The Impact of Smartphone Usage on Decision-Making Skills in Professional Footballers

Research about smartphones impact football players

In today’s digital age, smartphones have become an inseparable part of our daily lives. Yet, recent studies shed light on the potentially harmful effects of app usage on these devices. A novel research study has examined the correlation between smartphone usage and ‘passing decision-making’ abilities among footballers.

Read more: The Impact of Smartphone Usage on Decision-Making Skills in Professional Footballers

The Age of Constant Stimuli:

Over the last decade, the influx of stimuli has remarkably doubled. This influx, mainly from mobile phones (e.g., social media, WhatsApp) and activities like watching TV or gaming, has significantly influenced our attention mechanisms. As a result, the stimulus-driven attention system is frequently activated, reducing our ability to consciously direct our attention. Consequently, our working memory, responsible for focus and concentration, becomes more dormant, causing distractions and diminished focus (Klingberg, 2009). This issue is increasingly prevalent among children, teens, and adults. Studies reveal that after being distracted, say by checking one’s smartphone, it takes an individual 20 minutes to regain full concentration.

Football and Mental Strain:

Football, being a fast-paced and dynamic sport, demands players to be both physically and mentally at their peak. The dynamic nature requires constant decision-making and impulse control. Critical brain functions like perception, attention, inhibition, and working memory play pivotal roles in this. Decision-making skills can be enhanced through visualization exercises and small-sided games. However, factors like dehydration and mental fatigue negatively affect these skills. Researchers argue that smartphone usage, especially apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, might induce mental fatigue, an issue prevalent among players before matches and training sessions.

Study Objective and Hypothesis:

Leonardo S. Fortes and his team from the Universidade Federal da Paraíba sought to investigate the impact of smartphone usage on mental fatigue and, by extension, decision-making skills in the field. The prevailing hypothesis is that smartphone usage negatively affects on-field decision-making abilities.

The Experiment:

To validate this hypothesis, 20 professional footballers aged between 18 to 35 (M = 24.7 ± 3.6) were selected. These players were then randomly divided into four groups: control, 15-min smartphone usage, 30-min smartphone usage, and 45-min smartphone usage. Post their smartphone session, players were subjected to the Stroop test to measure mental fatigue. After the test, they participated in a regular match, which was recorded and analyzed using the ‘Passing decision-making index (DMI)’.

Revealing Results:

Using the ANOVA statistical test, it was observed that there’s a significant effect on decision-making abilities with increased mental fatigue. Groups exposed to 30 and 45 minutes of smartphone usage (p = .01, h2 = 0.6 for both) displayed poorer decision-making skills than the control group. Thus, the researchers concluded that smartphone usage for 30 minutes or more can lead to mental fatigue, affecting the players’ decision-making skills on the field.

Recommendations and Personal Views:

In line with the findings of Klingsberg, it’s evident that excessive stimuli make our working memory lethargic. Personally, I fully endorse the recommendation to keep smartphones away, especially leading up to a match. However, it’s crucial to consider other influencing factors like tactics, quality, and positioning in football. Though decision-making errors may not be solely attributed to smartphone usage, the correlation, as evidenced by multiple studies, is too strong to ignore.

Table with results

Fortes, L.S., et al., “Effect of exposure time to smartphone apps on passing decision-making in male soccer athletes,” Psychology of Sport & Exercise (2019). [Li

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