A Different Way to Cut Kids from the Squad

Issue 10-16-17   |   Reviewer:   Bob Cohen, MBA


When Dutch journalist and entrepreneur Eric Castien was exploring what made certain soccer stars excel, the consensus opinion from the scouts and coaches he talked to was, “‘It’s in between the ears.” None could be more specific. Continuing to pursue an answer, he met Ilja Sligte in 2012, an assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam and a rising star in cognitive neuroscience. Two years later the pair founded BrainsFirst BV (originally called SportsQ), a startup in Amsterdam that promises to identify the world’s next soccer superstars.

Although lacking in the supportive data and documentation normally associated with neuroscience research, Castien and Sligte contend that their instrument can identify certain natural characteristics that may not readily be apparent. The idea is to test a player’s ability to concentrate, quickly make complex decisions, and shift attention when needed. Not surprisingly, the company has found an eager audience among European sports agents and soccer clubs.

BrainsFirst has made no submissions to the appropriate groups to validate its product, written articles in any relevant professional journals, or applied for a patent. Basically, they are relying on the fact that sports agents are looking for ways to make sure they’re investing in the right players. This made their move into the broader field of so-called people analytics blatantly obvious. During the recruiting season, firms like McKinsey advertised BrainsFirst on its official Dutch Facebook page. In the United States, startups are already pitching games they say can measure the risk tolerance and attention to detail of applicants for more conventional jobs.

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