As the National Football League, the NCAA, and high schools all across North America are currently into pre-season training camp or are preparing to start in Canada, I’ve been asked by many as to what really is the evaluative process when determining your team? 

Each position obviously warrants differing physical skill sets and at another time perhaps I’ll post the attributes we evaluate when working in pro personnel or designing our recruiting process at the collegiate level but for now, let’s stay within the confines of what a coaching staff must consider once the players are selected to attend camp and the process of who is your starter, back-up, and travel squad and for good measure the factors of whom to place on the “reserve list” in the Canadian Football League.

“A winner knows how much he still has to learn, even when he is considered an expert by others – a loser wants to be considered an expert by others before he has ever learned enough to know how little he knows.”  We want young men to come in with open minds and a willingness to learn new techniques and schematics.  If we perceive the player, and this particularly happens at the professional level with a new staff, feels he is more knowledgable and technique refined than what is being presented to him, the chances are he won’t be with the club very much longer.

Our coaching staff anticipates competition at each position when the freshman or rookies arrive; consequently, we feel that it is important for the player to understand how we will evaluate them to determine their placement on the squad.

We use the following criteria during the evaluative process:

1. Knowledge of assignments (concentration, listening habits)

2. Hustle, hard work, performance in practice and scrimmage or pre-season game opportunities

3. Hitting, mental toughness, aggressiveness

4. Team attitude

5. Talent

That order may surprise some and we have been dealt a hand at times over three decades of having to keep a veteran that did not place team over self and ultimately it is disruptive but if you hold true to this criteria you will put together a cohesive group that will believe in one and other.  This is how we defined each standard:

KNOWLEDGE OF ASSIGNMENTS: A player that makes mental mistakes in practice is telling us that he is not ready to play in a game when his teammates are relying on him to perform up to his capabilities.

HUSTLE: Everyone will be expected to hustle throughout the practice sessions.  Your teammates will be giving 100% and they will expect the same from you.  Hustle has nothing to do with talent.  Everyone can give the effort that is required to be successful regardless of ability.

HITTING AND MENTAL TOUGHNESS: The coaching staff and your teammates will discover during spring, summer, and fall practice sessions who plays with these characteristics.  It won’t take long to discover people who will hit and be able to take hits.

TEAM ATTITUDE: The player that puts team before self is more valuable for the success of our program than a selfish player.  Everyone can be a team player.  (This is very difficult at the professional level when players have blog sites, radio shows, or are writing a weekly column in the newspaper.  That type of exposure should be terminated or the player must be released if that type of activity is more important to them.  Twitter and Facebook accounts are also difficult to control and at the collegiate level should be monitored or prohibited.  Nothing disrupts a team more than an individual that projects themselves above the team on social media.)

TALENT: If the above four characteristics are equal, then the player who has the most physical talent will be given the preference.  However, talent will not enter into our evaluation until we look closely at the first four qualities.  In the extremely rare case of all things being equal, at the high school or collegiate level, the preference would go to the young man closest to graduation, at the professional level you must be sure the younger player is truly capable of replacing the veteran and test the value of the veteran in the trade market to improve your team where it is deemed weakest.  Obviously, if the player is handicapped with an injury it will be difficult for the coaching staff to evaluate the player.

We will provide an opportunity for our first year men to earn a position and play a role on the team, particularly on special teams.  We will continue to dress and play as many players as allowed by roster limitations in the NCAA and the professional ranks.  At the Division II and III levels of the NCAA you can dress at home as many as you would like and we traditionally would go to camp with upwards of 115 players understanding that natural attrition would pare that down to 90-95 with a travel squad of 50.  At the professional level you are limited to 53 players in total.  The CFL allows for 42 to be “active”, seven on the “practice roster”, and four on “reserve”.  Injury, depth, protecting a young developing player that you do not want an opponent to pluck off your practice roster, and salary factor into your thought process for the reserve list keeping an eye on one offensive lineman, a receiver, a defensive back, and a pressure player from the front defensive seven.

At the amateur ranks it is the desire of our coaching staff to play as many young men as possible but obviously we can’t play everyone.  Our concern is to be as fair as possible in making our evaluation of each individual team member.  The men who start and represent our community, institution, or pro club on the field will be, in our judgement, the squad members who best exemplify the five basic qualities mentioned.

We strive for openness and fairness and if a player does not feel that, they can have a conference with the Head Coach.  The players ultimately determine their own fate.  We feel it is important that the player understands the selection procedure before the season starts and that their role on the squad is determined by their actions.


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