Should We Test the Intelligence of Athletes?

Topic(s): assessment, selection
Publication: Human Performance (2009)
Article: Not much more than g? An examination of the impact of intelligence on NFL performance
Authors: B.D. Lyons, B.J. Hoffman, J.W. Michel
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin, M.A.

In investigating the relationship between intelligence and performance, researchers (Lyons, Hoffman, & Michel, 2009) examined the general mental ability and performance of 762 football players drafted during the 2002, 2003, and 2004 NFL Drafts. Since there are relatively few kickers and punters, they were excluded. Cognitive ability was evaluated using the Wonderlic test. Performance was assessed three ways: future NFL performance, including position specific criterion such as total tackles and touchdowns over a three-year period; draft position, referring to when the player was selected by a professional team in the NFL Draft; and number of games started. Shockingly enough, cognitive ability did not relate to performance.

So, general mental ability does not appear to predict performance of professional players. That’s not to say that intelligence is not related to the performance of professional football players.  Rather, this study shows that intelligence as measured by the Wonderlic does not relate to football performance. It is possible that intelligence as measured by another instrument could show a relationship to athletic performance. As a take home message, be thoughtful in selecting the tool that you use to measure something. The Wonderlic may be a helpful predictor of performance in business settings, but its use in alternative contexts such as the world of the NFL may not be as valid.


Lyons, B.D., Hoffman, B.J., & Michel, J.W. (2009). Not much more than g? An examination of the impact of intelligence on NFL performance. Human Performance, 22, 225-245.