As a youth football administrator, there are a number of important tasks we have to get right for our season to be a success. Yet there is one critical, often under-served event that sets us up for a season full of fun, competitively balanced games: Assessment Day.
Unlike some other leagues, every season we hold a draft to allow coaches select their teams. As an additional wrinkle, we also allow coaches who have already established relationships with some players to protect those athletes – with some limitations so as not to skew the competitive balance. As a result, this adds even more importance to evaluating the available talent across each division to ensure that teams are not stacked.
But with only three hours of field time allotted to evaluate the entire league, holding a successful assessment is a challenge. To meet that test, we have developed a detailed process that helps us maximize our limited time and the value of assessment day for our league.
Planning for assessment day begins weeks in advance.
First, we give careful thought as to what we hope to learn about each player through the various stations we may run. Because we are not just looking for the best athletes, but how each player might perform in a role, we carefully select the events and metrics we felt would reveal their abilities on a football field.
For us, we measure a player’s speed (20 yard Dash), their ability to change directions (Shuttle Run or 5-10-5), how they can throw (Passing), how they can catch (Catching), how they run with football (Running) and defend (Flag Pulling).
Next, we work hard to resource and prepare our evaluators. Although it might seem straight forward, to run these 5 stations effectively requires more people and planning than you might think (See Figure 1). In the weeks leading up to assessment day, we bring all of the coaches together and provide them a detailed plan of the day. We assign each coach a specific station that will be running and instruct them how they should run them. Whenever possible, we try to prevent coaches from proctoring a station in their own age group in order to allow them to take their own notes and not influence the ratings or times. For the timed stations (20 Yard Dash and Shuttle Run) we focus on the fundamentals of the starting position and how to run our timing technology to collect the two run times at each station. For those stations like Passing, Catching, Running and Flag-Pulling, which are rated on a qualitative 1-5 scale, we discuss what the various ratings mean and how to maintain consistency in the evaluations.
On assessment day, things move fast.
For each age group we allow for 60 minutes with 5-10 minute buffer time between each age group. Coaches are expected to arrive 30 minutes early for a last minute walk-through, rehearsal and to answer any last minute questions on the process or the Next-Play.net technology we use. Whether for tackle or football, NextPlay lets you run tryouts, combines or off-season training assessments using only your mobile devices.
Players begin arriving at 8:00 am. They are immediately checked into our Next-Play.net system and given a number on a name tag for identification at each station. Unprotected players are given a blue tag, while those already claimed by coaches are given a red tag to avoid confusion. Once we hit 8:30, we bring the players in for a quick introduction and begin their 5-10 minute warm-ups. We then split them up into equally sized groups in numerical order across each of the stations.
After the first rotation things move pretty swiftly. If there are bottlenecks, we are quick to adjust the size of the group or add additional coaches to help facilitate. With each new division and changeover of evaluators, we hold another brief huddle to address any questions or adjust the setup. Check-in time for players begins 30 minutes prior to their assessment time so that as one group is complete, the next age group is ready for their warm-ups.
And the results pay off. This year we were able to get 225 players across 4 age divisions complete with their assessment inunder 3 hours.
As important as it is to run a quality assessment event on the field, collecting the data isn’t the end of the process. In order to make all the time spent worthwhile, it’s important to have a means of analyzing the times and scores so that the results are just more than numbers in spreadsheet cells.
For our league, we created a simple algorithm that indexes how each player did against the average in his or her age group. Certainly, no composite score or number will determine exactly a player’s, much less a team’s, performance during the season. This score, however helps us determine if any protected teams are over stacked with talent, helps new coaches devise an informed draft strategy rather than stabbing in the dark and helps us work through any trades later, if necessary.
Although still early in this season, we already see the benefits. During the draft, new coaches felt more confident in selecting their teams and routinely refer to the Next-Play.net results well after draft day when discussing players. We were able to alleviate concerns about protected teams and balance the talent across the age divisions effectively.
Time will tell if we were successful in building a balanced, competitive league. But with this process in place, I feel more confident that we are headed in that right direction in making these hours spent running players through drills and cones are valuable for our coaches, players, and parents.
Michael Cassidy is a volunteer youth football coach and President of NextPlay – a technology that allows coaches and youth leagues to plan, run and analyze their tryouts and assessments using only their mobile devices. For more information visit Next-Play.net.
Figure 1: Station Breakdown
|Station Name||Metric||Coaches Required|
|20 Yard Dash||Timed||3 ( 1 x Starter; 2 x Timers)|
|Shuttle Run||Timed||2 (1 x Timer; 1 x Backup)|
|Throwing||Rating (1-5)||2 (1 x Setup; 1 x Rater)|
|Catching||Rating (1-5)||2 (1 x Setup; 1 x Rater)|
|Flag Pulling / Running||Rating (1-5)||3 (1 x Setup; 1 x Running Rater; 1 x Flag Pulling Rater)|