Video Games Move From The Family Room To The Locker Room

It sounds like a sales job from a 12 year old; "Actually, Dad, this is not just another video game. Its a virtual, scenario-based microcosm of real world experiences that will enhance my decision-making abilities and my cognitive perceptions of the challenges of the sport's environment."  You respond with, "So, how much is Madden 09?"  

With over 5 million copies of Madden 08 sold, the release of the latest version two weeks ago is rocketing up the charts.  Days and late nights are being spent all over the world creating rosters, customizing plays and playing entire seasons, all for pure entertainment purposes.  Can all of those hours spent with controller in hands actually be beneficial to young athletes?  Shouldn't they be outside in the fresh air and sunshine playing real sports?  Well, yes, to both questions.

Playing video games, (aka "gaming"), as a form of learning has been receiving increased recent attention from educational psychology researchers.  At this month's American Psychological Association annual convention, several groups of researchers presented studies of the added benefits of playing video games, from problem-solving and critical thinking to better scientific reasoning.  

In one of the studies by Fordham University psychologist Fran C. Blumberg, PhD, and Sabrina S. Ismailer, MSED, 122 fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders' problem-solving behavior was observed while playing a video game that they had never seen before.  As the children played the game, they were asked to think aloud for 20 minutes. Researchers assessed their problem-solving ability by listening to the statements they were making while playing.   

The results showed that playing video games can improve cognitive and perceptual skills.  "Younger children seem more interested in setting short-term goals for their learning in the game compared to older children who are more interested in simply playing and the actions of playing," said Blumberg. "Thus, younger children may show a greater need for focusing on small aspects of a given problem than older children, even in a leisure-based situation such as playing video games."

Also, in a recent article on video game learning, David Williamson Shaffer, professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madision and author of the book "How Computer Games Help Children Learn", argues that if a game is realistically based on real-world scenarios and rules, it can help the child learn.  “The question though is," Shaffer said, "is what they are doing a good simulation of what is happening in the real world?"  Shaffer explains the research happening on this topic at his UW lab, named Epistemic Games:

Support for this new era of learning tools is coming from other interesting people, as well.  George Lucas of Star Wars fame has an educational foundation, Edutopia, which has shown recent interest in simulation learning.  Here is their introductory overview and accompanying video:

There are some words of caution out there.  In a recent article, educational psychologist Jane M. Healy, author of "Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect our Children's Minds and What We Can Do About It," urges educators to proceed carefully.  "The main question is whether the activity, whatever it is, is educationally valid and contributes significantly to whatever is being studied," she says.  "The point is not whether kids are 'playing' with learning, or what medium they are playing in — a ball field or a Wii setup or a physics lab or art studio — but rather why they are doing it.  Just because it is electronic does not make it any better, and it may turn out not to be as valuable."

If we accept that there is some validity to teaching/learning with video game simulations, how can we move this to the sports arena?  Obviously, there is no substitute for playing the real game with real players, opponents, pressure, etc., but more teams and coaches are turning to simulation games for greater efficiency in the learning process.  If the objective is to expose players to plays, tactics, field vision and critical thinking, then a gaming session can begin to introduce these concepts that will be validated later on the field during "real" practice.  

This homework can also be done at home, not requiring teammates, fields, equipment, etc.  As mentioned in the videos above, another driving factor in the use of games is to reach this young, Web 2.0 audience through a medium that they already know, understand and enjoy.  The motivation to learn is inherent with the use of games.  The "don't tell them its good for them" secret is key to seeing progress with this type of training.

One of the best examples of video game adaptation for sports learning is from XOS Technologies and their modified version of the Madden NFL game.  In 2007, they licensed the core development engine from EA Sports and created a football simulation, called SportMotion, that can be used for individual training.  

With the familiar Madden user interface, coaches can first load their playbook into the game, as well as their opponent's expected plays.  Then, the athlete can "play" the game but will now see their own team's plays being run by the virtual players.  Imagine the difference in learning style for a new quarterback.  Instead of studying static X's and O's on a two-dimensional piece of paper, they can now watch and then play a virtual simulation of the same play in motion against a variety of different defenses.  With a "first-person" view of the play unfolding, they will see the options available in a "real-time" mode which will force faster reaction and decision-making skills.  

To take the simulation one step further, XOS has added a virtual reality option that takes the game controller out of the player's hands and replaces it with a VR suit and goggles allowing him to physically play the game, throw the ball, etc. through his virtual eyes.  Take a look at this promotional video from XOS:

XOS is winning some high praise for its system, including none other than Phillip Fulmer, Head Coach of the University of Tennesee football team.  “We’re leading the nation by taking advantage of this cutting-edge technology and we couldn’t be more pumped about it,” Fulmer said. “UT football has a long and storied tradition of success and because we look to pioneer groundbreaking concepts before anyone else, we’ll proudly continue that history. The XOS PlayAction Simulator begins a new chapter for UT and we’re pleased to add it to our football training regiment.” 

Albert Tsai, vice president of advanced research at XOS Technologies, says, “We’ve basically added functionality to popular EA video games such as customizable playbooks, diagrams and testing sequences to better prepare athletes for specific opponents.  Additionally, the software includes built-in teaching and reporting tools so that coaches Fulmer, Cutcliffe and Cooter can analyze and track the tactical-skill development of the team. At the same time, the Volunteers can experience immediate benefits because the familiarity with the EA SPORTS brand requires little to no learning curve for their players.”

So, the next time your son (or daughter!) is begging for 10 more minutes on the Xbox to make sure the Packers destroy the Vikings once again (sorry, a little Wisconsin bias), you may want to reconsider pulling the plug.  Then, send them outside for that fresh air.

Sideline Raging Soccer Moms (and Dads!)

Visit any youth soccer field, baseball diamond, basketball court or football field and you will likely see them:  parents behaving badly.  Take a look at this Good Morning America report:

These are the extremes, but at most games, you can find at least one adult making comments at the referee, shouting at their child, or having a verbal exchange with another parent.  Thankfully, these parents represent only a small percentage of those attending the game.  Does that mean the others don't become upset at something during the game?  Usually not, as there are lots of opportunities to dispute a bad call or observe rough play or react to one of these loud parents.  

The difference is in our basic personality psyche, according to Jay Goldstein, a kinesiology doctoral student at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.  His thesis, recently published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (see reference below), hypothesized that a parent with "control-oriented" personality would react to events at a game more than a parent with an "autonomy-oriented" personality.

According to Goldstein, defending our ego is what usually gets us in trouble when we feel insulted or take something personally.  At youth sports games, we transfer this pride to our kids, so if someone threatens their success on the field, we often take it personally.  The control-oriented parent is more likely to react with a verbal or sometimes physical response, while an autonomy-oriented parent is better able to internalize and maintain their emotions.  This "control" vs. "autonomy" comparison has also been seen in research on "road rage", when drivers react violently to another driver's actions.

Goldstein and his team focused their research on suburban Washington soccer parents back in 2004.  They designed a survey for parents to fill out prior to watching a youth soccer game that would help categorize them as control or autonomy-oriented.  Immediately after the game ended, another survey was given to the parents that asked about any incidents during the game that made them angry on a scale of 1, slightly angry, to 7, furious.  They were also asked what action they took when they were angry.  Choices included "did nothing" to more aggressive acts like walking towards the field and/or yelling or confronting either the referee, their own child, or another player/parent.  53% of the 340 parents surveyed reported getting angry at something during the game, while about 40% reported doing something about their anger.

There was a direct and significant correlation between control-oriented parents, as identified in the pre-game survey, and the level of angry actions they took during the game.  Autonomy-oriented parents still got mad, but reported less aggressive reactions.  As Goldstein notes, “Regardless of their personality type, all parents were susceptible to becoming more aggressive as a result of viewing actions on the field as affronts to them or their kids.  However, that being said, it took autonomy-oriented parents longer to get there as compared to the control-oriented parents.”

So, now that we know the rather obvious conclusion that parents who yell at other motorists are also likely to yell at referees, what can we do about it?  Goldstein sees this study as a first step.  He hopes to study a wider cross-section of sports and socio-economic populations.  Many youth sports organizations require parents to sign a pre-season "reminder" code of conduct, but those are often forgotten in the heat of the battle on the field.  

Maybe by offering the same type of personality survey prior to the season, the "control-oriented" parents can be offered resources to help them manage their tempers and reactions during a game.  Since referees were the number one source of frustration reported by parents, two solutions are being explored by many organizations; more thorough referee training and quality control while also better training of parents on the rules of the game which often cause the confusion.

Sports contests will always be emotional, from kids' games all the way up to professionals.  Keeping the games in perspective and our reactions positive are tough things to do but when it comes to our kids, it is required.

Goldstein, J.D., Iso-Ahola, S.E. (2008). Determinants of Parents' Sideline-Rage Emotions and Behaviors at Youth Soccer Games. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38(6), 1442-1462. DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2008.00355.x

Brains Over Brawn In Sports

Sometimes, during my daily browsing of the Web for news and interesting angles on the sport science world, I get lucky and hit a home run.  I stumbled on this great May 2007 Wired article by Jennifer Kahn, Wayne Gretzky-Style 'Field Sense' May Be Teachable.  It ties together the people and themes of my last three posts, focusing on the concept of perception in sports.

Wayne Gretzky is often held up as the ultimate example of an athlete with average physical stature, who used his cognitive and perceptual skills to beat opponents.  Joining Gretzky in the "brains over brawn" Hall of Fame would be pitcher Greg Maddux, NBA guard Steve Nash and quarterback Joe Montana.  They were all told as teenagers that they didn't have the size to succeed in college or the pros, but they countered this by becoming master students of the game, constantly searching for visual cues that would give them the advantage of a fraction of second or the element of surprise.

Kahn's story focuses on two sport scientists that we have met before.  Peter Vint, sport technologist with the US Olympic team, who I highlighted in the post, Winning Olympic Gold With Sport Science,  comments on this, "In any sport, you come across these players.  They're not always the most physically talented, but they're by far the best. The way they see things that nobody else sees — it can seem almost supernatural. But I'm a scientist, so I want to know how the magic works."  So, Vint and his team continue to search not only for the secret to the magic, but how it can be taught.

Vint acknowledges the work of one of his fellow sport scientists, Damian Farrow, of the Australian Institute for Sport, who was part of the discussion roundtable mentioned in my post, Getting Sport Science Out Of The Lab And Onto The Field.

He is also fascinated with the perceptual abilities of elite athletes.  In his own sport, tennis, he wanted to know how expert players could return serves much better than novice players.  Similar to the research we looked at in an earlier post about tennis, Federer and Nadal Can See the Difference, Farrow designed an experiment that would try to identify the cues that players might need to instinctively estimate the speed and direction of a serve.  He had three groups of players, expert, non-expert but coached, and non-expert/non-coaced novices, wear ear plugs to block out the sound of the ball hitting the racquet as well as occlusion glasses that could block vision with the touch of an assistant's button.  

By changing the point of the serve at which the glasses would go black, and the players would be "blind", he could try to isolate the action of the server that the expert players might be tuned into that the novices were not.  The decisive point was immediately before impact between the racquet and the ball.  Arm and racquet position at that point seemed to let the expert players estimate the direction of the serve more accurately than the novices.

But Vint and Farrow are not satisfied just knowing what an expert knows.  They want to understand how to teach this skill to novices.  From his own competitive tennis playing days, Farrow remembers that if he consciously focused his mind on things like arm position, racquet angle, etc., he would be miss the serve as his reaction time would drop.  He understood that players need to not only learn the cues, but learn them to the point of "automaticity" through implicit learning.  

You may remember our discussion of implicit learning from the post, Teaching Tactics and Techniques in Sports.   Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book, Blink, calls this implicit decision-making ability "thin slicing" and gives examples of how we can often make better decisions in the "blink" of an eye, rather than through long analysis.  Obviously, in sports, when only seconds or sub-seconds are allowed for decisions, this blink must be so well-trained that it is at the sub-conscious level.

For Vint and Farrow, the experiments continue, looking at each sport, but beyond the raw physical and technical skills that need to be taught but often times are the only skills that are taught.   

Understanding the cognitive side of the game will provide the edge when all else is equal.

Getting Sport Science Out Of The Lab And Onto The Field

You are a coach, trying to juggle practice plans, meetings, game prep and player issues while trying to stay focused on the season's goals.  At the end of another long day, you see this in your inbox:

To:           All Head Coaches
From:      Athletic Director
Subject:  Monthly Reading List to Keep Up with Current Sport Science Research 
-  Neuromuscular Activation of Triceps Surae Using Muscle Functional MRI and EMG
-  Positive effects of intermittent hypoxia (live high:train low) on exercise performance are not mediated primarily by augmented red cell volume
-  Physiologic Left Ventricular Cavity Dilatation in Elite Athletes
-  The Relationships of Perceived Motivational Climate to Cohesion and Collective Efficacy in Elite Female Teams

Just some light reading before bedtime...  This is an obvious exaggeration (and weak attempt at humor) of the gap between sport science researchers and practitioners.  While those are actual research paper titles from the last few years under the heading of "sport science", the intended audience was most likely not coaches or athletes, but rather fellow academic peers.  The real question is whether the important conclusions and knowledge captured in all of this research is ever actually used to improve athletic performance?  How can a coach or athlete understand, combine and transfer this information into their game?

David Bishop of the Faculty of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Verona has been looking at this issue for several years.  It started with a roundtable discussion he had at the 2006 Congress of the Australian Association for Exercise and Sports Science with several academic sport scientists (see: Sports-Science Roundtable: Does Sports-Science Research Influence Practice? )  He asked very direct questions regarding the definition of sport science and whether the research always needs to be "applied" versus establishing a "basic" foundation.  The most intriguing question was whether there already is ample research that could applied, but it suffered from the lack of a good translator to interpret and communicate to the potential users - coaches and athletes.  The panel agreed that was the missing piece, as most academic researchers just don't have the time to deliver all of their findings directly to the field.

In a follow-up to this discussion, Bishop recently published his proposed solution titled, "An Applied Research Model for the Sport Sciences" in Sports Medicine (see citation below).  In it, he calls for a new framework for researchers to follow when designing their studies so that there is always a focus on how the results will directly improve athletic performance.  He calls for a greater partnership role between researchers and coaches to map out a useful agenda of real world problems to examine.  He admits that this model, if implemented, will only help increase the potential for applied sport science.  The "middleman" role is still needed to bring this information to the front lines of sports.

The solution for this "gathering place" community seems perfect for Web 2.0 technology.  One specific example is an online community called  Keith Irving and Rob Robson, two practicing sport science consultants, created the site two years ago to fill this gap.  Today, with over 600 members, iStadia is approaching the type of critical mass that will be necessary to bring all of the stakeholders together.  Of course, as with any online community, the conversations there are only as good as the participants want to make it.  But, with the pressure on coaches to improve and the desire of sport scientists to produce relevant knowledge, there is motivation to make the connection.

Another trend favoring more public awareness of sport science is the additional, recent media attention, especially related to the upcoming Beijing Olympics.  In an earlier post, Winning Olympic Gold With Sport Science, I highlighted a feature article from USA Today.  This month's Fast Company also picks up on this theme with their cover article, Innovation of Olympic Proportions, describing several high-tech equipment innovations that will be used at the Games.  Each article mentions the evolving trust and acceptance of sport science research by coaches and athletes.  When they see actual products, techniques and, most importantly, results come from the research, they cannot deny its value.

Bishop, D. (2008). An Applied Research Model for the

Sport Sciences. Sports Medicine, 38(3), 253-263.

Winning Olympic Gold With Sport Science

Its something that every coach and every athlete of every sport is searching for... the EDGE. That one training tip, equipment improvement, mental preparation or tactical insight that will tip the game towards them. The body of knowledge that exists today in each sport is assumed, with each competitor expected to at least be aware of the history, beliefs and traditions of their individual sport. But, if each team is starting with the same set of information then the team that takes the next step by applying new research and ideas will capture the edge.

To me, that is what sport science is all about. The goal is to improve sports performance by imagining, analyzing, experimenting, testing, documenting and training new methods to coaches and athletes.

You might have seen a great article in the 6/23 edition of USA Today; "In hunt for Olympic gold, techies are major players" by Jodi Upton. We meet Peter Vint, a "sport technologist" in the Performance Technology Division of the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, whose job it is to find ways to win more gold medals. From the article; "The next revolution, Vint says, is breaking down the last secrets of elite athletes: response time, how they read the field and other players — everything that goes into the vision, perception and split-second decision-making of an athlete. 'We've always looked at that as mysterious, something that's unmeasurable and innate,' Vint says. 'But we think it can be taught.'"

Interestingly, Vint cites another pioneer in evidence-based sports coaching, Oakland A's general manager, Billy Beane. "We're becoming progressively more data-driven," Vint says of the center's training efforts. "We are trying to pursue what Sabermetrics and Billy Beane did for baseball, identifying factors that can truly influence performance." The radical concept that Beane created, as documented in the bestseller, "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis, is to stop searching for "the edge" in all the same places that everyone else is looking. Instead, he started from scratch with new logic about the objectives of the game of baseball itself and built metrics that gave new insight into the types of players and skill sets that he should acquire for his team.

If sport science is going to thrive and be accepted, it faces the challenge of inertia. The ideas and techniques that are the product of sport science can also be captured in the phrase, "evidence based coaching". Just as evidence based medicine has slowly found its place in the physician's exam room, the coaching profession is just beginning to trust the research. Traditionally, "belief based coaching" has been the philosophy favored in the clubhouse. Training drills, tactical plans, player selection and player development has been guided by ideas and concepts that have been handed down from one generation of coaches to the next. Most of these beliefs are valid and have been proven on the field through many years of trial and error. Subjecting these beliefs to scientific research may not produce conclusions any different than what coaching lore tells us. But, today's coaches and athletes see the competition creeping closer to them in all aspects, so they are now willing to at least listen to the scientists. Beane likens it to financial analysis and the stock market. The assumption is that all information is known by all. But, if someone can find a ratio or a statistic or make an industry insight that no one has considered, then they own the competitive advantage; at least until this new information is made public.

It takes time, though, to amass enough data to convince a head coach to change years of habits for the unknown. Reputations and championships are on the line, so the changes sometimes need to be implemented slowly. Vint describes the gradual process of converting U.S. hurdler Terrence Trammell and his coach to some of his ideas. "The relationship between the athletes and sports scientist is critical," Vint says. "But (for some), biomechanics has not yet provided useful enough suggestions."

There still is debate on evidence based coaching vs. belief based coaching. Here are two opposing opinions; evidence-based: "The Second Law of Thermodynamics" by Brent S. Rushall of San Diego State University
and belief-based: "Evidence Based vs. Belief Based Coaching" by Richard Todd of If you have a few minutes, please read each opinion and offer your take on this. After considering these opinions, Robert Robson, sport psychologist and management consultant, stated, "Sports coaching should absolutely be evidence-based, but any argument that places the sole source of evidence in the realm of the scientific method is, I would argue, naive and lacking in an understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of science."

Looking forward, I will dig a little deeper into this topic in the next week, so please check back or subscribe to Sports Are 80 Percent Mental.

Take A Nap - Wake Up a Champion!

Hopefully, you have found this blog to be a nice source of information regarding the link between cognitive science/brain research and sports. Well, today, I have uncovered one of the most exciting, breakthrough, radical, theory-busting pieces of research on sports performance..... wait for it...... here it is:


I ran across this headline in my usual scan of science news feeds and did a double take. I thought, "there must be more to this than just the headline...". Nope, the title pretty much sums it up. The Onion could not have written it any better.

Here's the details of the study:

- Participants were five (5!) student-athletes on the Stanford Univ. swim team (Men's and Women's)

- First 2 weeks, they slept their "normal" amounts.

- Then, they extended their sleep to 10 hours per night for six to seven weeks.

- After the extended sleep period, they improved their 15 meter sprint time by .51 seconds and improved their start times off the blocks by .15 seconds.

I'm guessing that this improvement is significant for swimmers. But, doesn't this belong in the "Do we really need to study this or can we just believe what our Moms told us" category? This study helped confirm the author's previous study of six (6!) Stanford basketball players who improved their sprint speed and free throw shooting after getting additional sleep. The study also noted improvements in the athletes' mood and alertness after sleeping more... go figure.

From the lead researcher:

“These results begin to elucidate the importance of sleep on athletic performance and, more specifically, how sleep is a significant factor in achieving peak athletic performance,” said lead author Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory. “While this study focuses specifically on collegiate swimmers, it agrees with data from my other studies of different sports and suggests that athletes across all sports can greatly benefit from extra sleep and gain the additional competitive edge to perform at their highest level.”

“Typically, many athletes accumulate a large sleep debt by not obtaining their individual sleep requirement each night, which can have detrimental effects on cognitive function, mood, and reaction time,” said Mah. “These negative effects can be minimized or eliminated by prioritizing sleep in general and, more specifically, obtaining extra sleep to reduce one’s sleep debt.” Welcome to college...

Here's some additional, useful tips from the author:

  • Make sleep a part of your regular training regimen.

  • Extend nightly sleep for several weeks to reduce your sleep debt before competition.

  • Maintain a low sleep debt by obtaining a sufficient amount of nightly sleep (seven to eight hours for adults, nine or more hours for teens and young adults).

  • Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day.

  • Take brief naps to obtain additional sleep during the day, especially if drowsy.

So, there you go, practical, applied research ready for you to take advantage of in your pursuit of excellence in sports.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go lie down for a few minutes...

Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2008, June 9). Extra Sleep Improves Athletic Performance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 9, 2008, from:

Cristiano Roboto - The Soccer Playing Robot

Back in April, 80 teams of researchers from 15 countries got together to compete in the 2008 RoboCup German Open, a soccer tournament where the "athletes" are all totally autonomous robots like the one pictured above. Four players and a goalkeeper per team play on a 20x14 meter field and are independent of any human remote control. They need to have sub-systems that "see" the field, opponents and the goal; have locomotion logic to move forward, sideways and back; some tactical logic to sense an opponent and avoid "it"; and targeting to kick the ball in the direction of the goal.

You can see some brief clips of the robots on the pitch here. Try the second video to see the most game highlights. The discussion is in German, if any of you speak it, but the game clips are what to focus on.

The more practical future applications of these sub-systems is to program robots to do more meaningful tasks like search and rescue operations in dangerous areas, (fire, earthquake, enemy zones), using the same visual, locomotion, search algorithms that guide the robot on the soccer field. In fact, there is a RoboRescue competition as well.

What struck me most about watching these robots was the complexity of the logic that needs to be programmed. The visual system that must learn the field, the sidelines, the dimensions of the goal, the difference between a teammate and an opponent. The tactical system that must be "goal" directed, (pun intended). It must learn that the object of the game is to put the ball into the opponent's goal and stop the ball from entering your own goal.

The constant motion sensor to understand where they are on the field, when to dribble, when to stop, when to aim and when to kick. The researchers/programmers in this competition are some of the brightest minds in the world, yet when you watch the video, you might have the same reaction that I did; that this is an impressive start, but they still look rather rudimentary.

Thinking about the topics we cover here, we often take for granted all of the logic and skills that human athletes demonstrate every day. I'm thinking especially of our kids that can easily surpass the performance of these robots, even as young as 3 years old. My fascination, and probably these researchers, is HOW we are able to do these tasks so easily. If we understand more about the "how", then we can also design better practice environments to advance those skills even faster.
Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (2008, April 4). Soccer Robots Compete For The Title. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 29, 2008, from

What is the Toughest Sport to Play?

Ask any athlete, weekender or pro, which sport requires the most overall skill and talent to play and you would get many different answers. It depends on the mix of "skills" used in the comparison. Are we talking raw physical skills like speed and power, technical skills like throwing and catching or mental skills like determination and nerve? The debate could be endless, as there would be apples to oranges comparisons, but its worth a look. ESPN, of all people, took this challenge head-on and actually put together a reasonable survey of experts, (OK, some of whom were ESPN'ers), to rank the 60 sports along 10 different criteria. Check it out at the ESPN site here .
The surprising result was that boxing, the sweet science, ranked number one, edging out hockey but comfortably ahead of football and basketball. Again, the analysis is across all 10 variables, and boxing scored in the top 5 in five different categories: Endurance, Strength, Power, Nerve and Durability. Of course, boxing ranks low in Speed, Agility and Flexibility. But, I know my reaction to boxing's top spot was probably similar to most others: Two strong guys bashing each other until they drop to the ground or until its over, which then would be decided by judges on who did the most bashing. In other words, I don't have the proper respect for the sport that apparently I should.
What really intrigues me about these rankings are the categories themselves and the ability to sort the list of sports by each category. There are the "brainy sports", hockey, auto racing(!) and soccer, rated high in Analytic Aptitude. Baseball and tennis score high in the "technical skill" of Hand-Eye Coordination. In the "positive mental state" group are those sports that score high in Endurance, Durability, and what the survey calls Nerve, or the ability to overcome fear. Sports high in this group include the "long distance" sports of cycling, running and swimming; the "tough guy" sports of boxing, football, hockey and rugby; and the "no fear" sports of auto racing, rodeo, alpine skiing and boxing.
Take a look at the table they have listed. Its fun to sort on different columns and then think through the logic. Let me know if you agree or disagree with the "experts"!