Do Smarter Players Win More Games?

Academic Ranking May Be Irrelevant

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD On the surface, it makes sense.  There is a lot of intelligence required to be a great softball player.  Being able to think through and predict possible outcomes by studying tendencies, making an intelligent guess on an upcoming pitch type, anticipating where a ball might be played, or knowing in a tough moment which base to throw to requires a smart person.  Being smart can help tilt the odds in your favor and make you a more successful player.

But at the same time there is a stereotype that athletes are not very smart.  And while everyone is good at something (even if they haven't discovered it yet), no one can be good at everything.  And as rare as it is to be an elite collegiate athlete, it is even more rare to be an elite athlete and an elite intellect. 

So, does intelligence matter in win percentage?  And how can we test if smarter players win more games?  I took a stab at it by preparing a list of the top 116 colleges academically as created by US News and World Reports—a publication famous for publishing annual rankings of schools.  I also prepared a list of the top 288 softball programs by win percentage in 2016 and tried to find schools that occupied slots on both lists.  I found 42 matches and used the data to see if there was any correlation between win percentage and the school's placement on the US News and World Report list.

What I found was a bit unexpected: the correlation between rank and win % was -0.128.  The strongest possible positive correlation is 1, and the strongest possible negative correlation is -1.  Academic rank and win % have, at best, a very slight negative correlation. That means the higher the rank on the US News and World Report list the lower the win percentage—but again the correlation was minimal.  It would probably be more accurate to say there was no correlation.

So, do smarter players win more games?  No.  Intelligence, as measured by academic ranking in a magazine, does not correlate to win percentage.  

How can these numbers further help us in the college softball world?  Coaches and recruiters should focus on game film and stats only.  Do not choose a player just because they have a higher GPA or SAT score.  Smart players do not win more games. Read more.