G.Escobar/Nation Hoops, used with permission
Source: G.Escobar/Nation Hoops, used with permission

Let’s face it: Being a competitive athlete requires extreme dedication, training, sacrifice, the ability to improve, constantly adjust to new challenges, and maintain a ferocious focus on performance. Whether you are an amateur athlete or superstar like LeBron James, you strive to bring your best efforts to your sport.

Ultimately, to be a champion like 6’8”, 249 lbs., LeBron James, you need a confluence of factors to come together: build, natural talent, training, a capacity to cope with stress under pressure, and above all, the ability to maintain focus. All of these things work together and become the “it” factor. Whether you are a fan or not, you cannot deny that LeBron James has “it." Other professional athletes, coaches, not only respect his athleticism on the basketball court, they even go as far as to suggest that he is the best athlete in the world. So what does he do that is different from most athletes? Since his time with the Miami Heat, LeBron James goes dark: He withdraws from social media during the championship season to focus on the game. He refers to it as #zerodark23.

James is not trying to throw shade onto social media by going dark. In fact, he is very active on various platforms. He is simply trying to minimize distractions during crunch time. After all, distraction is the enemy of focus. Despite this, distractions seem to surround us on an everyday basis. Our phones ring, ding, and chime to alert us to calls, emails, tweets, news, or posts on social media, letting the superfluous opinions and information invade our mind frames. It is known that athletes are at their best when they keep their mind on the game and pay attention to cues that are relevant to their optimal performance. Intense focus is difficult to achieve for any athlete, especially for adolescent athletes, who have fewer emotional resources developed to deal with internal or external distractions.  Working with distractions is similar to multi-tasking…and none of us are very good at multi-tasking. Social media is not only a way for teens to stay connected, it can act as an ultimate distractor and results in teens being regular multi-taskers. Past studies consistently show that when you try to split your focus, the number of mistakes made increases and performance suffers. Social media is such a distractor that multi-tasking with social media has been linked to being negatively correlated with GPA.

Not only do we suck at multi-tasking, heavy social media use can also make us feel lousy. Studies have even linked social media use to depression, and social anxiety. Being online can also result in sleep problems. If you think about it, feeling depressed, anxious, and tired might not be the best thing when going into a big game! A teenage athlete should pay particular attention to this information, since adolescents use devices and social media more than any other age group. 

You might disagree that James is the greatest basketball player of all time, but you can’t deny that he has incredible ability, nor can you ignore the influence he has on young kids and teens across the country. His actions in managing his social media during championship season in order to minimize distraction, slow down, reset, and refocus on the game, might serve as a model for both young students and young athletes alike. James is a living lesson that distractions are the worst enemy for optimal performance in sports and in other parts of our lives, and going dark on occasion may be a good thing. As far as I could find, LeBron James is the only professional athlete publicly endorsing a social media black out before championship season. Perhaps this triple champion is on to something:  #resetrefocus #godark #zerodark23

About the Author

Linda Escobar Olszewski PsyD

Linda Escobar Olszewski, PsyD is an assistant professor in pediatrics and psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai. 

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