Increasing the Capacity of Your Roster

4 Types of Athletes*

Your roster is made up of four types of athletes (see diagram*). In a perfect world, the full roster would be the top right quadrant, the Ideal Athlete. This athlete is a starter on your team and also an incredible teammate. Not only do they shine on the field, they also have a great attitude, a hard work ethic, and lead by example. However, let’s be honest — there are few (if any) teams with a full roster of Ideal Athletes.

Your roster will likely include a few poor fits. Either you inherited these athletes when you took over the team or you just missed in recruiting. We want to avoid this quadrant because not only is this athlete taking up a scholarship with limited to no contribution to the team, they also tend to corrupt the team culture — they have poor work ethic, bad attitudes, and tend to drag the team down.

What coaches must realize is that most teams live and die by the top left (All-In) and bottom right (Get-By) quadrants. The All-In Teammates are not in your starting line-up but they work hard and do what you ask them to do. The Get-By Athletes are starters, or should be, but they also require a lot of your time; making sure they go to class and tutoring sessions, stay awake when studying film, stay focused during practice, and so forth….

Coaches that are good at moving these two quadrants towards the Ideal Athlete quadrant have the edge over coaches that are less effective because they are increasing the capacity of their roster. So how do coaches accomplish this?


Teams win and lose based on the vertical. Simply put, a team with athletes in the right quadrants will beat teams with athletes in the left quadrants MOST of the time. Consequently, talent matters and is a driving force in recruiting. With this reality, there are two questions to consider from a recruiting perspective:

  1. How do you know if you are offering a scholarship to a Get-By athlete? Recruiters often fall prey to confirmation bias when going after talented athletes. Why? The system encourages recruiters to ignore or overlook character issues because a recruiter’s “stock” increases when they get top athletes to join the team. Head Coaches: don’t be seduced by the talent. Make an asserted effort to know the full story of each athlete. You may still choose to offer the athlete a scholarship, but fully know the risk profile when you make the offer.
  2. How many scholarships should you offer to Get-By athletes? If you have a roster full of All-In and Ideal athletes then you can assume risk on a Get-By. But if your roster has several Get-By athletes on the team, you may want to think twice before bringing another one on the team — Can your culture handle the drag?


Increasing the capacity of your roster involves different development strategies for the different types of athletes on your team.

  1. Push your All-In’s: These athletes will do what you ask them to do — so push them. Take the time to establish individual development plans for each of these athletes and then systematically monitor their progress. Intentionally pushing these athletes will strengthen your roster.
  2. Be consistent and persistent with your Get-By’s: These athletes may have the ability to perform at exceptional levels but they are toddlers when it comes to discipline and work ethic. They’ve never had to work hard to succeed or they’ve been told their entire lives how special they are — creating a fixed mindset. They are now being challenged and it creates anxiety, which often results in counterproductive behavior. Many of these athletes act out or intentionally sabotage themselves simply because they are afraid. You’ve got to be patient and be consistent, where you are clear on your standards and then hold them accountable to specific behavior.
  3. Leverage your Ideal Athletes: You should leverage your Ideal Athletes by helping them to understand their influence and giving them authority hold the Get-By’s accountable and pushing the All-In’s.

To summarize, coaches that know the makeup of their roster, understand the risk involved with each scholarship offered, and have an idea of how many “Get-By’s” they can bring on the team will leave less to chance increasing their odds at success. Furthermore, when these coaches can take this knowledge and tailor development to the specific needs of each athlete they accelerate development, increasing the capacity of their roster, which gives them a competitive advantage in competition.

*A variation of this graph was first introduced to me by Captain Jay Hennessey to explain the process used to select and develop Navy SEALs. I’ve adapted and expounded upon it for athletics.