How to Measure Athletic Intelligence of Baseball Players
Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports. Pitch velocity, bat speed, and even the shape of the ball and bat impact a hitter’s ability to make contact. Can athletic intelligence impact a player’s swing and if so, can it be measured?
A 100 mile per hour fastball travels so fast that the human brain can’t physically process what it’s seeing, which makes it even more impressive when a Major League Baseball (MLB) player hits a ball 450 feet.
Have you ever wondered what allows MLB hitters to successfully hit home runs not just once, but many times over the course of their career? Evaluating talent and assessing if a player can be successful at the next level is a combination of art, science, and a little bit of luck.
It requires the ability to study and grade many attributes such as physical (e.g. size, speed, and strength), experience, and character (e.g. work ethic). Most of these attributes have been investigated and measured over time.
However, there is a relatively new area that many professional teams are identifying as a key ingredient to finding the next all-star: athletic intelligence.
What is athletic intelligence?
Athletic intelligence is one’s ability to acquire, process, and apply information in sports where the environment is in constant chaos.
In the realm of athletics, the space between success and failure is razor thin. Research has shown that athletic intelligence can be the differentiator. How does a team measure athletic intelligence? And, once measured, how do teams use this information to develop talent?
How do you measure athletic intelligence?
One of the most empirically-validated tools in professional sports is the Athletic Intelligence Quotient (AIQ). Developed by psychologists Dr. Scott Goldman and Dr. Jim Bowman, the AIQ is based on the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) Theory of Intelligence, which is the predominant theory in intelligence assessment.
The AIQ measures broad and narrow cognitive abilities critical to on-field performance. Coaches, staff, and athletes can use the AIQ to provide insight into how athletes process information. Also, the AIQ includes how athletes keep and hold new information as well as how quickly they react to stimuli in the game.
This brings us back to the question—how do MLB hitters hit home runs? Well, research has shown that one important cognitive ability that statistically correlates with MLB batting average is decision making.
What is decision making?
In decision making, there is specific attention given to narrow abilities that aid in searching for information in a visual field. A strength in this cognitive ability would allow players to locate a marker of interest such as a specific pitch (e.g. curveball) from the pitcher.
Additionally, decision making allows an athlete to compare information in a visual field. A batter can decide what to do next based on the actions of opposing players, such as the pitcher. For example, with strengths in the decision making cognitive ability, a player could search for the pitch that is coming from the mound. Based on pitcher position and where the ball is thrown, the player can adjust his swing as needed.
How scouts and coaches can use the Athletic Intelligence Quotient (AIQ) to evaluate athletes
Cognitive abilities as decision making, along with experience levels, work ethic, and physical attributes all play an integral role in the profile of an athlete. Combined together, these domains can provide further clarity of where an athlete is currently at in their journey.
Additionally, scouts and coaches can identify strengths and developmental areas within an athlete. Identifying these factors can allow athletes to flourish in their respective performances. Tools such as the AIQ can aid in bridging the gap of athletic intelligence with sport.
- What role do you see athletic intelligence playing as a part in the future of MLB analytics?
- How would you train these abilities?
- What is one step you can take to enhance your knowledge in intelligence and performance?
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