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How your smartphone could be making you slower

How your smartphone could be making you slower

Turning to a smartphone for mindless distraction while waiting is, at this point, a near-universal habit. That includes, for many of us, a little pre-race relaxation. Walk through the team area before a race and it is not at all uncommon to see racers scrolling on a smartphone while resting their legs and waiting for the race to start. While it might take your mind off the stress of the race ahead, that habit might be costing you in other ways.

A group of studies across several sports show that spending time on smartphones before physical activity can have a detrimental impact on athlete performance. These impacts range from slower reactions to increased mental fatigue and poorer decision-making.

Taken together, these studies’ findings call into question whether calming pre-race jitters with phone time is actually worth the various negative effects looking at a screen causes.

Smartphones and mental fatigue

Athletes are often celebrated for their physiological achievements but there is no sport in the world that doesn’t require a high level of mental focus to achieve success. With the growing awareness of how mental focus impacts athletic performance, researchers are starting to look seriously at what impacts mental focus.

In a 2019 study in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, researchers asked what impact smartphone app usage was having on pro football (soccer) players.  The study compared how different durations of smartphone usage impacted decision-making in passing.

Researchers subjected the players to 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 45 minutes of smartphone use. They then used a Stroop Task to assess the level of mental fatigue before having them play a simulated soccer game for sport-specific decision-making analysis.

The conclusions are straightforward. While 15 minutes of smartphone use didn’t have a significant impact, anything over 30 minutes did. At the half-hour mark, smartphone app exposure caused measurable mental fatigue which impaired the players’ performance in psychomotor tasks, like passing.

What are psychomotor tasks on bikes? Choices like when to break into a corner while riding in a pack, or down a mountain. How to react when a rider near you changes lines or puts in an acceleration. Any number of the infinite decisions that happen over the course of a race.

Does what you watch matter?

Modern smartphones are amazing pieces of technology, letting you access everything from social media to YouTube tutorials on any conceivable…

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