Instant replay has become a big part of sports these days, with supporters arguing that the time needed to get the call right easily offsets any game disruption that occurs when officials huddle around a monitor and confer over a questionable play. The argument for instant replay generally revolves around the point that if we have the tools to get a call right, why not use them? It’s also true that in the vast majority of cases when plays are reviewed, the result is a fair and accurate call that sometimes wasn’t caught when the play first occurred on the field or court. With that said, there may be a bigger, game-impacting dimension to instant replay that is rarely discussed yet very important — that is, the degree in which in-game psychological flow and momentum are impacted by the time out from games needed to review plays in question.
While it is near impossible to gauge and quantify the degree in which the “psychology” of the game is impacted by instant replay, most athletes and coaches would likely agree that these official timeouts do indeed change the game. In fact, just last night TNT basketball analyst Steve Kerr talked specifically about this conundrum during an instant replay review in the Bulls – Knicks game, citing that the time it takes to review a play often negatively disrupts the rhythm of a game.
Since instant replay has been introduced many calls have been overturned, providing for a more fair game by minimizing human error. Conversely, games have become longer because of instant replay, often taking the crowd out of the game and changing the on-court/field dynamics as a result. The net tradeoff of the time needed to “get it right” versus the potential changes to the game being played because of the disruption is one worth considering — especially in cases where the delays are longer than usual. In these examples players slow down their bodies (and sometimes begin to tighten up), and crowds often become more quiet (or leave their seats and head to the concession stands).
The Big Picture
While most people think of the delays instant replay causes, perhaps we should widen our scope and delve deeper into the psychological implications of instant replay. Team synchrony and success on the field and court often occurs because of game flow and momentum, and these psychological factors might be compromised when instant replays occur.