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Digital Minimalism and Sports

A couple weeks ago, I posted an article in reaction to the news that the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals now allows his players to take “phone breaks” during their team meetings.

“You start to see kind of hands twitching and legs shaking, and you know they need to get that social media fix,” he helpfully explained.

If you’re one of the many readers who joined me in thinking this move was a shortsighted capitulation, I’m hoping to help improve your mood by sharing some uplifting counter programming from the world of college basketball.

As reported by Time, earlier this season, the Texas Tech Red Raiders suffered a bad stretch during which they lost three road games in a row.

Looking for solutions, their captain, Norense Odiase, instituted a new rule: the night before away games, players would surrender their smartphones. The idea was to minimize distractions and improve sleep.

The team’s coach, Chris Beard, who had already banned smartphones at team meals, liked this idea and extended it even further: the phone ban held every night while the team was on the road, whether or not there was a game the next day.

It worked.

Texas Tech went on a 14-1 run after the ban, eventually making it all the way to Monday’s national championship game.

It’s possible, of course, that I’m too quick to connect the basic principles of digital minimalism with sports success, but there’s at least one well-known athlete on my side.

A few days ago, at his pre-tournament press conference, golfer Rory McIlroy, the odds-on favorite to win The Masters this weekend, was asked about the rule at the Augusta National golf course that forbids smartphones (around 21:30 in the above video).

“It’s refreshing,” McIlroy said, noting that “there’s something to learn from that.” He then cited what’s got him thinking about these issues, explaining:

“Actually, a book I’m reading at the minute is called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.”

My work here is done.


On an unrelated note, my friend Michael Hyatt has a new book out this week that I thought a lot of you might enjoy. It’s called, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less. Fans of So Good and Deep Work will find a lot to like in this pragmatic guide. Take a look!

16 thoughts on “Digital Minimalism and Sports”

  1. Just have to say, well done Cal. You are entitled to feel chuffed at that! As a long time fan of yours, I am really happy for you to get that recognition there.

  2. As much as I love your blogs on this, this post does surprise me. As a scientiest, you should be aware that (at least in the article) you have very little to base a causal relationship on.

    • From the article, “It’s possible, of course, that I’m too quick to connect the basic principles of digital minimalism with sports success”.

  3. Mr. Newport;

    I have finished your book “Deep Work”. Great job. Actually when i decited to write this comment, i have already know to you will not see this comment at the moment 🙂 I think “Deep Work” is a massterpiece of a “Deep Work” sequence. Thaks a lot again, respects and loves from Turkey / Istanbul

  4. As I watched the video, at about 21:00 I thought, wow, what a question…this aught to be good….. WOW! I wasn’t expecting a reference to Cal’s work on the subject (the book)!.
    Congrats Cal – your hard work (with a history of moderate resistance) is beginning to impact the world in a very meaningful way.
    (The Revolution is underway!)

  5. I coach High School Football and every spring we take our kids to Team Camp. We use the week as a team building and bonding time where we want our players to talk to each other instead of talking to people via social media. We collect everyone’s phones as they get on the bus and give them back on the bus ride back home. Because we are working with High School students we allow a 1 hour window right before bed when we check their phones out to them and ask them to check in with their parents. We have had absolutely zero complaints from parents or players. In fact, by the second or third day most of our players don’t bother checking their phone out before bed because they are having too much fun with their teammates. We have had to physically hand phones to players and tell them to call home to check in. At the end of the experience they all say they were happy they didn’t have the distraction of the phones and enjoyed connecting more deeply with their friends.


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