Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens: QB Decision-Making Is Intuitive

Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio shares a master class from a pianist that relates directly to the essential elements of quarterback decision-making. 

Why is it that there are notable examples of high-scoring Wonderlic quarterbacks who are disappointments and low-scoring passers who are studs?

Besides the fact that the Wonderlic is a worthless test for measuring the mental skills of a quarterback that was never intended for this purpose, the NFL has it all wrong about intelligence.

Last week’s RSP Cast featured a conversation with one of my college roommates at the University of Miami — Darren Kramer, a performer, composer, and jazz improvisation educator. Darren and I discussed the parallels between football and improvisational music.

One of the significant insights is that decision-making onstage is not conscious. When you begin consciously thinking, the flow of the process stumbles — if not stops altogether. There is a lot of thinking when initially learning a technique or a process, but the subsequent work is designed to train your body to act and react in these complex and layered ways without thinking about it.

Hal Galper, the performer giving the clinic below, states that strong performances get messed up because the performer begins thinking.

It doesn’t take intelligence to be a jazz musican. There’s plenty of proof of that around (laughter). As a matter of face, intelligent people have a terrible problem shutting down their brain and letting their intuition function.

He might as well be talking about the differences between Brett Favre and pre-Andy Reid Alex Smith.

Just like playing a phrase of music in response to what other musicians are doing is an act of intuition, a quarterback is doing the same thing. His body and mind are his instruments and the decisions are the lines of music. The defense is a lot like what a musician is hearing.

The problem with quarterbacks is that the NFL has been hellbent on too much conscious thinking.

Galper is an excellent jazz pianist and this 10-minute segment goes into this idea and others in compelling detail, including a reference to scientific research that proves his point.

Although there is evidence that that the football community recognizes the intuitive side of quarterbacking, there is still a long path to travel before it reaches the point of actively teaching quarterbacks to strengthen their intuitive muscles without their coaching getting in the way of the learning process.

This is where I think Andy Reid gets it right and why Patrick Mahomes is going to be a great NFL quarterback in the next 3-4 years. The combination of a highly intuitive player and a head coach who recognizes and values that intuition is a great fit.

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2 responses to “Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens: QB Decision-Making Is Intuitive”

  1. […] When Conner reads the helmet of the defender cutting off that cutback lane, he’s experienced enough to recognize that the left side is the better option. This isn’t a conscious thought as much as it is a flash of colors and a feel of open space. This is what a master musician like Hal Galper is referring to when he says that he hears/sees colors on stage. He’s reacting to the sounds around him in the same way that a runner is reacting to the moveme… […]

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