Body Language Matters More Than You Probably Think


We’ve all heard the phrase “actions speak louder than words” but many athletes fail to realize how true this saying really is. When it comes to talent scouting, scouts across numerous sports, consistently point to “body language” as their number one criteria for evaluating athletes.  Many scouts label body language as their “qualifying” or “baseline” measure for athlete evaluation (as in, they won’t even look at an athlete’s until they’re satisfied with the body language they are seeing).

All of this might sound like a tactic used by coaches to get players to comply with team rules and to act like “great teammates”. However, a famous Harvard study suggests that even when scouts aren’t actively looking at body language, their subconscious mind is busy evaluating the subtle actions of the athletes they are watching.


In the early 1990s, a pair of Harvard psychologists set out to test the power of body language. They began by filming thirteen university-level teachers as they delivered lectures to their students. They then shortened the footage down to several “ten-second” clips of each teacher and then muted the audio.

Next, the they recruited a panel of “judges”, who did not know the teachers and had not taken their classes. They asked them, using only thirty seconds of silent film, to rate the teachers across fifteen traits including “honesty, likability, supportiveness, confidence, competence, and dominance.” The researchers then compared these ratings to the ratings these teachers received from students who had actually taken the course. Astonishingly, the ratings given by both in-class students and the “judges” were nearly identical. The wordless judges were so good that the researchers cut the silent clips down to just six seconds and gave them to a new set of judges – these judges were only 7% less accurate at rating the teachers!

The experiment suggests that when it came to the impressions these teachers made on people, body language was by far the most significant factor. Their words, it appears … barely mattered.


The study shows a whole lot for athletes. First, it illustrates the importance of being in control of the mind, in order to be in control of the body. Using mental training techniques like visualization, positive self-talk, and calming breathing techniques help athletes feel and (just as importantly) look in control of their emotions.

Second, the study suggests that body language is even more important than coaches, scouts, and parents are suggesting. Even those scouts who don’t list it as a criteria for evaluation, are subconsciously studying it in the back of their minds.

Overall, this study validates that body language can literally be measured in a matter of seconds, so practicing great body language habits consistently, along with seeking feedback from coaches on a regular basis, are critically important for achieving progression in sports and in everyday life.

Check out what UConn Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma has to say about the importance of body language in his program’s recruiting:


The Study:
Ambady, Nalini, Jasook Koo, Robert Rosenthal, and Carol H. Winograd. 2002. Physical therapists’ nonverbal communication predicts geriatric patients’ health outcomes. Psychology and Aging 17, no. 3: 443-452.

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