Admiral Schofield has given up plenty to make it to the NBA. He skipped prom his junior year because he felt he needed to focus on basketball, and five years ago he stopped eating Taco Bell and his favorite dish, fettuccine Alfredo, to keep his body fat down.
But for Schofield, a chiseled Washington Wizards rookie, his greatest sacrifices have not involved high school dances or pasta. Giving up swiping, scrolling and posting on Twitter has required herculean will power.
“Probably Alfredo. It’ll be easier to give up Alfredo,” Schofield said. “Twitter would definitely be harder to give up.”
The Wizards know players such as the 22-year-old Schofield fill the locker room, those who have grown up in the social media age, when all forms of entertainment and information can be found in the palm of their hands. This season, the team has encouraged them to start monitoring their screen time. Too much of it can have negative side effects, including the disruption of sleep patterns, according to a study by the Mayo Clinic.
“We’re just trying to create that awareness to make everybody be more thoughtful about their time used on social media versus other things,” General Manager Tommy Sheppard said. “Be aware how much time is too much.”
The Wizards felt so strongly that that they hosted a team-wide meeting during training camp in October. It was titled “Better habits and behaviors around phone use.”
“I remember how they were trying to [tell] us, like, it’s their job in a sense to keep you looking at your phone,” point guard Ish Smith recalled about how apps keep users hooked. “That was the one thing that resonated with me. That’s crazy.”
For at least one of his teammates, all the talk about addictive apps might have had the opposite effect. Rookie guard Justin Robinson felt a twinge of separation anxiety as his device rested in his locker stall after players were instructed not to bring their phones to the session.
“It’s weird. Once they had their presentation, it made me want to go to my phone even more,” Robinson said. “It was very weird. Like, dang, I want to go check my phone right now.”
Before and after games, Wizards players can be found scrolling on their smartphones.
“I’m actually playing this new game,” guard Jordan McRae announced ahead of the Nov. 22 game, showing his phone to people nearby. “I’m actually making pizza.”
McRae is hardly alone in finding time-wasting apps. According to eMarketer, a research firm, the average American adult will spend about 3 hours 43 minutes every day on phones or tablets this year.
While there’s no harm in liking photos on Instagram — or making pizza on an app — the Wizards have advised players that it’s in their interest to be cognizant of how much time they’re spending on their phones.
“We’re never going to be the people to say: ‘Don’t be on that.’ Because I don’t think any person in that space would advise that,” Sheppard said. “It’s not quit cold turkey, but it’s monitor, measure and adjust.”
In the effort to curb late-night screen time and promote sleep, the Wizards’ basketball operations staff no longer sends video clips to players’ phones after games. The team now sends video during the day, preferably on an off day. Sheppard admitted that he used to employ the night method because he knew players often hop on their phones after games, giving him a captive audience.
“That’s where we’re the biggest hypocrites, right? We’ll send them clips all the time on their phone, because I know they’ll watch it on their phone,” he said. “ ‘Hey, don’t look at your phone, except for the stuff that we send you.’ You can’t do that.”
Besides helping players sleep, the Wizards hope their gentle nudging will create healthier minds.
Trolls can creep under every tweet or photo a player posts — recently, CJ Miles said he had a brief back-and-forth with an Instagram user after he shared a picture of his wife. While some athletes go with Miles’s method in not taking the feedback too seriously and responding with a quip, others, such as Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant, have had run-ins with fans that have gone viral.
Understanding that fans have a direct line to share their criticisms and opinions, which can affect a player’s mood and focus, Robinson has tried giving up his phone. Once, while playing at Virginia Tech, he said he went on a seven-day social media sabbatical. Then, he managed to stay off Twitter while missing 12 games of his senior year with a foot injury.
“I feel like my mind was clear because I didn’t look at other people’s opinions about myself or other topics going on in the world,” Robinson said. “I think it gave [me] the ability to make an observation for myself.”
Moritz Wagner, a 22-year-old center, has quietly phased out his social media usage.
“Even if you have a good game and people are hyping you up, that stuff doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just to stay focused on the important stuff. I don’t want to compare myself to others. I want to help this team. This is what all that matters. It’s funny, like, I tried to cut it down, and then at some point I realized I don’t really need it. You don’t think about it in your daily life. So, yeah, I don’t miss it at all.”
Months have passed since Wizards players learned how app developers are trying to control their brains. The session encouraged Schofield to make some changes. He said he now uses a setting that shows him how long he spends on a particular app. So when he realized he was averaging three hours per day, Schofield made the same difficult choice he had once applied to his beloved creamy sauce.
Although Schofield still scrolls social media occasionally, he’s learning to put down his phone.
“[Averaging three hours on Twitter] is like as much time as we spend on the court. I could be getting better [at basketball] in a sense,” Schofield said. “That really made me want to make some changes and adjustments.”