Feature: Social media – the real issue for Kyrgios/Chiller

Social Media: The real issue in the Kyrgios/Chiller Debate

The debate continues across social media between the 2016 Olympic Chef de Mission, Kitty Chiller and world ranked tennis player Nick Kyrgios. It is a timely reminder to our athletes to consider how they are going to manage their own social media use throughout the 2016 Olympic Games. Kitty Chiller is a hard working, committed and passionate leader of the Australian Olympic Team. Nick Kyrgios is a passionate and dynamic athlete. Australia is fortunate to have both of them! 

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Nick Kyrgios and Kitty Chiller. Photo: ABC

Media loves controversy. It builds ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ and feeds the frenzied appetite of consumers while selling advertising space. There are obvious discussions with our Olympians that center around being mindful of what they ‘post’ and to stay away from controversial comments on social media.

Equally important and less spoken about, however, is how interacting with social media can be emotionally draining and interfere with athletic performance.

For hundreds of thousands of years, mankind was wired for survival with a physically active body and a mentally calm mind. As a species, we needed to physically move to survive. To hunt, to gather, to flee from predators and migrate with the seasons. To stay safe while we hunted, we needed to remain cognisant of what was hunting us. This required a physically active body and a clear mind. In just a few decades, however, we have flipped this survival mechanism and become physically less active and more mentally frenetic.

With the escalation in technology and social media, our athletes are at risk of becoming more and more mentally frenetic. This mental busyness burns energy. If I asked an athlete to run for 24 hours non-stop, most would acknowledged they couldn’t do so. Moving from a run to a walk before sitting down somewhere quietly to recover, depleted of glycogen and water their muscles would eventually freeze.

Like the body, the brain also requires energy to function effectively. If it is constantly engaged with mental activity both good and bad, it too will become depleted and freeze. A depleted brain finds it difficult to concentrate and focus. It has a slower reaction time and poor decision making ability.

So much of elite sport requires mental skills. Allowing the athlete to explode out of the blocks. Or in team sports to scan and read the playing environment. To see where one’s team mates and competition are. Finding the gaps and moving through time and space brilliantly.

A mentally fatigued brain struggles to perform efficiently. Social networking and computer game playing may be a welcome distraction whilst sitting around the Olympic Village waiting to compete. However they need to be well managed.

Computer game playing requires a large amount of emotional energy. It may help pump you up for the beginning of your competition, but it will make sustaining concentration difficult. Depleted levels of dopamine can result in a drop in motivation and focus. If you start with a depleted tank you may not be able to maintain a high level of focus day-after-day.

Restrict screen time to no-more than 1 – 2 hours each day. Have someone else edit your social media. Hurtful comments or posts dump unwanted adrenaline and cortisol into your body. This adds to tension and fatigue to poor focus and agitation.

You have worked so hard to get to the Olympics. Be smart about your screen time and social media use. Let family and loved ones know there may be times where you need to switch-off. They will understand!