Quarterbacks should trust instinctsBy PETE GRATHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Jonah Lehrer believes that NFL quarterbacks can be successful if they just stop thinking so much and look inside themselves.
Don’t confuse Lehrer for a New Age kind of guy — he’s actually a graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes Scholar who worked in the lab of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel.
Lehrer also is an NFL fan who is amazed at the ability of quarterbacks in the pocket. He estimates the quarterbacks have three-and-a-half seconds to make a decision on where to throw the ball. Or, as seems to be the case with the Chiefs’ Tyler Thigpen, it can be even less time than that.
The best quarterbacks often tap their subconscious.
“They’re relying on this unconscious system that generates gut feelings to react,” Lehrer said. “The best receiver, they don’t even know if he’s the open man, they just get this subtle emotional signal saying ‘Pass to the tight end, he’s open,’ or ‘Pass it to the guy going deep.’ But they end up acting without too much explicit awareness. It’s all very gut, very emotional, very intuitive.”
Lehrer said tests have been done with people who have brain damage and can’t experience emotions. While you might expect those people to be rational and make decisions easily, Lehrer said the opposite is true.
“They’re kind of like the quarterback who always gets sacked,” Lehrer said. “It’s a problem that’s affected lots of QBs. They’ve spent too long in the pocket, they’ve been too indecisive.
“They approximate, I guess you could say, some of these patients who are unable to experience their emotions. These patients will spend hours figuring where to go for lunch. They’ll spend hours choosing where to use a blue pen or a black pen. These everyday decisions we take for granted, they’re unable to make. This was the first insight that scientists had into just how important this pathway is.”
It’s why Lehrer believes NFL teams are foolish to put so much stock in the Wonderlic intelligence test.
He points to Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who scored a sky-high 39 on the test. Manning is one of the quarterbacks Lehrer writes about in his upcoming book How We Decide, which is due out in February.
“He was one of the highest scorers ever for QBs who actually played,” Lehrer said. “Yet he struggled for the first three years. He was almost too smart, too deliberate. It wasn’t until he learned to turn that off and become more intuitive that he became such a good QB.”
Take a look at some of the other Wonderlic scores through the years, which can be found at Mac Mirabile’s Web site ( http://www.macmirabile.com/Wonderlic.htm):
•1991: Brett Favre 22; Bill Musgrave 29
•1995: Steve McNair 15, Steve Stenstrom 35
•1998: Peyton Manning 28, Brian Griese 39
•1999: Donovan McNabb 14, Cade McNown 28
In each instance, the quarterback with the lower score went on to greater NFL success.
“The irony to me is that even though QBs will explain how they feel, NFL teams really still rely on the Wonderlic,” Lehrer said. “It’s such an important part of how they evaluate quarterback prospects and yet all the Wonderlic measures is this explicit decision-making process. It’s like an IQ test. It measures how good you are at algebra and geometry, which is the one thing QBs don’t use at all in the pocket.”
What quarterbacks need to do, Lehrer said, is watch film and learn from the mistakes they make. Then go to the practice field and work on correcting those errors.
Ultimately, they’ll be in touch with their unconscious. And that’s a good thing.
“We’re aware of so much more than we’re aware of,” Lehrer said. “Consciousness is just a small part of what the brain does. The brain area that oversees consciousness, the frontal cortex, is a very small kind of nub of cortex. The rest of the brain is doing all this other stuff and we don’t know what it’s up to. We’re only able learn what it’s up to via these emotions.”