Anyone can recognize the abundant talent of a star player, but can you also recognize a talent that isn't as obvious? What about the player who has the skills to succeed now, but does so in a non-athletic, awkward, or quiet way? Can you watch a beginner play and recognize the potential for that child to find success and enjoy the game?
Look Beyond a Player's AthleticismOne of the attractions of sports, especially team sports, is that there are a variety of ways to succeed. Although certain team positions seem to require a given body type and skill set, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes, an extremely strong skill may offset an obvious weakness. Other times, “intangible” behaviors and attributes are the defining quality that enables a player to succeed. Couple these factors with a child’s potential to change and grow (in mind, body, and skill level), and you are often faced with a significant challenge when evaluating a player’s abilities.
One Boy's Path to SuccessA number of years ago, I coached a middle school basketball team that included a seemingly non-athletic eighth grade boy who moved awkwardly, without much speed or quickness. He lacked ball skills and the ability to consistently convert any shot other than a layup. In evaluating John, my first take was that I would need to find certain limited roles for him. Although having only average height and jumping ability, the forward position was the one best suited to his physical stature and abilities.
In our first practices and games, I became aware that John was always around the ball, running the floor, constantly positioning himself to receive passes and rebound the ball. He innately understood how to leverage his body and gain an advantage against his opponent. His ability to judge time and space relationships, anticipate ball and player movements, and position himself to gain an advantage was uncanny. As his shot improved through the season, and he learned more individual skills and team concepts, he became one of our team’s most valuable players and helped lead us to a victory in our league’s championship game. As a senior in high school, and still lacking height, jumping ability, and any outstanding ball skills, John started on the varsity basketball team.
The Evaluation ProcessWhen evaluating a player, begin with the obvious physical characteristics and demonstrated skills. Then watch closely how the player reacts in actual scrimmages against different opponents. Note the unexpected and watch for the subtle attributes that enable a player to win matchups against apparently more skilled or physically gifted players. Does the player understand and anticipate movements on the field of play, and react accordingly? Look ahead, and see how your coaching might unleash some barely visible trait or talent. Imagine how that player’s strengths and weaknesses will complement those of your other players, possibly adding exceptional value to your team. Consider the child’s personality and how it relates to the child’s performance and possible roles. Is he or she hungry to score, tenacious on defense, concerned about minimizing mistakes, or willing to compete by playing team-oriented roles? Observe the player’s actions both close to the ball and away from the ball.
Consider all of the above factors as you evaluate a young player and determine the role that they can best play on your team.
Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved