What is the X-factor in sports?


The x-factor can refer to different things depending on the context and is more related to specific traits and abilities that an athlete can bring to the team. These can be quantitative and non-quantitative, e.g.: strength, speed, acceleration, pace, etc. or it can be communication, bravery, anticipation, or even composure.

In football, a scout will typically be looking at players in 3 different phases:

  1. Foundations phase – 9 – 11 years of age
  2. Youth development phase – 12 – 16 years of age
    1. Youth Development Phase one – 12 – 14 years of age
    1. Youth Development Phase two – 15 – 16 years of age
  3. Professional Development Phase – 17 – 23 years of age

Taken from the PFSA site:

In the foundations phase a typical scout in soccer will look for transferable skills, these are the skills that with the right training will develop over time into mature footballing talent. This will revolve around a concept called the 4-corner model [3]

  • Technical / Tactical
  • Psychological
  • Physical
  • Social.

 Saying that it is still not set in stone as the 4-conrer model differs from club to club so we can expect this to be true from university to university as well.

“A concept that refers to the non-technical aspects that an athlete can bring to a team, such as communication, leadership, energy, mental toughness, etc. Coaches should recruit athletes who can fill the gaps in their team dynamic and behavioral styles” [1]

In sports there is always a watchful eye for talent, skills, skill attributes, and potential transferable skills that can develop over time. The X-factor is going to be an important requirement, yet it shouldn’t be the only one. Outside factors like social and psychological ones should be taken into consideration to have a full holistic picture of the athlete. What’s the point of having a top tier athlete if they don’t have basic etiquette and are always reprimanded?

The athlete assessment goes with something that is called the “GRIP” model- Goals, Roles, Interpersonal Relationships, and Process. It sounds remarkably like the 4-corner model but to me it seems to be more focused on pre-season and non-quantitative metrics and attributes. It defines a goal within a team; the role that will be played by each player; their social dynamic; and finally the process, expectations and absolutely the consequences for when standards are not met. By explicitly stating this, every person knows where they stand and what is to be expected. [2]

With the benefit of the team/program in mind, we must challenge our ourselves to view an athlete’s total contribution during the recruiting process.  Discuss what you believe to be the power of considering the value of a player’s contribution beyond technical skills in recruiting and include your opinion of the risks that are involved if we do not consider an athlete’s total contribution.

This is an interesting question.

I believe a few classmates have mentioned one word which was culture, and I agree that this plays a role. Culture will define what a recruiter or coach will be looking for in an athlete. It will also define what skill-based traits and non-skill based traits are important. Culture will inevitably help form a bias and unconsciously dictate the “GRIP” and the 4-corner models.

Considering the value of a player’s contribution beyond technical skill in recruiting is important for several reasons:

  1. It can help to build a balanced and cohesive team that has players with different strengths and roles.
  2. It can help to identify players who have the potential to grow and improve their technical, psychological, physical, and social skills.
  3. It can help to create a competitive advantage over other teams that may only focus on technical skills in recruiting.

If we don’t consider an athlete’s total contribution when recruiting, we may face some risks.

  1. We may miss some talented players who have more to offer than just technical skills.
  2. We may end up with a team that is unbalanced or incompatible in terms of personality, values, and/or goals.
  3. We may lose our edge over other teams that are more holistic and comprehensive in their recruiting approach.

Therefore, a mixture of technical and non-technical skills should be taken into consideration while recruiting athletes. If we want to avoid the above risks, a combination of both is needed. To me that would mean following the “GRIP” and the 4-corner model mentioned above. I prefer  the 4-corner model over “GRIP” because it’s broader and customizable. The 4-coner model is also more relevant to real life professional athletes and clubs while “GRIP” is not bad I believe it’s more relevant for grassroots, high school, and college athletes.

I believe that the power of considering the value of a player’s contribution beyond technical skill in recruiting is significant and beneficial for the team/program, however, this doesn’t mean that technical skills are irrelevant or unimportant.

Rather, it means that technical skill is one of the factors that should be evaluated and blended with other factors that reflect the player’s overall potential and fit for the team/program.


[1] Hanson, Bo. “Recruiting X Factor Athletes.” Athlete Assessments, 6 Mar. 2015, https://www.athleteassessments.com/recruiting-x-factor-athletes-in-sport/.

[2] Hanson, Bo. “Sport Pre-Season Preparation Using the GRIP Model.” Athlete Assessments, 19 Oct. 2014, https://www.athleteassessments.com/sport-pre-season-preparation-using-grip-model/.

[3] Association, The Football. “The FA 4 Corner Model.” Https://Learn.englandfootball.com, https://learn.englandfootball.com/articles/resources/2022/the-fa-4-corner-model.

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