The “reflection” of character in scouting NFL talent

Character – one of those subjective terms that many scouting NFL talent feel they have a firm handle on.

  • How many times have you heard from a coach or front office executive “We have to have players of high character on this team” or “I only draft players with a high degree of on and off the field character”?
  • What about the sports agent that boasts his firm will only represent those athletes that have displayed the utmost standards of “integrity and character”?
  • Then there’s the media that lashes out at a losing situation as being a direct result of choosing players that lacked the necessary “character” of a champion.
  • How about the player that states at a press conference his intention “to represent the team and town in a first class manner”?

Later you hear of the coach caught taping an opponent’s practice, or the exec repeatedly cheating on his wife.  The stories about agents that paid college players in exchange for representation, media types plagiarizing their stories, and the player picked up on a DUI over the weekend.

Yes, character is one of those elements that EVERYONE will attest to have, because if they admit they don’t, they brand themselves with their own personal “scarlet letter”.  Nobody wants to be openly associated with people of low character, those that lack the integrity and discipline that you can count on in a pinch; especially not in professional sports.

Learn from the best, forget the rest

Legendary Washington Redskins’ head coach, Joe Gibbs once said, “Look for players with character and ability.  But remember, character comes first.”

There’s a bit of hypocrisy that must be overcome at “every level” before we can fully expect “everyone” in our business (especially players) to conduct themselves 100% with the highest degree of character.  This may require a “long look in the mirror” for some.

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Priority number one

Gibbs is correct, character does come first.  So much so it’s at the top of every player evaluation form in the NFL and an integral part of the Human Resource Tactics exam (HRT) administered at the Combine.

Scouts are trained when scouting NFL talent to delve into a player’s family background, hometown, high school, marital status, children, personality traits, accolades and awards, off-field issues.  They’re asked to pay particular attention to run-ins with the law; who, what when where, why and how.  If the player does have any negative traits to his personality, be able to document and precisely describe what was learned and be able to discuss in-depth.

The HRT looks at the Social Maturity and Interpersonal Style aspects of character makeup.  Questions are geared towards providing a sense of whether the player is likely to put himself into situations that would cause problems with the law, show disrespect for authority or disobey team rules.  HRT looks for an ability to maintain impulse control and the types of people the player may associate with.  It will provide indicators that a player is more likely to abuse alcohol, drugs, food, etc…

The HRT seeks out players that are receptive to feedback and willing to cooperate with coaching, help struggling teammates and not present disruption in the locker room.  Scouts then focus on such questions as;

  • Is he coachable?
  • Is he lazy?
  • Does he enjoy the game of football?
  • Is he a quitter?  What are his specific training habits?
  • What motivates the player and how does this affect his ability to play the game?

Other areas of emphasis are leadership ability, citizenship off the field, team player traits and overall attitude.

Based upon some of the recent negative headlines you’d think that coaches & scouts turn a “blind eye” to character evaluation and assessment when scouting NFL talent.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact it is an issue constantly discussed and scrutinized throughout the evaluation process.

So what’s the fix?

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Where the “ball is being dropped” is at the day-to-day level of coaching and management.  Players expect to be “treated like men” and clubs expect them to “act like men”.  But in most circumstances young players (young men) lack the good judgment to make the critical decisions that are reflective of good character.  Clubs are unwilling to be as proactive as they are reactive to character issues, and tend not to implement policies/procedures that develop “good judgment”.

Until this becomes a part of the professional football culture, we should all be aware of what is “staring back in the mirror” before passing judgment.

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