Can Playing 'Madden' Make You Better When You Actually Put on the Pads? Video games may negatively impact children’s grades, but it seems that they may actually create smarter players on the gridiron.

Cognitive scientists have previously concluded that by playing fast-paced video games, non-gamers can improve things like reaction time and hand-eye coordination. Chris Suellentrop of Wired, while making no claims of his merit as a cognitive scientist, has argued that by playing the John Madden series of video games, younger generations of football players have a better understanding of the game on the field. Some coaches are even inclined to agree with him.

“These games nowadays are just so technically sound that they’re a learning tool,” Tim Grunhard, a former all-pro center for the Chiefs, told Suellentrop. “Back when I was playing football, we didn’t realize what a near or a far formation was, we didn’t really understand what ‘trips’ meant, we didn’t understand what cover 2, cover 3, and cover zero meant.”

Grunhard, now a high school coach, encourages his youngsters to use Madden to help them learn tactics and strategies. At younger ages, where the highly advanced games of recent years are all that they’ve known, the impact is even greater. The 2006 Pop Warner champions (ages 8-11) programmed their 30-play playbook into Madden to help them study. Using the double-wing formation, a far more complicated setup than any of their opponents, the kids from Gastonia, N.C., won by a convincing score line of 39-6.

While those kids are years away from hearing their names called out by Roger Goodell, some in the NFL already have let the game affect their playing strategy, and they don’t even know it’s happening.

When Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley scored on a miracle, tipped touchdown pass in Week 1 of the 2009 season, he sprinted down the field untouched. Moments before crossing into the end zone, though, he decided instead to waste six seconds off the already waning clock by running along the goal line.

Gamers everywhere rejoiced. “That’s what I do in Madden!” was the call of nearly every nerd who had laid hands on a controller of some kind since the influential football game’s inception.

“It definitely is,” Stokley told Suellentrop. “I think everybody who’s played those games has done that. … I don’t know if subconsciously it made me do it or not.”

Maybe that’s where the biggest difference between Stokley and the pee-wee-aged group comes in. For Stokley, it’s a pastime coming into his work. For 11-year-old Aveontay Armstrong, it was a tool used for a purpose.

“I programmed our offense into Madden to help me memorize our plays,” Armstrong told Sports Illustrated. “It was easier than homework.”