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Player Evaluations: The Jungle Book Approach

As the football season comes to end, coaches across the country are spending time reflecting on their team’s performance. Many play the “what if…” game, wondering how they could have improved the outcome of specific games or plays but more importantly, they’re evaluating each individual player and conducting one-on-one feedback sessions.

These player discussions are extremely important as they put some closure on the current season and prepare players for the off-season. Unlike many other sports, football doesn’t have the luxury of a year-round season so coaches need to find ways to stay engaged with their players, increasing the likelihood they’ll be back next year.

If handled properly, these evaluations will motivate players to work hard through the winter months with anticipation for Spring to arrive. On the other hand, if handled improperly you could lose some players before the thought of next season is even on the horizon.

So, if you’re new to this process, particularly with youth athletes, keep it simple and follow these basic principles learned from our friends Baloo and Mowgli in The Jungle Book. And make sure to consider all the intangibles along with the tangibles, as these skills can be as important, if not more, to the success of your team.

Accentuate the Positive

Whenever delivering feedback, whether on the field, in the classroom, or on the job, it helps to lead with something positive to set the right tone. Even if you have tough criticism to follow, positive reinforcement of a person’s strengths will make that news easier to accept and acknowledge.

Every player has something positive to highlight and it’s up to you as a coach and/or parent to identify those throughout the season and continuously affirm them. Start the discussion by mentioning some of these areas with one simple example of why it was beneficial to the entire team, but don’t get into all the details just yet – that comes later.

By creating an environment of trust and inclusion, you’ve prepared the player to listen to criticism and accept it with humility and understanding. Remember, this is part of the player development process, not an opportunity to place blame, so keep the criticism to general terms while avoiding any direct link to losses or failures during the season.

Eliminate the Negative

Throughout the season, you’ve seen your team go through ups and downs and you’ve witnessed how your players handled those situations. Likely, you saw leaders arise when faced with adversity as they put the team on their shoulders, while others reacted differently and possibly with a negative attitude.

If you took inventory of these moments, take advantage of the post-season evaluations to address this with players who may need some extra support. Many times, it’s simply a lack of confidence that propagates this attitude so help these players understand they can conquer their challenges.

Similarly, if you saw players act with disrespect towards their opponents, officials, or teammates, reinforce the lesson you taught in that moment and emphasize the impact those incidents will have on their future potential for success and advancement. Don’t come down hard on the player but remind them how those acts won’t be acceptable on any team.

Building the culture of a youth sports organization takes time and starts with the youngest players. So, instilling the importance of sportsmanship, teamwork, and respect should be a part of every evaluation meeting, for both players and coaches.

Latch On to the Affirmative

Every player has areas they can improve but they’re not always aware of it. One of the tougher responsibilities of coaching young athletes is having the honest discussion on where they need to work harder. But this can be easier to deal with if you take the right approach.

You may have heard “problems” redefined as “opportunities” in your work-life at some point and laughed, but this is an environment where that it actually holds true. We’re addressing ‘lack of ability’ instead of ‘problems’ in this case, but the idea is to change the mindset of the player to one of encouragement.

When explaining a skill or technique that needs improvement, frame it by explaining what the desired outcome is and how to get there. For example, a player will become a better run-blocker and see more TDs run to their side if they work on their first step. Instead of focusing primarily on the skill that needs improvement, providing context of their potential will create a different level of motivation. And at all costs, avoid any association to a ‘failure’ that occurred during the season as that can leave a negative impact and be counterproductive.

Close the discussion by bringing it back around to positive feedback. Reiterate the positives you led with but provide more context now. Recall an experience from the season where their actions directly impacted the team and remind them of their positive contributions throughout the season.

Don’t Mess with Mr. In-Between

Be mindful of your players, particularly as it relates to their emotional intelligence. By now you should have a good grasp of how each player responds to various methods of direction and feedback, as evidenced in practices and games.

Some players are driven to be the best and want to hear candidly what they need to work on. These are the ones already looking to next season, but there will always be players undecided on if they’ll be coming back. How you handle these players may dictate the future of your program.

Not all players want to live in the weight room over the summer as they have other interests. You can motivate them to stay in shape, but find other ways to keep them interested while away from the team. Staying engaged with their playbook could be an easy way to keep their mind on football without feeling obligated to hit the sleds all offseason.

And remember, end-of-season evaluations are a great time to emphasize your players’ strengths as you leave them with a feeling of pride in their ability to be a part of the team.

We hope you had a great season and are excited to help your players get ready for next year! Find out how we can help by visiting

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