Draft Day Takeaway: “Who am I?” Determines “Who are You?”

Coach's-Playbook

By Kent Noyes, MCAA ‘17


With the first pick of the 2020 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select…

This moment brings forth so much emotion and anxiety as all eyes rest on the NFL commissioner as he reads the first player to be drafted and join the professional ranks. A moment, that takes seconds in real-time, sends the entire sports world into great debate on whether a team made the right selection. This is an opportunity for teams to select players that will help ascend their team to the top of the league and, in some cases, become the face of the franchise. With a single selection carrying so much weight, it is important for teams to devote countless hours to scouting, film review, personality reviews, interviews, and much more. All these factors go into answering the question of “who are you?” Who a player is will determine if they will be the right selection on draft night. Ultimately, teams hope to choose the right player to help propel the future success of their team. So how do teams set themselves up for success in the draft?

There have been first round picks that developed into infamous flops and legendary successes. Predicting the future is not an easy task for any team. There are players that have lived up to the first overall selection and players who become truly great underdog stories after being drafted in the later rounds. Many parts of a franchise come together to make these decisions - from the general manager to the head coach, assistant coaches, and scouts. It is a high-risk undertaking; these decision-makers put their jobs on the line. A setback in a draft can derail a franchise for years to come, which often leads to new personnel making the decisions. Will teams make a mistake? Absolutely. No team has ever been 100% in drafting future stars. However, what can help teams during this process is analyzing the question of “who am I?” before answering “who are you?”

Identity is the foundation of what a team is built upon. Without having an identity, a group of very talented individuals will remain just that – individuals. The leaders of a team must have a unified mission, vision, and core value set prior to spending those countless hours of scouting prospective players. A reflection and then a devotion to the answer of “who am I?” will set a team down a path together rather than multiple different directions. It allows a team to speak to what it means to wear this uniform and have the honor of the team’s name on their chest. Knowing “who am I?” also provides a team a greater capacity to see how the answer of “who are you?” really fits.

Just like the NFL draft, there are many hours devoted to discovering the right players at both the collegiate and high school levels. Some may think of it as simply choosing the best athlete or the most talented player - which does have a role - but in large part, coaches are looking for players that fit into their systems and their philosophies. For team sports, a coach needs not only talented players, but players that can come together and work as one. The team needs a blend of leaders, role players, gamers, and all the pieces that come together to complete the puzzle perfectly.

Application for Collegiate Coaches

Prior to recruiting players, a coach needs to know the identity of the program and definitively answer the “who am I?” question. Identifying which pieces are missing from your puzzle is rendered almost impossible if you do not even know what picture the puzzle should form upon its completion. A coach and his or her staff need to clearly understand the core values of their program before setting out to recruit players. Does this mean a coach is inflexible based upon who the available players are? No, a coach can change strategies and adapt to the available players’ skill sets. What we are talking about is finding the players that come with the intangibles that match the program’s foundational core values.

There are often players that find great success because they were recruited into an environment that was a good fit for more than just their talent. If a program chooses a candidate based upon more than talent, they will maximize their odds of finding athletes that perform beyond their natural ability. That is why it is important for coaches to know the identity of the program prior to recruiting players. By setting the answer to “who am I?”, a collegiate program is able to set off to answer the questions of “who are you?” By gathering answers from potential players, coaches are now able to cross reference with the foundation already laid out. If the puzzle piece does not fit, then a team can move forward looking for the pieces that will come together. Tough decisions made in the recruitment process can help a team during their season.

Application for High School Coaches

At the high school level, a “recruiting” process is different since a coach does not have the opportunity to entice players to come play at the school. Though the pool of athletes may be more restrictive, a coach and coaching staff still have to make decisions based off the group of athletes that are available. Is a staff going to decide to make cuts? If so, what is the deciding factors of the players that make the team?

These decisions are not easy to make at the high school level, especially since coaches must consider player potential. Since the players are still developing physically, mentally, and in maturation, it takes coaching talent to identify who has star player potential. So, although a coach may have to pivot to the players’ ability, high school coaches have a unique opportunity to shape their selected players into the identity of the program.

This process of putting the team together comes down to the identity the coach and staff want to shape within their program. The coach can lay out the foundation of “who am I?” for the team by helping them visualize how the puzzle should come together. Essentially, you may not directly answer the “who are you?” through recruiting; rather, the “who are you?” is answered through setting a precedent for the program’s vision and more readily identifying the athletic pieces that do not fit. As the puzzle pieces change (and graduate), a strong vision for the program will help the coaching staff more quickly identify the new athletes that can fill those places.

Conclusion

As the attention on the NFL draft and the recruitment processes bring forth hope towards the future, it also should bring a time of reflection. It is a time to ensure your program is staying true to its identity and that you are taking the correct course of action to obtain the best from your players. The identity begins with the coach and the coaching staff. They need to believe in the cause and buy-in to what is being created. Being able to articulate what the program is about and laying the expectations allows the program to strive for a goal together. Make sure that the hours devoted to the answers of “who are you?” fit with the answers of “who am I?”

Tags: coaching

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