Retired Army Special Forces Lt. Col. Brian Decker used to run SFAS. Now he pitches his refined ability to predict success to NFL general managers and head coaches. Decker revamped SFAS and lowered the attrition rate by 30%. He sees a direct correlation between his ability to predict success in the military and to spot the mentally strong among the NFL rookies. After all, we’ve all probably compared the two occupations. Some of the same qualities you would hope to find as a teammate in the military translate over to sports. It makes sense.

Col. Decker had a nice write-up about him on

Decker wanted soldiers who weren’t satisfied just to become Green Berets but who wanted to be great Green Berets. He set out to find data-driven models for identifying those soldiers. Decker wanted to focus on intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivation. He read books about emotional intelligence and talent measurement and studied the characteristics of introverts versus extroverts, and of fluid IQ, the ability to recognize and adjust to patterns on the fly. He changed the training courses to more closely resemble modern warfare. He began to approach Special Forces candidates as if he were a therapist, not an officer. “Brian was the first one to open our eyes and question the way we’d done things for 20 years,” says Col. Glenn Thomas, Decker’s boss. “We had never asked, ‘Why is this class better than that class?'”

After three years, Decker had devised a program that collected 1,200 data points on each candidate, from peak physical performance to psychometrics, the science of measuring mental processes. He could effectively predict the profile of a Green Beret: college-educated with an IQ around 122, in his early 30s, probably from a suburb of a major city, someone who responded to trauma in his life with increased self-motivation. As a result, the washout rate of Special Forces was 30 percent lower than when he took over. “We can train a guy to do a few extra pullups, but we can’t make someone adaptable and able to work as part of a team if the traits aren’t there,” says Thomas, sounding not just like a decorated colonel but like, well, a football coach.

The article goes on to note that he had been hired with the Cleveland Browns, but after a shake-up in the organization (no surprise to Cleveland fans there) he is trying his best to convince another NFL team that his analytics will help improve their teams.


Image courtesy: L.G. Patterson/AP Photo