One of the most influential developments in the last decade has been the explosion of social media and its inevitable effects on individual and group behaviour.
Sport has not been able to resist Twitter, the new communication of choice for many. However, when someone who has just delivered an awe-inspiring Olympic Games speaks out about the potential dangers, one should take note.
Therefore, professional rugby players should pay attention to Seb Coe’s comments about ‘quite a high correlation’ between elite athletes who spend their time texting and tweeting and potential underperformance on the sports pitch.
This is all to do with the mental preparation that an athlete goes through before competition. It is no different for a rugby player, an opera singer or any form of performer. Mental rehearsal and preparation are widely acknowledged as important contributors to success and aspects which are gaining more and more attention. To meddle with these or to allow one’s focus to falter is inherently risky. By definition, if concentration wavers, then distraction replaces it.
It sounds entirely logical that to be constantly texting or posting something on Facebook and Twitter when you should really be focusing on the task risks an adverse effect on one’s performance. Yet, some players still do it — the temptations and risks are real.
Of course, it might be easier if elite sportspeople refrained entirely from using social media and, indeed, many do, however it is naïve to think that this is possible for all. A far healthier situation would be education, encouragement and self-management.
There are two clear options: some rugby set-ups currently try to ‘help’ this self-management by imposing a ban on social media for a certain period of time before a match. Alternatively, the player is encouraged to behave responsibly and chooses to avoid social media for a period of time. However, this takes self-awareness and self-discipline, something that players may lack.
Rugby is not immune. Technology is not going away and neither are the risks.