Brain’s Growth Potential & Sports Proficiency

relating to sports and intelligence.

Ever wondered about the true essence of intelligence? How does it relate to the potential growth of our brains? Intelligence isn’t static; varied theories and perspectives attempt to define it. In our journey through this intricate topic, we’ll also touch upon its implication in sports, using the world of football as a fascinating backdrop.

Defining Intelligence:

Alfred Binet believed that intelligence is the ability to comprehend, reason, and ideate. Wechsler echoed this sentiment by defining it as the capacity to understand the world and navigate it. However, some find it challenging to make sense of the world, as humorously showcased in this video of Balotelli.

While the clip might seem clumsy, when it comes to football, Balotelli showcases a prowess that an amateur player might not. Yet, the amateur, in his daily cerebral profession, might exhibit better comprehension and reasoning skills than Balotelli.

Intelligence & Education:

Society often correlates intelligence with educational level. Research from the University of Groningen shatters this notion. Previously, it was believed that a promising sports career could hamper academic achievements. However, the university’s study revealed that about 70% of talented athletes pursue their education at HAVO and VWO levels, significantly higher than the national average of 44%. These top talents not only aim higher academically but also excel on the field. As Marije Elferink-Gemser aptly puts it, top talents know exactly what to do on the field, translating cognitive prowess into tactical skills, decision-making, and positioning.

The IQ Paradigm:

Schools predominantly utilize IQ tests to gauge intelligence. These tests, while scientifically validated, often spotlight strengths and weaknesses. Yet, there’s substantial criticism surrounding these tests, as highlighted by M. Delfos in “Het IQ en de intelligentie, de illusie van meten.” The book offers insightful views on intelligence and growth potential.

Lev Vygotsky’s Perspective:

Vygotsky introduced intriguing models depicting child development. The “Zone of Proximal Development (N)” describes mental functions still maturing, which the child can’t yet perform independently. These potentialities can transfer to the “Zone of Actual Development (A),” which portrays the child’s mental and cognitive functions level, enabling them to solve problems independently. In simple terms, the skills one can perform independently fall under actual development, while those requiring assistance fit into proximal development. For a deeper dive, Martine F. Delfos’ book (ISBN: 9789085600770) is highly recommended.

IQ Tests & Their Limitations:

Traditional IQ tests mainly capture the Zone of Actual Development (A), often overlooking the Zone of Proximal Development (N). Vygotsky advocates for testing a child’s “learnability” or the extent to which a student can benefit from learning experiences.

Sports and Intelligence:

The concepts discussed above seamlessly intertwine with talent development in sports. Game intelligence is pivotal for any emerging talent. Many trainers and coaches focus on the Zone of Actual Development (A), but there’s a growing recognition of the Zone of Proximal Development (N). Acknowledging growth potential over current status is crucial, not just in sports but in education too.


Delfos, Martine. Het IQ en de intelligentie : de illusie van meten. Amsterdam: uitgeverij SWP, 2020. Print.

Jonker, Laura & Elferink-Gemser, Marije & Visscher, C. (2011). The role of self-regulatory skills in sport and academic performances of elite youth athletes. Talent Development and Excellence. 3. 263-275. 

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