This past weekend, two of my worlds collided. My daughter’s junior volleyball team had an out of town tournament in Austin. It ran from Friday morning through Sunday morning and included seven matches for her team. That meant watching dozens of matches before and after her team played as well. As my moniker would indicate, I am a retired volleyball coach. I could say I retired because of time constraints, but I really wanted to watch her grow up. 60 and 70 hour weeks became too much.
This world collides with my present 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 on other standardized tests, and data from teachers to determine exactly how to help students. I’ve used statistics in measuring how good baseball players are. It is a world of tangibles amidst a world of intangibles.
Watching the games brought the coaching part back in full force. I could see not only the strategy and athleticism, but I could see the mental part of that. Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said that he couldn’t define pornography but he knew it when he saw it. Similarly, coaches can’t define what they are looking for in a player, but they know it when they see it.
This one has been a key point for years. Teams famously used the Wunderlic test to determine football IQ. The test is scaled from 1 to 50 and is said to be correlated with football intelligence. Examples of infamous scores run the gamut. Peyton Manning supposedly scored very high on the Wunderlic test and Vince Young supposedly scored very low.
However, that would come 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 more infamous flameouts in history. The question is whether those results are repeatable. There is also a question of whether it matters for other positions. Obviously, everyone needs some level of football intelligence, but some positions obviously need more than others.
If the Wunderlic test does not have an acceptable correlation with success then is there a way to measure football intelligence that is repeatable? Otherwise, are we just left to guess like we were in the good old days? Watch a player long enough and you can tell whether they have it. The question is whether you have the manpower that can do that with all of the relevant prospects you have to scout.
No, this isn’t the Jack Easterby form of character. I don’t care if a player goes to church or not. When I watch a kid playing volleyball I want to know how they handle adversity. It was on full display this weekend. Some players broke down when they or their team was struggling. 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 trouble with picking third overall is that your team sucks. It sucks by sheer definition. The guy you want to draft probably won most if not all of his high school games. He then was heavily recruited and went to the college that won 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 of knowing beforehand how someone will respond to struggling. They may swim or they may sink. We know what happened with Leaf. It remains to be seen what will happen with Laurence.
Everyone has a type of partner that they are looking for. The same is true of coaches. We spent most of the last decade hearing the words tough, smart, and dependable. Bill O’Brien obviously had a type. He wanted players that were smart and versatile. This resulted in drafting players that were jacks of all trades and masters of none. That obviously will change with Lovie Smith but we can’t be sure how it will evolve.
What we can do is look at his past two spots in the NFL and see which players he liked. What were that players traits? In volleyball terms there are players that are aggressive and players that are more conservative. Different coaches have different likes and dislikes. I wanted smart players that would do the right thing with the ball most of the time. Other coaches wanted players that would try to make an aggressive play even if it meant making more mistakes. There’s no right or wrong approach. The key will be to match the players that fit with Lovie Smith so he can get the most out of them.
This is where the interviews come into play. This is where watching them and their tape repeatedly to see what kind of plays they made. Are they explosive players that make the big play or are they steady performers that make the routine play more regularly? No matter what system a team runs on offense or defense, the decisions on the mental/psychological side are probably more important the physical side. For those of us that like tangibles, we would love for someone to develop a foolproof way of answering that question.