Coaching Attention Challenged Kids

Heinie Wagner

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Nov 14, 2001
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I'm coaching a 6th grade boy with serious attention span issues. His father apologized to me after a game last weekend where the kid was totally out of it and the father suspected it was because they hadn't given him his meds yet, regular time for them was right in the middle of the game I guess, so they waited until after.

Anyhow, I get his attention, have him look me in the eye, repeat back what I said, stuff like that, and in 5 seconds, it's gone. Like as simple as "when we call swing, you catch the ball here and pass it there" and we do it immediately and he catches the ball and has no idea what he's supposed to do, like he's just frozen trying to remember. Forget about knowing an out of bounds play. The other guys have learned quickly they have to tell him where to go on those (we have one out of bounds play).

I've tried explaining with words, having him repeat after me and then having him do it immediately. I've tried demonstrating while he watches and having him repeat immediately after me. We've had a month and a half of practices and he has no idea of any of the team concepts we've worked on and has improved very little in the individual stuff. He's a very good baseball player and made it to 6th grade in a very good school system, so I'm pretty sure there is something there if I can figure out how to reach him.

Any tips or suggestions? I'm planning on asking the Mom, who is a teacher, about his learning style and the best way to get him to focus and retain things.
 

luckysox

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Yeah, if he takes meds and he's not getting them before games or practices, you're in a pickle. I say this as the mother of an 8 year old with ADHD, who is pretty much exactly as you described without his meds. His brain simply does not function in the same way as the brains of kids who do not have ADHD. It is not about YOU reaching him, it's about his brain being able to be reached. For him, the meds are likely what allow that to happen in school, and I imagine on the baseball field as well. Certainly talk to his parents, but don't expect that you are going to work some sort of miracle with him if he is not taking his meds before you see him.
 

Saints Rest

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luckysox nailed it. (My son is another 8yo w/ADHD.). That said, I read an article recently that explained how kids with ADHD can't envision the future in their head, so the suggested advice was to literally give them a picture. So maybe a pictorial version of the wristband play sheets that NFL QB's use??
 

nolasoxfan

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I don’t have children, work with children, or know a lot about ADHD’s effects on young minds. I do know one thing, though: you all are fantastic human beings. Sometimes, this Board gives me hope for humanity. Happy holidays and apologies for the thread hijack.
 

Devizier

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Any tips or suggestions? I'm planning on asking the Mom, who is a teacher, about his learning style and the best way to get him to focus and retain things.
You already have your best advice! My suspicion is that this child has some form of learning disability but it's really up to the parents to inform you. And it is entirely within their rights not to. This is a delicate situation but it seems like you have the right approach here.
 

luckysox

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I also want to add in here that the kid likely beats himself up for not remembering the plays or where to be on the court, etc. ADHD (if that's what he has) is so, so maddening, for the person who has it and for those working with that person. You will be frustrated, his teammates will be frustrated, and he will be, too. Try to be as gentle as you can with him, and encourage his teammates to be as well. Easier said than done when you're coaching a bunch of 12 year olds, I know. Good on you for reaching out here, and for wanting the best for him and your team.
 

Heinie Wagner

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Yeah, if he takes meds and he's not getting them before games or practices, you're in a pickle. I say this as the mother of an 8 year old with ADHD, who is pretty much exactly as you described without his meds. His brain simply does not function in the same way as the brains of kids who do not have ADHD. It is not about YOU reaching him, it's about his brain being able to be reached. For him, the meds are likely what allow that to happen in school, and I imagine on the baseball field as well. Certainly talk to his parents, but don't expect that you are going to work some sort of miracle with him if he is not taking his meds before you see him.
Thank you I appreciate that. I'll have to talk to the parents, We have evening practices, 7pm, and sometimes he's there (focus wise) and sometimes he's not, maybe that's the timing of his meds? It won't hurt to ask.
 

Heinie Wagner

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luckysox nailed it. (My son is another 8yo w/ADHD.). That said, I read an article recently that explained how kids with ADHD can't envision the future in their head, so the suggested advice was to literally give them a picture. So maybe a pictorial version of the wristband play sheets that NFL QB's use??
Thanks, I can do something like that and have it on the bench!
 

Heinie Wagner

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You already have your best advice! My suspicion is that this child has some form of learning disability but it's really up to the parents to inform you. And it is entirely within their rights not to. This is a delicate situation but it seems like you have the right approach here.
Thanks, I truly appreciate all the feedback. I feel terrible when the asst coaches and other kids notice that I literally just told him something, everyone else knows what he should do, and he has no idea what to do. I have to try not to put him in situations where he has to make decisions but at the same time keep him involved.
 

Heinie Wagner

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I also want to add in here that the kid likely beats himself up for not remembering the plays or where to be on the court, etc. ADHD (if that's what he has) is so, so maddening, for the person who has it and for those working with that person. You will be frustrated, his teammates will be frustrated, and he will be, too. Try to be as gentle as you can with him, and encourage his teammates to be as well. Easier said than done when you're coaching a bunch of 12 year olds, I know. Good on you for reaching out here, and for wanting the best for him and your team.
Thanks again, I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. I think I'm really good with your typical hyper active 12-year-old. With lots of strategies to get their attention for a quick 15-30 seconds, then have them do something active, teach in little bits and let them get their energy out in between. I've had kids who can't keep their bodies still while I'm talking to them, but I get them to absorb what I'm teaching them (this is my youngest son's team, I'm coached his 3 older siblings) but this kid is different, he's making eye contact with me, looks like he's listening, even nods his head, but when I'm done speaking, it's gone.

It's good to think of it being frustrating for him too, that helps me a lot.
 

Just a bit outside

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Keep up the good work.

I teach 8th grade and have had many ADHD students. The meds make a huge difference. Earlier this week I had one of my students who was just bouncing around and could not focus or stop talking when I was teaching. I only talk in 5-10 min increments because I don’t think most kids cannot sit and listen for much more than that at a time. I asked her to stop talking a few times and then went over to talk with her individually. She explained she had not taken her meds. We came up with a plan for the rest of the class but the difference between on and off her meds was tremendous. My suggestions would be to try and use visuals and try to give the kid a job when he is on the bench. Have him do something simple like count deflections or rebounds and let you know every couple of minutes. That may keep him a little more engaged.

Most importantly, understand that this is out of his control and he is not trying to get you upset or not comprehend what you are telling him.
 

Cumberland Blues

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If there's anyway to break instructions down to two things - that's helpful. Remembering three things in a row is challenging for these kids (I'm Dad to an ADHD 14yr old). We've never really had to worry about him in sports - he's a pretty hardcore competitor and seems to go into hyper-focused mode during games & practices...but anywhere else (especially classroom and with homework & chores) if tasks aren't able to be broken down into two instructions (or better, one), he'll get lost halfway through.
 

Heinie Wagner

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Keep up the good work.

I teach 8th grade and have had many ADHD students. The meds make a huge difference. Earlier this week I had one of my students who was just bouncing around and could not focus or stop talking when I was teaching. I only talk in 5-10 min increments because I don’t think most kids cannot sit and listen for much more than that at a time. I asked her to stop talking a few times and then went over to talk with her individually. She explained she had not taken her meds. We came up with a plan for the rest of the class but the difference between on and off her meds was tremendous. My suggestions would be to try and use visuals and try to give the kid a job when he is on the bench. Have him do something simple like count deflections or rebounds and let you know every couple of minutes. That may keep him a little more engaged.

Most importantly, understand that this is out of his control and he is not trying to get you upset or not comprehend what you are telling him.
Much appreciated, this is new to me, I will try all those suggestions.

"I only talk in 5-10 min increments because I don’t think most kids cannot sit and listen for much more"
Awesome! This puts you in an elite group of teachers as far as I'm concerned. I wish my 15-year-old had you right now! He is struggling to sit through 45-60 minute lectures.
 

Heinie Wagner

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If there's anyway to break instructions down to two things - that's helpful. Remembering three things in a row is challenging for these kids (I'm Dad to an ADHD 14yr old). We've never really had to worry about him in sports - he's a pretty hardcore competitor and seems to go into hyper-focused mode during games & practices...but anywhere else (especially classroom and with homework & chores) if tasks aren't able to be broken down into two instructions (or better, one), he'll get lost halfway through.
Two instructions - got it! That's pretty good advice for all the kids this age (11-12), but easy to forget. Thank you, I will make that a point of focus for ME!
 

OfTheCarmen

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This is a great thread an I'm glad it got started and has had so many responses. I coach U10 hockey and 4 of the 11 kids on my roster are medicated for some reason or another so I find myself struggling with this during practices and games.

I've found myself going through the same motions as you:

Ask for attention
Repeat instructions
Ask for questions
Reaffirm attention
etc
etc

The parents have been really good about letting me know if their child has any preferences for learning, or if they've missed a med schedule. Not much to do in the latter situation other than try not to let it derail the group's efforts in general. I'll be keeping up with the thread and certainly posting any new questions I have.
 

Heinie Wagner

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Thanks OfTheCarmen!

Patience is going to be the biggest thing for me. I normally think of myself as having it in abundance. I've coached a bunch of kids that I'd say were hyperactive or had short attention spans and I made the most of it. Not much talk, lots of action, keep everyone engaged, but this is a whole different ball game. If I didn't know he was on medication, I'd think I was just making him super nervous. Seems to be listening but a few seconds later doesn't do what he was just told and I'm talking really simple stuff: "Catch the ball from the right, pass it to your left". Can't do it.

He even seems to be trying, I can see it in his face. His dad told me he has a "booster" that he takes before games. It doesn't seem to do anything. If anything he stands around and watches more rather than getting involved in the play and he's often the biggest, strongest kid out there.

No practice because of the weather today, next practice, lots of demonstration and focus on 1 or 2 things at a time.
 

LoweTek

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If there's anyway to break instructions down to two things - that's helpful. Remembering three things in a row is challenging for these kids (I'm Dad to an ADHD 14yr old). We've never really had to worry about him in sports - he's a pretty hardcore competitor and seems to go into hyper-focused mode during games & practices...but anywhere else (especially classroom and with homework & chores) if tasks aren't able to be broken down into two instructions (or better, one), he'll get lost halfway through.
I coached kids baseball more than 25 seasons (Spring and Fall). This is the most relevant advice I've seen in the thread. I've coached many ADHD kids, a few autistic kids and a few mentally challenged kids. There are methods which work for all of them.

I had a kid this past Fall who was 10 years old and had never played baseball before. His mother did not admit it to me but from past experience I think he was on the autism spectrum or at the least mentally challenged. He got the game ball his first game! He executed every simple instruction he was given and executed perfectly in the outfield. He had a great year in the end, significant improvement, even got a legit base hit! He became more communicative as well as more social with his teammates. It was great to see.

I couldn't agree more with Cumberland. Always remember the "two things" rule. Cut it to one whenever you can. A kid standing in the batter's box trying to remember five different instructions will never be able to execute one of them. Be patient. Take them through it slowly. They will eventually put it together and the improvement will give you great satisfaction and make the kid feel great about him/herself, I can assure you.

Good luck with it. Let us know how it works out.
 

Heinie Wagner

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Not really making much progress, but thinking about some of the stuff I've read here really encourages me to keep trying, knowing that he really is trying and he has some obstacles that are beyond his control - so the replies are much appreciated. Lots more repetitions this week in practice, keeping things simple and celebrating any little victories.
 

RetractableRoof

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Just wanted to offer another thought to keep in mind in terms of minimizing a coaches potential frustration. One issue facing parents is the timing of the medication. At least some of the medications have a effective time range once they take it. It was explained to me as a bit of a bell curve, where the effectiveness tapers off the farther you are from when it was taken. As parents you are threading the needle a bit - what time do I give the medicine to the child? The medicine should be given to have the most effect during the most important part of the day (assuming only one dose per day). That means in most cases that the academic part of the day (including possible homework time) is the priority, and so by the time after school activities are kicking in, the medicine is tapering off or maybe even minimally helping. It may not be the case for your athlete HW, but it may be true in another case. As a coach, I can't be frustrated with the kids and their parents ("why didn't they just give their kids their medication before practice?") because many times it's just not that easy. I did notice a difference in the kids on weekends though - because the priority for the day was no long academics, but socialization and sports performance.

I can say from my own experience that the words of advice in this forum about minimizing instructions are incredibly important. As a TBall coach where on the first day 2 of the kids were licking the pitchers mound on a rainy day (yes, it is true), a baseball coach, and martial arts instructor of many years there are a few things I've found that benefit all kids, but specifically the group being discussed. Downtime is the enemy. Every moment the kids are idle, is a moment that allows all kids to tune out, get frustrated, lose their focus, etc. And some of them just can't get it back. I learned very quickly that I had to shut up and let the kids practice. Teach what needed to be said, and then get them going to preserve whatever excitement, focus they had. As part of this, I as often as possible broke things into smaller groups and with additional help from assistant coaches (or parents) ran them through drills designed to keep as many as possible focused and moving as much as possible. This has it's roots in my martial arts training specifically, but in the same BB/Chip Kelly mold of not wasting time in a practice. If I can have 4-5 outfielders working a drill station where 3 are in motion at any one time, I do so. Simultaneously, there is another small group doing an infield drill where there is only one extra fielder, and everyone is rotating through every position. Then the remainder of the kids (no more than 3) are in a 3rd group, doing hitting drills - either in the cage, or some other way. The hitting coach initiates rotating, sending his completed kids one at a time to the outfielder group, whose coach then sends one of his into the infielder group, who then sends one of his to the hitting coach. As much as possible small groups practice to maximize involvement. I modify the drills in any way possible to keep a kid moving, so even after completing the drill (and he/they are out of the way of the next person/group) there is another piece or transition to before getting back in line - even if it is just to run/travel to the opposite end to get back into line - that 10 to 20 seconds just matters.

Finally, there was a study by a Harvard researcher that reported that before school exercise that were a) physical in nature and b) complex movements (meaning more than simply running) sharpened the focus, and led to increased performance in the classroom for the first couple of periods of the day. I've taken that to mean that if you get the body moving in a way that the brain has to be engaged because it's not a mundane physical task, it causes better focus for a period. So I started doing short 10 minute exercise periods before practice - but not running. Crazy warmups is what I called them. Things like plyometric type hopping back and forth down the base lines, one legged jumping, anything I could think of, crazy patterns inside and out of cones, you name it. Make them count out loud by 2's or 3's just to keep the mind engaged. I even let the kids add stuff. It may have made no difference (except in my head), but I feel like the kids were more involved from the beginning and stayed that way if I kept them in relative motion.

I apologize if this sounds like I am talking down or to anyone... I'm not. I'm just trying to explain a couple of ways that I tried to minimize the lack of focus that all kids have, and specifically those that struggle with it. I'm making no assumptions about the experience level of anyone in this conversation, I presume others have done it a lot longer than I.

Note: One of those 2 kids licking the water on the pitchers mound that day may or may not have been a blood relative. Ugh... lol
 

Heinie Wagner

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Licking the pitcher's mound! That is funny! I appreciate the input.

Trying to keep things simple and celebrate any success. I bring the kid to and from practice a lot (he lives nearby) and it's cool to hear him say things like "I'm glad we play this team again, I was terrible the first time we played them and I've gotten a lot better". It's rewarding to hear any kids say that really made me feel good for him to know that he's learned a lot this season.