Expertly Selected by Dr. John F Murray
UCFB-LMA Insights Series: Football & Sports Psychology
Intelligence Testing in the National Football League
NFL draftees have taken the Wonderlic test for years as a result of team owners need to decide if their million dollar player has the psychological features to be a star on the field. The coaches understand that players need to be smart and to quickly to succeed on the field. That’s why, each potential draft pick takes the Wonderlic Personnel Test to prove he does-or doesn’t-have the brains to win the game. The WPT is a brief mental test that measures players’ ability to think on their feet, follow directions, and process effectively under pressure of time.
The first use of the WPT in the NFL was by Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys in the early 70s, who took a scientific approach to finding players. Each year sports writers joke about jocks taking intelligence tests, but it’s a lesson to any business owner who is about to invest a sizable chunk of money into a new hire. Given the investment, they need all the information they can get about players’ physical and mental skills. It’s the only cognitive measure used by the NFL, and players’ Wonderlic scores can determine where they end up in the draft and which players get the million dollar salaries. For the NFL, years of testing shows that the higher a player scores on the Wonderlic, the more likely he is to be in the starting lineup-for any position.
At the same time, there is so much more to know about a player than this brief test that can be prepared and studied for. Good sports psychologists have many ways to get at this critical information, so their input is vital. Nevertheless, the Wonderlic serves thousands of clients, including the NFL combine, which has used the Wonderlic Personnel Test for more than 30 years as part of its draft selection process. Wonderlic tests are referenced in hundreds of books on psychology and have been featured all over the media.
Football’s attitude to sports psychology is gradually maturing
In years gone by, the way that teams and players prepared for games was very different. Sports psychology has lagged behind somewhat, although that situation is changing. Clubs are searching for an edge over the competition wherever they can find it, and more players are seeking out help unprompted too. It’s difficult to quantify the effect that sports psychology can have on a footballer’s performance, particularly given all the many factors and variables involved, but it is no doubt huge.The bottom line is that the prevalence of sports psychology in football, and all sports, and the way it’s perceived, continues to change and evolve. Attitudes towards it today are far less resistant than they once were and some players are reaping considerable benefits as a result. Traditionally slow to adapt and embrace innovative ideas compared to other sports, football is finally catching up.