Dreams are coming true this week for many of the best college football players. It’s the NFL Draft and time for these elite players to cash in on their big payday as they leave the world of amateur athletics and enter the dog eat dog world of pay for play football.
It’s interesting to watch the analysis of the NFL Draft as teams are making million dollar decisions on who can help their respective team. Countless scouts, coaches, medical doctors and psychiatrists have examined everything there is to evaluate about the players being considered on draft day. No stone is left unturned by NFL teams as they make these draft day decisions.
Despite all of the game footage, cognitive and physical examinations and evaluations it’s amazing how often the decisions being made about these elite players are wrong. Simply put, it’s hard to identify talent even at this elite level with any resource one would think necessary available to assist in the process. It’s such a fine line separating the very good from the great.
One common theme heard during the draft day coverage was the importance of a players disposition and attitude. While experts have a hard time specifically defining the “it” factor, they don’t dispute it’s significance in predicting a players success at the next level.
The problem is that a person’s progress ultimately depends on factors that are extraordinarily difficult to measure – stuff like character, emotions, discipline, motivation. How do they respond to failure? What’s their vision for themselves? Can they persevere in the toughest situations?
Many people call this the “soft stuff” but in fact it’s not soft at all – it’s the hardest, most vital stuff there is.
The real question is, how do you measure it? How do you develop it in a youth athlete?
I came across a great answer developed by San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback before becoming a successful coach, has developed a simple way to measure the soft stuff of his quarterback and receiver prospects.
He plays catch with them.
That’s right — he plays catch, throwing a football back and forth. He does this at pro days, when prospective draftees try out for an audience of coaches and scouts. Every other NFL coach treats the event as a spectator sport, standing on the sidelines with clipboards and video cameras. Harbaugh, on the other hand, uses it as an opportunity to engage.
Here’s the trick: with Harbaugh, it’s not an ordinary game of catch. Because after a few warmups, Harbaugh starts throwing harder, with more and more intensity. He makes the player run out for passes, making tough throws. He challenges the player, sees if they instinctively rise to the occasion. Some players back down, get uncomfortable. Others embrace it. From the Wall Street Journal:
Harbaugh first took a liking to [Colin] Kaepernick, who played in college at Nevada, when they played a supercharged game of catch at his pro day in Reno. Harbaugh threw hard; Kaepernick threw harder. Kaepernick, Harbaugh came to understand, had the drive he was looking for. Although he wasn’t considered a top prospect—San Francisco took him in the second round in 2011—Kaepernick has started in two straight NFC Championship games and led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in the 2012 season.
I love Harbaugh’s litmus test because it measures two things at once: interpersonal chemistry and competitiveness. It operates at the gut level, where the most important factors reside.
In short, this is not talent ID — it’s temperament ID.
When nurturing and developing youth athletes it’s important to understand the significance of temperament in the progression of skills being emphasized. For the parents of youth athletes, this is an area where you can make the biggest impact on your child’s competitive sports life. Are your actions as a parent promoting, encouraging and fostering a young person who embraces the process of mastering a skill? Do they handle struggling well? Did they rise to the challenge?
In a world of instant gratification, kids are too often missing the importance of embracing the process of doing something. The step by step, day by day progression that takes them from where they are today to where they someday want to be.