It’s draft week in the NFL, the climax of all the off-season hype on players, something the league leverages strategically to keep their fanbase on edge. This year’s been different, to say the least, but the hype remains.
The biggest difference? Pre-draft player analysis.
Social distancing has thrown a wrench into the cogs of the NFL draft machine and all the training and evaluation events surrounding it. No traditional combine. Less tape on incoming players. Reduced interaction with players.
So does this mean a bigger crapshoot for coaches and general managers? I mean, the guessing can’t get much worse than taking a Ponder at pick #12, can it?
Scouts, coaches, agents and players alike have leaned heavily on technology in this new environment. While interactions have been largely changed because of this, tech has been used for years now during player prep and analysis.
Sports science has exploded in the last decade as newer technology has allowed for the capture of more data. And with more data, you can discern more insight. This is why we see data scientists more involved in professional organizations now.
So while players isolated and trained their bodies for the next level, they focused on putting up metrics in various forms to highlight their capabilities to the bidders. Highlight tapes complement a player’s 40-time, deadlift weight, high jump and 3-cone time. But it doesn’t stop there.
Health monitoring systems are utilized to determine the overall physical well-being of a player - at least with concern to what they can achieve between the lines on turf. Trainers are tasked with clearing players as capable of enduring the gauntlet of physical battering that lies ahead of them.
But one area that often goes overlooked is the cognitive strength of a player. Coaches who prioritize this trait excel in creating a successful culture and growth environment within their locker room.
How do they think? What do they know? How do they learn? What is their personality? How can we best coach them?
Philly coach, Nick Sirianni, is a recent example of this, playing basic child-games with players to get a look into how they compete in different situations. Getting into the mind of a player can be as informative as what you can see in their highlight reels.
Most coaches tend to focus on a player’s knowledge of the football playbook. How well do they understand the fundamental concepts of the game, and more importantly can they quickly apply that knowledge on the field?
The NFL media monopolizes this concept with the QB position which requires a tremendous amount of knowledge (while often having the prettiest face!). Videos of whiteboard tests from decorated coaches with the top incoming QBs are a dime-a-dozen. But don’t forget that all 21 other players on the field are studying long and hard to get to where they are too, and use technology to do this.
Playbook study has come a long way. Long gone are the days of flipping pages of inked plays while using a pencil to ‘chalk’ them out on your own. Sports Tech players like Smash Routes have created better ways for players to learn, develop and challenge themselves in their own playbook.
When the playbook becomes a mobile ‘video’ game (a learning game designed to motivate progress), players find themselves spending hours more testing their knowledge on their role in the team’s scheme.
Instant access coupled with this ‘gamified’ approach makes studying easier and leads to players spending 10 TIMES longer in their playbook over an average season.
Watching their own film might tell them what they DID or DIDN’T do, but getting mentally prepared to DO what you need them to DO is where players are going. They build confidence away from the field and bring it on game day, finding themselves in a better position to win on each play.
BE A DRAFT KING
At the youth and amateur level, teams are using this technology to help develop and analyze their players leading up to their “draft,” or team formation process. They often don’t even use their own team’s playbook as they can test their players on the common concepts and terminology of the game, building their base knowledge.
Large organizations often create criteria for evaluating their players in an effort to equally, (and fairly), distribute players across multiple teams to avoid an unbalance of power. The focus is often on physical capabilities as players are led through a “mini-combine” of drills while coaches check boxes in a form.
But those who understand the importance of a player’s knowledge of the game are finding ways to challenge and evaluate their players on playbook acumen as well. By creating a “draft” or “training camp” team, players compete as a group on leaderboards throughout the game.
Challenges can be created by coaches and they have access to their players’ performance data in the app. So coaches can “test” players on their overall knowledge, while the players are merely gaming their way through the playbook with their eyes on the prize at the top of the leaderboard!
DRAW ‘EM IN
A common reason that players hesitate to play football is that they don’t think they know enough about the game. Whether they’re picking it up later than their peers, or have just struggled to grasp the concepts while playing in the past, a lack of confidence can kill a career quickly.
Organizations are using Smash Routes to draw more players in and get signups sooner in the registration process, helping to plan for the upcoming season. Kids see their friends already working on their game and start asking their parents to get signed up so they can get their account to get in and do work!
When a player’s playbook is delivered as a mobile game in an app on their phone or tablet at home, their eyes explode. They dive in, fail along the way, and challenge themselves as they fill up their gold stars mastering the game trials one-by-one.
They build confidence on their own terms (e.g. when and where they want), in their own way (e.g. playing on their phone), without the anxiety of failing in front of their peers. It may not be the way we learned growing up, but it’s how they do it today. And rather than resist, we need to adapt and evolve with them.
So if you’re looking to grow your organization and develop your players, be a Pre-Draft King. Check out what Smash Routes has to offer, and get your playbook installed today.