About Sports Intelligence


Sports Intelligence was first conceptualised in 1984 by Fisher1, who suggested that a sports intelligent athlete had the ability to search and detect relevant cues, identify patterns of play and behaviours, use short- and long-term memory and recall, make effective decisions and possess a baseline level of knowledge about sport specific tasks.

About a decade later, Tenenbaum and Bar-Eli2 (1993) built on this by adding that cognitive processes such as the ability to select, process and retrieve information during game time, facilitated better decision-making.

Gould, Dieffenbach and Moffett3 (2002) researched the psychological characteristics of Olympic champions with sports intelligence again emerging as a clear theme. They indicated that sports intelligence consisted of “raw data responses such as the ability to analyse, being innovative, being a student of the sport, making good decisions, understanding the nature of the elite sport, and being a quick learner.”

A letter to the American Psychological Association by Dr Gene Brockneck4, titled On Intelligence and Culture built on these key points when saying:

"Sport is part of a global intellectual realm that requires a wide range of sensory motor and social cognition skills: integrating physical talent with spatial visualisation, motivation and perseverance; innovative reasoning; abstract and practical problem-solving; and the ability to assess and anticipate the behaviour of another person. Skills related to intellectual function – both the ability to delay gratification and to react instantly are essential to championship performance. Team play, without which individual talents may never yield championships, involves yet another set of complex skills involving social communication (verbal and non-verbal); the ability to subordinate personal needs to group goals; frustration tolerance; and the ability to inhibit prized skills while deliberately learning other, previously ignored or devalued, skills. I am convinced that by close study of international participants in individual and team sports we can contribute mightily to a much more sophisticated understanding of intellectual activity and capability. We would also do well to recall David Weschler’s most unique contribution of the study of intelligence was to broaden its definition from verbal acumen of the ability to think rationally…reason…and adapt competently to the environment."



Research on Sports Intelligence in China as reported by Junwu5 (2013) uses the Zhang Li-Wei (1999) definition that “Sports Intelligence is the psychological conditions or characteristics in the course of mastering and performing motor skills.”

A recent investigation by Blue6 (2009) into Sports Intelligence within golf indicated that it was made up of a competitive and developmental intelligence with the latter including self-knowledge, regulation, a developmental attitude and understanding elite sport processes. The former includes information processing, environmental perceptions, self-knowledge, self-awareness, course management, cognitive control and understanding the nature of golf.

For his doctoral study, Garrath Rosslee assessed the limited sports intelligence literature with a comprehensive review of orthodox and unorthodox theories of intelligence, applied psychology and sports psychology. He hypothesised that sports intelligence would theoretically include constructs like memory, reasoning, problem solving, decision-making, knowledge management, learning, relationship competence, achievement orientation together with specific personality characteristics and emotional make-up.

The hypotheses were then considered by 15 credible athletes and coaches, all of whom had international or national experience. Garrath completed a content analysis that elicited 73 key themes. These were clustered into a six tier systemic model of sports intelligence. The six components are:

  • Neurophysiological Intelligence sub-system

    The neurophysiological sub-system refers to the physiological, biological and neurological processes including reaction time, physical preparation, input, processing and execution.

  • Cognitive Intelligence sub-system

    This refers to the rational, logical processes including decision-making, learning, clarity, process awareness, game data processing, knowledge recall, mistake management and judgement.

  • Emotional Intelligence sub-system

    This important component refers to handling pressure, self-control, response management, instinct, comfort, arousal, psychological stability, self-understanding, regulation and confidence, amongst others.

  • Team Intelligence sub-system

    Being able to be a part of a team, understanding group dynamics, being able to effectively engage with others and communicate are cornerstones of this sub-system.

  • Societal Intelligence sub-system

    Sport participants experience all kinds of pressures and challenges from society including relationship, peer and competitor pressures in addition to expectations, extraneous influences, hype and sacrifice. These need to be mastered.

  • Metaphysical Intelligence sub-system

    The metaphysical sub-system refers to “higher order factors” and includes beliefs and values. Important values are trust, sacrifice, standards, expression, boundaries, integrity, habits and intangibles.

The investigation suggests that the sub-systems run in parallel and are of equal significance.


  1. Fisher, C. (1984). Sport Intelligence. In W. Strub, & J. Williams (Eds.), Cognitive Sport Psychology. NY: Lansing.
  2. Tenenbaum, G., & Bar-Eli, M. (1993). Decision-making in sport: A cognitive perspective. In R. Singer, M. Murphy, & L. Tennant (Eds.), Handbook on Research in Sport Psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 171-192). New York, NY: McMillan.
  3. Gould, D., Dieffenbach, K., & Moffett, A. (2002). Psychological characteristics and development in Olympic athletes. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14(3), 186.
  4. Brockneck, G. (n.d.) Intelligence and Culture. Retrieved from American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr03/letters
  5. Junwu, D. (2013). The Research on Sports Intelligence in China. School of Physical Education, 743-744.
  6. Blue, K. (2009). Smart Golf: An Exploratory Study of Sport Intelligence in Golf. Michigan, USA.