nypost“Mind Games”

New York Post – June 30, 2002

Before the 1997 NBA Draft, he said that Tracy McGrady had the ideal brain type to be an NBA superstar. Two days ago he said that Yao Ming did not. This is what Jonathan Niednagel does.

“A lot of athletes are 6-7 with a 35-inch vertical jump. But one guy could be a top player and the other could be a bust,” says Niednagel, a.k.a. the brain doctor. “Through watching [players’] motor skills, I can see how their brain works.”

It’s called brain typing. And it’s the latest sports technology phenomenon, one that is revolutionizing talent evaluation and earning Niednagel (pronounced “Need-noggle”) a reputation as one of the brightest innovators in sports.

His staggering accuracy and early predictions of stardom for athletes like McGrady and Mike Bibby have led to a flood of offers from teams looking for unique insight into potential draft picks or free agents. Timberwolves V.P. of Operations Kevin McHale and former Suns coach Danny Ainge are just two sports honchos who swear by the brain doctor. Orlando Magic GM John Gabriel adds simply, “I believe in what he does.”

Having studied brain types for more than 30 years (he’s the founder of Brain Type Institute in Notting Hill, Mo.) Niednagel has created a unique method of breaking down an athlete’s brain to determine his future prospects for success. How precise is he?

Let’s put it this way – he could speak to you for five minutes and tell you what you had for breakfast.

“He’s phenomenally accurate,” says Denver Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe, who hired Niednagel to help with last Wednesday’s NBA Draft. “When you’re risking millions of dollars on athletes, you want all the information you can get. And his information is extremely accurate.”

Skeptical? Niednagel is the first to admit he’s no psychic, but then, as Georgia coach Jim Harrick says, “I’ve never known Jon to be wrong about a person yet.”

Still skeptical? OK, then flash back to the 1998 NFL Draft when teams were scrambling for a chance to snatch one of the two golden quarterbacks – Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Both, it was universally agreed at the time, had unlimited potential and were surefire stars.

At the time, Niednagel was working as a consultant for the Chargers, who owned the second pick and were salivating over the prospect of either signal-caller. But the way Niednagel saw it, the decision here was black-and-white. Manning had the ideal brain type to be a franchise QB, the same one, in fact, that Joe Montana and Brett Favre had. But even after the Chargers declared that Leaf had scored off the charts on a vision exam, Niednagel issued a warning.

“I don’t care what the test shows,” Niednagel told the Chargers, urging them to pass on the bazooka-armed QB, stressing that Leaf would fold under pressure. The team didn’t listen and four years later, Leaf is perhaps the biggest bust in NFL history.

So how does the magic process work? Without getting too technical, brain typing is based on a combination of evaluating everything from a player’s motor skills to the way he answers questions. And it’s not so much test results (20/20 vision, for example) that Niednagel values as much as it is the conclusions he draws (a natural ability for peripheral awareness). Sometimes all Niednagel requires, in fact, is a few minutes of videotape or some give-and-take on the phone.

From there, Niednagel classifies players as having one of 16 different brain types, with various ones specific to a sport’s or even a position’s success.

For example, while type ISTP (Introvert Sensing Thinking Perceiving) is tops for basketball players (see graphic), ESTP (Extrovert) is ideal for specifically NFL quarterbacks. Still, others are perfect for everything from football kickers to Olympic divers.

Of course, there are no bad brain types and type alone doesn’t guarantee success (Abraham Lincoln and the Unabomber shared the same type). But it’s a pretty good start.

While doubters scoff at the notion that such an untapped field could produce such pinpoint accuracy in athletics, Niednagel calmly refers to another comparison. He acutely reasons, for example, that someone trained in botany could enter a greenhouse and easily identify each type of plant due to his training. If that’s true, why can’t Niednagel do the same for brain types?

“If you have an eye for it, which I do,” he begins, “you can determine which type. These brain types transcend sports.”

And Niednagel does the rest.

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