither away.
Oh … here’s one more thing, when attention is in full strength it can help you (heck … anyone) perform at a wickedly higher level.
If you’d like a formal definition of attention it is the “concentration of the mind on a single thought, object or task.” That’s important to keep in mind.
- Book: Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools – Cathy N. Davidson
- Article: You Can Train Your Attention Like A Muscle – by Maria Konnikova
- Video: Attention Is Like A Muscle – Daniel Goldman
Why Is Attention Important?
As a coach there’s two critical parts of attention. First, are the people you are trying to persuade focusing on you and/or your message? In other words, do you have their attention?
Second, are YOU able to focus on a task?
Both are important, but in terms of persuasion, convincing someone to take correct action, THEIR attention is mandatory.
Why? Because you have a message you are trying to communicate such as:
- An athlete needs to correct a technique issue
- A team is not running the correct play
- An assistant coach does not think he should coach your way
- An athletic director does not understand your budget request
- A parent’s behavior needs improving
For that message to be heard, attention is critical.
- Book: Influence: Science and Practice – Robert Cialdini
- Article: The Holy Trinity Of Inactivity: How Boredom, Distraction, And Procrastination Are Vital To Healthy Living – Thorin Klosowski
- Article: The Anatomy Of Attention – Alan Lightman
What’s Going On Today With Attention?
I, like most coaches, complain that it’s harder than ever to get the attention of our athletes, especially the youngsters. It’s been reported that today’s typical attention span for a teen is less than that of a goldfish (8 seconds vs 9 seconds).
A contributing factor is the enormous amount of distraction’s in today’s society. Social media and television are the typical culprits that are blamed.
However, blaming those two things might be the easy way out. Instead, there are two things current research suggests we consider, as coaches.
First, many athletes are just-plain-bored. As a teacher and coach, I know that to engage my students/athletes I have to help them fight boredom. Boredom seems to be a bigger issue than distractions.
Second, humans have limited ability to pay attention to several things at once. Daniel Kahneman notes in Thinking Fast and Slow a person has a certain amount of attention, and when pressed with difficult mental or physical exercise the ability to focus on other things reduces significantly.
So, is it reasonable to expect an athlete, who is working hard at practice, to remember your message? Or a student-athlete in the midst of finals week to remember a practice time told during study-time?
You can try this yourself. Go for a hard run, around 90% effort, and while running try to simple math calculations, such as adding +1 to four digits numbers. You’ll be surprised at what little attention you’ll be able to muster, and so were researchers when they did similar experiments.
- Article: Attention Span
- Book: Your Attention Please: How to Appeal to Today’s Distracted, Disinterested, Disengaged, Disenchanted, and Busy Consumer – Paul B. Brown
- Article: The Battle For Your Customer’s Mind – Bernadette Jiwa
How To Get And Hold Someone’s Attention
There’s two distinct things going on here. First, getting someone’s attention is not difficult. You can yell or scream, look sexy, blow an airhorn, wave a Fifty in front of them. There are lot’s of ways to grab their attention. All you are really doing is interrupting them.
But as you know, that will be fleeting. And with shortened attentions spans, the person will quickly send their attention somewhere else.
So the trick is, how do you hold onto someone’s attention once you’ve grabbed it? It comes down to one word, value.
If you can give them something of value, say, information they need to get .4 seconds faster, and explain to them clearly why they need the information, then you’ll be able to holding onto their attention.
And with attention, will come better persuasion. And better coaching.
- Article: 7 Ways To Get Someone’s Attention On Social Media – Steve Tobak
- Article: How To Capture Someone’s Attention In 10 Seconds – Mike Periu
- Article: What To Do When You Are Interrupted – Anthony Iannarino
That’s it for this week. I’ll be back soon discussing verbal persuasion, using your words to persuade. In the meantime, please share this with a friend or colleague who needs a great start to new year of coaching.