Updated: Jul 11, 2021
We just finished spring practice with our team and like most coaches, I would proclaim that we got "better." But how do I know that, and more importantly, how do I know if individual kids improved this spring? Judging improvement is certainly not an exact science and can easily be influenced by factors that will not help our team win games. For example, things like how well I like a player personally, who a player is matched up against, the number of consecutive reps a player has taken, the coach doing the evaluation, complexity of assignment a player is given, etc. can all influence how well a player's performance is judged. "Better" is a relative term in the absence of an evaluation process. We work to eliminate as much personal bias as possible when evaluating our players and provide clear feedback for each player. We certainly have miles to go in this area but here are a few ideas.
First, most of us have players we like better than others as people. Human nature is to pull for the people we like. It stands to reason that if I am evaluating 2 players at the same position and I do not have a system for removing personal bias, the player I like best will perform "better." This seems to be the biggest challenge our staff faces in evaluating on-field performance. Players tend to earn or spend "grace" with coaches during the winter months in the weightroom, classroom, other sports, etc. There is no doubt that all of those things matter and that character is the element that will push us over the top...but only if our players are performing well. What I sometimes see is that we tend to inflate the performance of players we "like" the best. We use terms like "winner" and "character" in reference to kids and lose some vision on actual performance. My position on this is that "winners" and players with "character" embrace coaching and being challenged and NEED to be evaluated in order to improve and reach their potential. How many players do we allow to be less than their best because we like them?
Second, Match ups matter. It is important at our school to look at who players are performing against. For example, we have a really good offensive lineman. We will not compromise expectations for any defensive lineman based on match up but if only one of our DL's is going head to head against that particular OL it is fairly certain that he will not grade as well as the others in the DL. On the other end of that spectrum, we have a senior defensive lineman that has started for 3 years. He is consistently matched up against a player that is just moving into a starting position. He should grade higher. Also, our 2nd and 3rd team players will tend to grade well because they are matched up against 2nd and 3rd team players who are just learning to play at this level. Defensively we should always have a performance advantage with the 2's and 3's because of the nature of our defense.
Third, coaches may feel like a player's grade is a reflection of coaching. To some degree, that is correct. I will add that a lack of honest and concise feedback will inhibit a player's growth. I have not seen any coaches fired because their players graded 72% instead of 92% in spring practice, so why not point out areas of improvement as well as highlight successes. And, I believe good players get better when being pushed, coached, taught, and evaluated. A high performing environment is never a place of comfort and I want our players to feel challenged. We ask them to know and do a lot. If we are not honestly evaluating performance how can players...or coaches get better? This is where the term that cripples performance evaluation, "my guys" can pop up. As a young coach I worked for a guy that hammered you if you used the term "my guys." His stance was that a "my guys" approach to coaching was too narrow in scope and not focused on winning as much as on the performance of a particular segment. That "NO MY GUYS!" philosophy is now a part of my DNA.
Next, the number of consecutive reps a player takes will make a difference in performance. Too many consecutive reps and fatigue becomes a factor and grades go south. Too few consecutive reps and a player may not get adjusted to speed of the game, the situation, tempo of offense, etc. and grades go south. Quality reps matter!
Last, the complexity of the call/assignment will have an effect on grades. The more we expect players to know or be able to do, the greater the odds the grade may be lower. On the day of a new install, grades should be down. Our 2's and 3's don't get a lot put on them in terms of complexity and they are consistently matched up against 2's and 3's so they may actually grade better.
So how do we grade things at our school? First there are consistent rules for everyone. Here they are:
Manical Effort is the mere cost of admission. We are never going to brag on anybody about "playing hard." I do not buy in to the notion of ,"If you screw up, make sure it is full speed!" I have always thought that was dumb. Players that do not know what to do, don't do anything. I hammer our kids about this. "YOU CAN'T PLAY HARD ENOUGH IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO!" We will make no concessions for ignorance! Know your job so you can do your job! Nobody gets graded on effort. You show up with that or you simply can't play.
Multiple sets of eyes. The coordinator and the head coach will look at the grades for each player and in some cases grade players to confirm the position coach's grades. This is simply a quality control matter to eliminate a coach's personal feelings about a particular player. It is crazy but real, a position coach may have a player with a 4 out of 4 points on a play while the coordinator has the player with a 2 on the play.
We grade 4 things each play. We then give players a grade based on the number of points earned in a day divided by the number of points possible on the day. If a player had 25 plays in a day then he has 100 points possible (25 x 4 = 100)
Grades are not A, B, C, D, etc. They are simply a percentage of available points. 62% against our really good OL may be a better performance than a 78% against a young OL.
Here are the 4 things we grade on each play. Each item is worth 1 point with 4 points possible on each play:
A. Alignment... Did the player line up correctly?
B. Assignment...Did the player execute his assignment exactly right?
C. Technique....Did the player use correct technique as taught?
D. Finish.....Did the player finish the play by either being in on the tackle or
tracking the hip of the ball carrier until the whistle blew?
6. We post everyone's grades every day for everyone to see in a HUDL message.
7. The top performing players from each position group are recognized daily by wearing yellow shorts in practice and having pictures on social media.
I have attached a copy of our grade report and a picture of top grade guys from a practice. We certainly do not have the evaluation of "Better" perfected but we do have a process that at least helps give us a track to run on for evaluating both players and coaches. We want our players to have an idea about whether or not we are getting better at the task at hand.
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” ― Vince Lombardi, American football coach, and executive.