The challenge of coaching the smartphone generation
By John Harrington
According to scientists, the advent of smartphones and social media has reduced the average human’s attention span.
The results of a recent study in Canada showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 to eight seconds since 2000.
Maybe you’ve noticed this yourself. Where once you would have spent a quiet hour reading a book in the evening now you’re scrolling absent-mindedly through your twitter feed.
And even if you’re still in the habit of watching a sporting event on tv for a couple of hours, now you’re also regularly switching your gaze to the device in your hand to see what others are saying about a match you’re not as immersed in as you would have been before the dawn of social media.
We live in a more distracting world than we once did, and the impact is most apparent on the younger generation who have grown up in the age of the smartphone and social media.
According to Dublin Ladies Football team manager Mick Bohan, this is proving to be a real challenge for those sports coaches working with ‘Generation Z’.
He’s been a PE teacher in St. Mary’s Community School for 29 years and has seen a significant change in that period of time in the teenagers he’s taught and coached.
“That whole concentration thing, that capacity to stay doing a particular task for any sustained period has changed,” Bohan told GAA.ie.
“That's definitely caused by use of mobile phones and internet and all that type of stuff. We really have a huge challenge ahead of us.
“I've had to adapt hugely. Once you could have played a full game of badminton and let them at it, but now if you don't shorten those games the thing breaks down. It's incredible to see it.
“In the last week of every term we give our senior cycle students the chance to play a full game of indoor soccer. If I didn't referee that contest, then after 15 minutes the thing would break down.
“They just don't have the concentration to do it. It's amazing to see it.
“I still look back and laugh when I think of the time 10 or 15 years and you'd bring the kids in and they'd be bursting in the door knowing they had this game of indoor soccer and 60 minutes later you'd have to push them out the door.
“Now it just breaks down. It's incredible how they cannot maintain the continuity.
“I thought it was an age-group thing at first, but then I realised that it was happening right through the spectrum from first year to sixth year.”
Bohan, who has also coached Dublin development squad teams as well as the Dublin minor and U-21 footballers, has had to adapt his methods in order to be able to continue to coach effectively.
And he believes all coaches will have to do the same if they want to continue engaging and inspiring the young players they work with.
“I think coaches now have to be way more organised for it to work, definitely,” he said.
“Kids have to be guided more now when you coach them. And the time-frame has to be extremely tight in terms of how you allocate time to the different aspects of the session.
“You have to be very organised. Now, in saying that, obviously the higher up you go with good quality teams you're trying to pass some of that ownership over.
“But what I certainly find with kids in the school set-up is that you can't pass that ownership over, they're not ready for it.
“Obviously when you're dealing with elite players there's more freedom and you're trying to empower them at that level.
“You should be trying to empower 13, 14, and 15 year olds as well, but I think the direction they're given is so important.
“And, equally, that the targets are very achievable and that the time-frame is short.
“I've found all of that has changed.”