Learn about attention

There are different types of attention. This includes concentration, staying focused, being able to do two things at once (eg. listening while completing an activity), and being able to switch between different ideas (eg. shifting your thinking from one task to another easily).

Each young person is unique, so their levels of attention will vary. Some can concentrate on one thing for a long time, but may find it hard to focus on two things at once. Others may have difficulty concentrating for a long time. Regular breaks or changes of activities might keep them interested.

Some young people with disability or developmental challenge may require support with attention skills. This includes autistic people and young people with intellectual disability or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

It is important that coaches understand the players in their group and think about the way they plan activities and communicate instructions to support participation.

  • Players may miss or misunderstand instructions. It may appear as if they are misbehaving because they don’t know what is expected of them.
  • Multiple instructions given at once can be overwhelming, meaning the player may miss some of the information and not know what to do. A player may understand instructions best when they are given small amounts of information at a time (eg. 1-2 instructions).
  • Some players may find it difficult to divide their attention between two tasks, such as listening to instructions while doing an activity. If the player is focusing on practising a task, they might miss the instructions.
  • Players may sometimes look like they are ‘daydreaming’. It may seem like they are not interested in the activity and they may not respond straight away when their name is called.

Quick Tips

Get their attention, then communicate

Calling the young person’s name, making eye contact, or giving a gentle physical prompt (eg. softly tapping their arm or hand) before giving instructions can help the young person listen and pay attention.

Reduce background noise when giving instructions

Minimise background noise and other distractions while giving instructions, so players can hear.

Simplify and repeat instructions

Some young people might benefit from instructions being repeated multiple times. You may need to limit the amount of information given at once, so that only 1-2 steps are explained at a time.

Check in with the young person to see if they have understood

You can do this in a supportive way by asking them to tell you in their own words what they have to do for an activity. Try to do this in a way that doesn’t draw attention to the player.

Have a consistent routine

Having a consistent routine at each session will help the player know what is planned for the day. This will help if they have missed instructions.

Use visual instructions

Using visual instructions as well as spoken instructions will help engage a player’s attention. Consider using a flipchart to show the visual instructions when coaching or talking about the schedule for the day.

Use a visual schedule

Provide a visual schedule in each session that young people can see at all times. This will help them remember what the plan is for the day or the activity, if they have missed instructions.

Use a timer or clock

A timer or clock helps to structure an activity and make it clear what is expected. Consider using a large clock or timer that players can see at all times to know when the session or activity will finish.

Shorten activities

Shortening the task might help some young people focus on the activity.

Use small groups

Some players might find it easier to work in smaller groups. This will help reduce distractions and background noise, making it easier for them to focus.

Allow extra time

Some young people participate and master skills best when they have more time to complete activities. Others may find staying engaged in the same activity for longer more challenging - activities with short and clear time limits, and brief breaks, may better suit them.