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The Arizona Cardinals Now Give Their Players Phone Breaks

Photo by Skitterphoto.

Earlier this week, at the NFL owners meetings, Kliff Kingsbury, the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, revealed a new rule for team meetings: “cellphone breaks.”

As reported by ESPN, Kingsbury introduces these breaks every 20 – 30 minutes during team gatherings. As he explained:

“You start to see kind of hands twitching and legs shaking, and you know they need to get that social media fix, so we’ll let them hop over there and then get back in the meeting and refocus.”

Many concerned readers sent me this article, and with good reason. It’s an extreme case of a techno-philosophy that I facetiously call the kids these days mindset, in which parents, educators, bosses and (it now seems) coaches shrug their shoulders when confronted with the impacts of highly addictive technology on young people.

This football example is useful because it so clearly highlights the shortsightedness of this strategy.

(Do you know what lasts much longer than 20 – 30 minutes? NFL games. And there are no phone breaks once you’re on the field.)

Instead of accommodating his player’s twitching hands, therefore, perhaps Kingsbury should see this reaction as a crisis. Elite level sports require phenomenal concentration. Even a small epsilon degradation in this ability can be the difference between a cornerback disrupting a play or being burned on a slant, which itself can be the difference-maker in a game.

Most coaches would never tolerate a habit that was clearly harming their players’ physical fitness, regardless of how popular it was in the general public. The same standards should hold for their players’ cognitive fitness.

The broader point here, however, is that these standards should also extend to less obvious applications of this mindset, such as when a teacher concedes to student demands to replace written book reports with YouTube videos, or a parent shrugs off a child’s Fortnite addiction.

Part of growing into a meaningful and impactful adult life is developing the ability to replace what’s fun with what’s important. This process is hard, and therefore requires, for lack of a better word, some good coaching.


Unrelated administrative note: My friend Scott Young, who is soon to publish a book on Ultralearning, opened his famed Rapid Learner course this week for new students. If you’re interested in high performance learning techniques for professional or personal development reasons, it’s worth a closer look.

22 thoughts on “The Arizona Cardinals Now Give Their Players Phone Breaks”

  1. Honestly Cal, when I first read the title I thought “Phone break” meant a compulsory break FROM your cellphone, and was felt quite happy… for about 5s. What sort of drivel is this? Alarming doesn’t even begin to describe these trends. You are right, these habits need to be nipped in the bud lest they develop (read mutate) into YouTube/Fortnite/PUBG addictions (or worse).

    But on a happier note, thank you very much for your 2016 NYT article on quitting social media and the link to Andy Sullivan’s essay.

  2. Good luck with that!

    I’m not sure your analogy to physical fitness necessarily holds either. I don’t know what it’s like in the NFL, but here in the UK, coaches of elite level sports teams often tolerate a team culture that includes heavy drinking and late nights, and that’s not a ‘kids today’ thing: it’s been going on for decades.

    • “Here in the UK, coaches of elite level sports teams often tolerate a team culture that includes heavy drinking and late nights, and that’s not a ‘kids today’ thing: it’s been going on for decades.”

      I assume those parties off the clock and not during business hours. For this analogy to work, coaches would have to tolerate alcohol consumption and partying during team meetings.

      • No, not at all. Cal said, “Most coaches would never tolerate a habit that was clearly harming their players’ physical fitness, regardless of how popular it was in the general public.” The issue is harm to physical fitness, not limited to whether it’s in a team meeting or not.

  3. Maybe players should be assessed for social addiction and have their contracts adjusted accordingly. I too find this strategy borderline infantile. I liken this to imagining the pathetic outcome if we let our elite military take social media breaks during grueling physical and tactical training.

  4. Jocko Willink talks about the “teams” (Navy Seal teams) and how his Seal role models were “quiet professionals”. My guess is that even elite military members are now wasting time online throughout the work day. Sidenote: I have stopped listening to Jocko’s podcast. He has developed a cult-like following, all built by social media. When he started his podcast, he gave the impression he was apprehensive about social media. However, he has built an empire via social media which has caused me to lose some respect for him.

    • Hey man,

      I’m a fan of Jocko’s Podcasts as well, but damn you are absolutely right about the cult-like following; it’s absolutely repelling. And I agree with the social media point too — there is far too much social media in our lives and it’s sad to see that those who are supposed to be the “quiet professionals” are overly loud on social media.

  5. Working in schools, I am not sure what frustrates me more: older teachers/administrators bemoaning techno-addiction and doing nothing to stop it, or the cynical efforts by young teachers to capitalize on their “know how” by assigning historical tweet assignments or youtube reports. Blech!!

    As a young millennial, I am frustrated those issues hadn’t been treated more seriously for my cohort, let alone iGen. However, now we have a significant body of research related to technology use, mental health, etc. The data is clear enough that the failure for schools to stand up to smart-phone use is negligent.

  6. Cal, I read “Digital Minimalism” two weeks ago and it has totally changed my life for the better! I’ve quit social media, long text conversations, and subscribed to the print-edition of the New York Times. I’ve started calling friends and family who I want a deep relationship with.

    I’m happier, more productive and more connected with my family and friends than ever before! Thank you so much for the wake up call!

    Your biggest fan,


  7. Any thoughts on English Premier League manager blocked WIFI access for players to curb any gaming addictions (total opposite to Kliff Kingsberry approach of relaxed discipline)?

    “You have to help protect them because it’s not a small problem. If you are honest it’s the same as alcoholism or getting addicted to drugs.”

  8. I agree with this view and think this ‘new rule’ is quite ridiculous. But I’d like to point out that although there is an ‘authority figure vs subordinate’ relationship here, these players are not kids. None of them are teenagers, most of them are in their mid-20’s and a good number are in their 30’s. These players are grown men. And when they’re at a team meeting they are at work – not at home lounging on the sofa. They should be expected to pay attention and participate fully – just like any other time they are at work. Giving them social media breaks because they look agitated after such a short time is a bad play.

    • The problem is these players also make more individually than most of their bosses, save the owners. How can you tell someone who makes more than you what to do, when it’s very clear that the owners will more often than not take the players sides against coaches? Instituting a ban right now is a great way for a coach to lose the locker room and their job.

  9. A bit tangential, but when will Deep Work come out in paperback? I pre-ordered it on Amazon, but they don’t know when it will be available.

  10. Agreed, of course–but as a person who has to sit through another board meeting next week despite that fact that 99.9% of the decisions we make could be handled in ways that don’t waste my time, I think there’s something else at play here as well. From your perspective, it’s easy to say “phone addiction makes players jittery”; from mine, it’s “coach blathering on and on about nothing makes players tap their toes and look at the time.” But in either case/both cases, the solution isn’t “give them phone breaks.”

  11. All high performers need to ditch the smartphone. I’m constantly astounded how the most talented and successful people aren’t using the “dumb phone” as a status symbol yet.

    Leonardo Candoza

  12. How would you suggest meeting new people? After graduating college a year and a half ago finding friends that I can meet up with in person has been difficult. I have already distanced myself from social media thanks to the points you’ve made.

  13. Interesting related moment last night in the Philly / Brooklyn playoff game last night in the NBA, with players on the bench caught using a phone (strictly verboten) while losing.

  14. It feels like now days we bend so easily to our simple desires such as constantly checking social media instead of investigating why we have those compulsions and recognizing them as we once did as compulsions that could probably use some reigning in. It feels like as a society and especially in education we bend to peoples wills instead of upholding a certain level of expectation and dealing with pushback if necessary. Stand your ground for what is right and what is good, don’t just bend to what is easy.


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