This simple method of grading players in the off-season has proven to drive improvement and give coaches a standardized assessment model to guide how they coach individual players.
By Kyle McKenna
Assistant Head Coach, O-Line and D-Line
Mercer Island High School (WA)
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One of the best clinics I have ever attended was given by Bill Belichick in regard to the development of personnel that you have on your team. The example he used was Julian Edelman, who had played college quarterback before he was drafted by the New England Patriots. In their initial evaluation of Edelman, they came to the conclusion that he possessed the potential to become a slot receiver. During the clinic, Coach Belichick showed video of Edelman running routes early on in his career and then followed with others that showed a gradual improvement over a period of two years. While Wes Welker was their starter, Edelman was developed to perform a similar role. When Welker departed and signed elsewhere, Edelman was well prepared and excelled at the role once he had the opportunity to start.
In the NFL, the evaluation of talent is a key ingredient to creating a successful team. This is especially true when there have to be tough decisions about who stays and who goes on a fifty-three-man roster. On the college level, deciding who will get scholarships and how a high school football player projects on the next level takes years of practice in evaluating talent. For high school coaches, there are different factors to be considered when projecting a player’s development over a 2 to 4-year period.
On the high school level, coaches do not have the luxury of signing a better player and getting rid of another. In addition, most high school coaches are looking at the bigger picture of character development and life skills. This creates an emphasis on constant improvement or a step-by-step improvement cycle that improves the individual player, his position group and the entire team. By looking at the entire development of the player from an improvement point of view rather than production, a high school coach can fully develop the middle and bottom of the roster and therefore create a stronger team. Most squads possess a dynamic player, but great teams surround that athlete with complementary role players that can bring a team from good to great.
About eight years ago, I came up with a simple method of grading players in the off-season to drive improvement and give the coaches a standardized assessment model in which to guide how they coached individuals. Once this idea was introduced to the staff, the definitions and structure began to organically take shape as we discussed the levels of improvement. Also, it helped coaches to properly match up skill levels to reduce the risk of injury and build the confidence of our players. By determining a starting point, it gave coaches the opportunity to identify strengths and weaknesses and implement strategies towards improvement. This system used colors to indicate where a player was at in his development. The four colors we used were Red, Yellow, Green, and Purple.
The colors that we used represented the level we thought the player should be placed at the time of the discussion. Personnel conversations occurred in April, at the end of May, mid-July and late August. Those discussions consisted of our staff talking about players by position and indicating whether they met the initial designation of returning starter or projected starter. Once that was determined, we could then discuss the player's specific color designation and a plan of action for individual improvement that could elevate their status. These meetings were an opportunity for coaches to “pound on the table” for a player that they thought could contribute in the fall. It also served as an opportunity to discuss potential position changes that could benefit the team and accelerate the player's development.
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- How colors are segmented based on the skill sets of the personnel on the roster.
- What the projected off-season goal is and the process the staff uses to move players from one level to the next.
- How this data is translated and incorporated from one off-season to the next.
- A downloadable template of the personnel report that Coach McKenna uses to grade his players during the off-season.
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Great teams are always the sum of their parts. While some can recruit players and pad their roster with talent, most high school football coaches must look for new and creative ways to not only cultivate their homegrown talent but also motivate them and build excitement around the program. I believe that by measuring and having a year-by-year growth plan for your student-athletes, teams can improve and consistently compete. Coaches must make sure that they use all the resources at their disposal and formulate new techniques along the way. By color-coding your personnel, the head coach can act as a general manager and build a team around its most dynamic players.
Meet Coach McKenna: Coach McKenna is the Assistant Head Coach/Offensive and Defensive Line Coach at Mercer Island High School in Washington. From 2009-2018, Coach McKenna was the Head Football Coach at Brooklyn Technical High School in Brooklyn, NY. Coach McKenna serves on the American Football Coaches Association's High School Committee and has previously contributed to the RPO study and the 21-Hour Football Program for xandolabs.com.