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Cellphone breaks, are you kidding me?

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I think what Kliff Kingsbury is doing by giving the player’s cellphone breaks every 20-30 minutes is, as we say in Massachusetts, “wicked smaht. Any high school teacher, college professor or coach, will tell you that the students’ cellphones are the bane of their classrooms. It’s not much different either among adults these days. When I was a department head, I often had to speak with a colleague after a department meeting when I noticed them peeking at their phones.

Anxiety in any classroom or meeting situation is a common condition. People feel trapped. They are walled in on high alert.
I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times when my class and I arrived at the sheer moment of epiphany when a student eagerly raised their hand, to have me eagerly call on them, only to hear, “Can I go to the lav?

The student often didn’t have to go to the bathroom—the student HAD to use their cellphone. So, then I issued a policy where the students had to leave their cellphones on my desk when they received the lav pass from me. Yup. You probably guessed it. Kids were clever enough to bring a second cellphone to class or to borrow a classmate’s.

So, then I implemented a new strategy to have the students put their cellphones in their backpacks and leave the backpacks at the back of the room. Ironically, this caused the kids so much stress that many more of them really needed to go to the lav. As a teacher, you get so tired of giving kids lav passes left and right—and with the ongoing traffic in and out of the room.
So, in trying to understand the students’ anxiety and angst about feeling trapped, I tried a new policy. I left a lav pass at the back of the room with a sign-out sheet and said the students could use it whenever they wanted, as long as they did not bring their cellphones with them.

It was amazing, really.

Just knowing that there was an immediate escape route was enough to make most students less anxious.
And because the majority of the students were engaged in the class and were driving the bulk of the curriculum themselves, most of them didn’t want to leave the room.

The traffic in and out of the class waned to the point of only 2 or 3 students going to the lav per class. I rewarded the students by listening to music on their cellphones whenever they were working on a writing project. This was a boon. The students looked forward to writing in ways they hadn’t before. What Kliff Kingsbury completely understands is not only the urge for today’s young adults and older adults alike to check in on their cellphones but to take a small break every 20-30 minutes.

In the classroom and in planning football practices, 20 minutes was about the most I would ever plan for one activity. Kingsbury is right on about the number of minutes. After the first 20 minutes, teachers and coaches need to shift the students into another part of the lesson or practice plan. And so on and so on until the end of the class or practice.

That is the way to maximize focus and attention spans—and therefore, the best way to maximize learning. When I worked for John Madden on the original Madden video game, he once told me that when he was the head coach of the Raiders, he always put the hardest plays in during the first 20 minutes of practice—because he knew the players’ concentration level would be at its highest.

Madden said it worked out great too because, by taking on the toughest challenges first, everything after that during the practice seemed easier by comparison. Kliff Kingsbury is doing the smart thing by trying to eliminate distractions and social media temptations. In a way, this is like a teacher putting a lav pass with a log-out sheet at the back of their room. The players won’t feel nearly as trapped, and they will feel comforted to know that the breaks are built-in and something they can rely on. And let’s be clear—Kingsbury is talking about meetings. He’s not talking about practices. The players will be expected to be locked in for the duration of practice. No one is bringing a cellphone out to the field.

What I love about Kingsbury thus far is it seems very clear that the coach wants his players to enjoy work and have fun playing the game. I think that was lost among the Cardinals’ players the last few years.

In this way, Kingsbury reminds me of a young John Madden. Madden was only 32 when Al Davis promoted him to head coach. Madden felt that the experience he had working under Don Coryell at San Diego St. prepared him very well to be the head coach of the Raiders. Madden was highly innovative—and his players loved playing for him because he rode them hard, gave them a strategic competitive advantage, and always kept the fun in the game.

By the way, Madden’s favorite play was the weak-side counter-trey off-tackle play—which just so happens to be one of the signatures plays in Kliff Kingsbury’s playbook. Who knows, maybe one day Kingsbury will have his own video game