Like the rest of us, athletes and their tendencies are products of the times.
We Instagram. They Instagram. We talk trash to strangers on Twitter. They dish out the mocking avatar just as quickly and effectively.
The digital age is affecting how we find and consume information—young people, especially—and the San Francisco 49ers appear to be the first NFL team to begin structuring franchise operations to cater to players who grew up in the online age of instant information.
The Wall Street Journal's Kevin Clark published a story Tuesday about new 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula and his staff's decision to begin altering team meetings in order to maximize their effectiveness for young players with shorter attention spans.
Clark writes that the team consulted with multiple groups of experts to develop a plan that would engage players with a penchant for zoning out and compulsive phone checking.
The 49ers coaching staff, led by new head coach Jim Tomsula, realized that they are dealing with the same problem as millions of parents, even if they are dealing with massive, athletic millionaires. The issue is how to relate to a generation—generally described as 18-to-34-year-olds—that has been raised on smartphones and instant information.
So the team consulted with experts ranging from Stanford University researchers to advertising executives to learn how, exactly, the young brain works.
The plan itself calls for chopping up long, two-hour meetings into smaller, 30-minute segments, with a short break between sections for players to talk and peruse social media. Tomsula says the decision was made after experts explained how most of today's young people will tune out of an oration in a half-hour's time.
“The [experts] are telling me about attention spans and optimal learning,” Tomsula told Clark. “I’m thinking, ‘My gosh, we sit in two-hour meetings. You are telling me after 27 minutes no one’s getting anything?’”
Other changes in the 49ers' approach include enhanced digital playbooks, briefings on social media and digital schedule alerts for meetings.
Not everyone on the team is taking Twitter breaks, however. Quarterbacks coach Steve Logan said most of his guys, including Colin Kaepernick, want to truck on through.
"Every 30 minutes I say, 'You want to take a break?' and they rarely do," Logan said. "They want to go go go."
On one hand, I like what the 49ers are trying to do here. The league is considering scientific research to try to make the game safer, and choosing to only implement changes when it concerns athletes' physical well-being seems like a myopic way to approach new knowledge and information.
But then there's the dusty I had to sit in college classes for three hours at a time! Uphill both ways in a sandstorm! fuddy-duddy side of my brain that thinks social media breaks are dumb, unnecessary and might derail a useful discussion due to arbitrary time constraints.
I guess we'll see how it plays out on the field. If Kaepernick's attention span expands from his first read to his second this year, Tomsula's plan might be working.