Former England cricketer Ed Smith sums it up in a nicely worded column in Intelligent Life. Highlighting German football as an example, he talks about how the administration has put a premium on intelligence. They built their World Cup winning game plan around a team of quick thinkers who could assess risk and show finely tuned judgement to match their silky skills. Thomas Müller doesn’t think of himself as having a position, he calls himself ‘an interpreter of space’.
I can’t help but notice that the world’s greatest athletes are exceptionally smart off the field. Roger Federer can speak five languages. Marion Bartoli, a Wimbledon champ, has an IQ higher than Einstein. Her Russian rival Daniela Hantuchova is a classically trained pianist and speaks four languages. Just look at the All Blacks and their most influential players. Conrad Smith, the midfield rock, is a lawyer. Dan Carter is an accomplished businessman. Richie McCaw, their fearless leader, is a pilot.
Athletes often say that when you reach the top levels, 90% of sport is mental. They are spending a lot more time doing cognitive exercises and mental preparation, including meditation, to match the physical requirements. Because physicality only takes them so far, brilliance is in the brain.