Define the Ideal

Few teams know what they are looking for in a player. That’s right, I said it. Don’t believe me? Try this short experiment.

Call together your entire coaching staff, to include anyone with responsibility in player evaluation. Select a position and ask them to identify the five most important technical skills associated with that position. For example, “Write down five technical skills we’re looking for in a wide receiver (e.g., blocking, route running, ball skills).” Next, have them identify five intangible characteristics you desire in your players (e.g., coachability, toughness, commitment). After a few minutes, compare answers across the staff. Experience tells us we will see a wide range of responses with little congruence. Some may even struggle to identify five factors.

Talent evaluation is an inexact science. It asks the question, “Given our culture, our system, and our resources, which players have the greatest chance of succeeding in our organization?” While this may always include an element of coaches’ intuition, what if we were able to define the critical factors associated with each positional player across distinct dimensions of player performance? And how could this help a staff?

In Daniel Kahneman’s book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” the research suggests a surprising conclusion. Specifically, he asserts that for our most important decisions (i.e., critical selection decisions) it is better to rely on a carefully-crafted formula as opposed to expert intuition (coach’s instinct). Kahneman writes,

“First, select a few traits that are prerequisites for success in this position (technical proficiency, engaging personality, reliability, and so on). The traits you choose should be as independent as possible from each other, and you should feel that you can assess them reliably by asking a few factual questions. Next, make a list of those questions for each trait and think about how you will score it, say on a 1–5 scale. You should have an idea of what you will call ‘very weak’ or ‘very strong.’”

Using a similar process for athletics, we partner with coaching staffs to identify the critical factors across four holistic dimensions of human performance, thus forming the foundation for the ideal athlete in his or her respective sport. More practically, we determine the very things we must find in prospects and develop in players.

Defining the ideal is an essential exercise for any organization. Specifically, it accomplishes the following benefits: 
- Ensures staff alignment.
- Lays the foundation for intentional recruiting and development systems.
- Fosters new staff integration.
- Creates deliberate, meaningful feedback loops.

To be clear, we are not suggesting you should abandon experiential instinct, rather to carefully balance intuition with a well-crafted system…your system…for selecting and developing the best teammates.