Last weekend, two of my worlds collided. My daughter’s junior volleyball team held an out-of-town tournament in Austin. It ran from Friday morning to Sunday morning and included seven games for his team. It also meant watching dozens of games before and after his team played. As my nickname suggests, I am a retired volleyball coach. I could say that I retired for lack of time, but I really wanted to see her grow. The 60 and 70 hour weeks were becoming too much.
This world collides with my current work world and my world outside of work. I write about statistics and use statistics as a special education case manager. You take reading scores, scores from other standardized tests, and data from teachers to determine exactly how to help students. I used statistics to measure the quality of baseball players. It is a world of tangible goods in the middle of a world of intangibles.
Watching the games brought the coaching part back in full force. I could see not only the strategy and the athleticism, but I could see the mental part of it. Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said he couldn’t define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it. Likewise, coaches cannot define what they are looking for in a player, but they know it when they see him.
This has been a key point for years. Teams used the Wunderlic test to determine football IQ. The test is graduated from 1 to 50 and would be correlated with football intelligence. Examples of infamous scores run the gamut. Peyton Manning reportedly scored very high on the Wunderlic test and Vince Young reportedly scored very low.
However, this would fall under the category of confirmation bias. We know Peyton is one of the top five quarterbacks in history. We also know that Young was one of the most infamous fires in history. The question is whether these results are reproducible. There is also the question of whether it is important for other positions. Obviously everyone needs a certain level of intelligence in football, but some positions obviously need more than others.
If the Wunderlic test does not have an acceptable correlation with success, is there a way to measure football intelligence that is reproducible? Otherwise, are we left guessing like in the good old days? Watch a player long enough and you’ll know if he has it. The question is whether you have the manpower that can do this with all the relevant prospects you need to seek out.
No, this is not Jack Easterby’s character form. I don’t care if a player goes to church or not. When I watch a child play volleyball, I want to know how he handles adversity. He was in the spotlight this weekend. Some players have crumbled when they or their team were in trouble. Some players got mad at themselves or their teammates when they struggled. Finally, the third group recovered quickly and made the next play. Some just stopped competing all together. These are all normal reactions.
The problem with third place overall is that your team sucks. It sucks by definition. The guy you want to draft probably won most if not all of his games in high school. He was then heavily drafted and went to college winning most if not all of their games. He was surrounded by good players at both levels. Trevor Lawrence is the perfect example of this phenomenon. Ryan Leaf (pictured above) is another great example. There is no way to know in advance how someone will react to difficulties. They can swim or sink. We know what happened with Leaf. It remains to be seen what will become of Laurence.
Types of trainers
Everyone has a type of partner they are looking for. The same is true for coaches. We’ve spent most of the last decade hearing the words tough, smart, and reliable. Bill O’Brien obviously had a type. He wanted smart and versatile players. This resulted in the drafting of players who were jacks of all trades and masters of none. That will obviously change with Lovie Smith but we can’t be sure how that will evolve.
What we can do is look at his last two NFL spots and see which players he liked. What were the traits of these players? In terms of volleyball, there are aggressive players and more conservative players. Different coaches have different likes and dislikes. I wanted smart players who would do the right thing with the ball most of the time. Other coaches wanted players who would try to play aggressively even if it meant making more mistakes. There is no right or wrong approach. The key will be to match players that match Lovie Smith so he can get the most out of them.
This is where the interviews come in. This is where watching them and tape them over and over to see what kind of games they have been doing. Are they explosive players who make the big play or are they regular performers who play the routine more regularly? Whatever system a team uses on offense or defense, decisions on the mental/psychological level are likely to matter more on the physical level. For those of us who love tangible goods, we’d love for someone to develop a foolproof way to answer this question.