What is attention?

Attention describes many skills, including being able to concentrate for a long time, being able to stay focussed on one task without being distracted, being able to divide your attention between multiple tasks (e.g., listening while completing an activity), and being able to switch your attention between different ideas (e.g., shifting your thinking to a new task or activity easily).

Many children with disabilities or developmental disorders may have challenges with attention. This includes children with intellectual disability, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and autism spectrum disorder.

Each child is unique, and the type of challenges they have with attention will vary. For example, some kids may be able to concentrate on a single activity for a long time, but may have difficulty dividing their attention between two tasks. Another child may have difficulty concentrating for a long time and require frequent breaks or change of activities to keep them interested.

It is important that coaches think about the way they plan activities and communicate instructions to support participation.

What might be some challenges on the footy field?

  • Kids who have difficulty concentrating or paying attention may not hear instructions properly, which means it may appear as if they are misbehaving because they don’t know what is expected of them.
  • They may only be able to hold onto a small amount of information in their mind at once (e.g. 1-2 instructions), before they are overwhelmed. This means that if multiple instructions are given at one time, they may miss some of the information and will not know what to do.
  • Some kids may have difficulty dividing their attention between two tasks, such as listening to instructions while doing an activity. They may not hear instructions if they are focussing on practising a task.
  • Kids may sometimes look like they are ‘daydreaming’. It may appear that they are not interested in the activity and they may not respond straight away when their name is called.

Quick tips

  • Engage the child’s attention before giving instructions: Call the child’s name before giving instructions. Making eye contact with the child, or giving a gently physical prompt (e.g., softly tapping their arm or hand) can help the child listen and pay attention.
  • Reduce background noise when giving instructions: Minimise background noise while giving instructions so all kids can hear.
  • Simplify and repeat instructions: Some kids might need instructions to be made simpler and to be repeated multiple times. You may need to limit the amount of information given at once, so that only to 1-2 steps are explained at a time.
  • Have a consistent routine: Having a consistent routine at each session will help the child 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 child’s attention. Consider using a flip chart to show the visual instructions when teaching or talking about the schedule for the day.
  • Use a visual schedule: Provide a visual schedule for each session that kids can see at all times. This will help them remember what the plan is for the day or 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 kids can see at all times to know when the session or activity will finish.
  • Shorten activities: Some kids might not be able to focus for a long time on one activity. You might need to shorten the activity.
  • Use small groups: Some kids might find it easier to work in smaller groups. This will help reduce distractions and background noise, making it easier for them to focus.

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