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By Charles Slavik, NSCA-CPT-*D

President – Eagle Baseball Club, LLC

From The Slav’s Baseball Blog – Baseball 24-7-365


http://slavieboy.blogspot.com/

Using Test Protocols for Evaluation of Players

One of the more fascinating aspects of sports is studying how players get better. What is it about the
superstars that elevate them above the average player? What are the physical attributes, the mental and
emotional requirements, the visual skills that are necessary for success at the highest levels? When I
played, I was always searching for information that would give me an edge on the field. As a coach, the
process continued, and I continued to search for more effective methods to teach players to skills
necessary to succeed and advance to higher levels in the sport.

Along the way, I saw examples in football, beginning with Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys, using test
protocols to more effectively identify talented college players for his team to draft. It was fascinating to
see him use these physical tests--as well as mental and emotional tests like the Wonderlich test--to
identify the players with the highest chances of success. This enables the Cowboys to draft more
successfully than their competitors.

It seemed like a no-brainer intuitively, but in most sports, the coaches and administrators still use
hunches, intuition and gut instincts to make these important personnel decisions. There was a great
reluctance to use modern tools and knowledge from other fields to aid in the decisions. Baseball men feel
that what was done 50-100 years ago to judge and draft players works just fine, thank you very much.

My gut instincts and intuition have always led me to believe that the things that have worked in other
sports to improve scouting, talent identification and player development would also work in baseball.

The player draft in all sports that have one is a prime determinant of which teams will be successful in the
future and which ones will fail, so the stakes are high. In spite of drafting lower than most of his
competitors, a result f the Cowboys success, Brandt’s scouting department consistently identified and
drafted better players in the later rounds of the drafts than some teams did in the first and second rounds.
Clearly, he was doing things better and more efficiently than other teams in terms of scouting and talent
identification.

As front office and scouting personnel left the Cowboys for other team’s years later, the rest of the NFL
learned that Brandt was a proponent of using certain physical tests and measurements to compare players
at similar positions. For lineman, he wanted large strong men, the larger and stronger the better. So rather
than simply compare how well a player performed he would find out how many times the players he was
interested in could bench press 225 lbs, for positions where speed was a large component of success or
failure, he measured them in the 40 yard dash and so on. He felt that simply judging collegiate players by
how they performed in a limited number of games, many times against inferior competition, was
inefficient. Most of these test and procedures he developed have since shown to be effective at a
statistically significant level. There is a strong correlation between the ranking of players in the battery of
tests and future success in the NFL.

The crux of Brandt’s theory is if you give your coaches the players with the best athletic skill sets to
succeed, then it’s the coaching staff’s job to teach them the specific sports skills to succeed at that level.
That’s what coaches are paid to do.

Most sports teams are copycats, when one team is successful using a certain method or procedure, others
begin to copy in droves in hope that the success would follow. The cost of failure in drafting unproductive
and players in sorts is too high both economically, in terms of the amount of bonuses paid to high draft
picks. Today, almost every team in the NFL participates in the NFL combine, however baseball has stuck
with its tradition based scouting methods.

It’s my opinion and that of other coaches and trainers that I work with that the time has come for baseball
to start using this type of approach to evaluate the players it chooses. Many top draft picks receive million
dollar plus bonuses. With that financial windfall and the notoriety of being a high draft pick, comes a lot
pressure. Many players who have the requisite physical skills wash out because they are not mentally
tough enough to handle failure. Some don’t have a strong enough work ethic and succeeded at lower
levels on the basis of their superior physical gifts. There are tests that other sports have used to identify
these traits in athletes.

Once you have the battery of tests that correctly identify the physical, mental and emotional qualities you
need in an athlete, you should be able to use that tool to more efficiently identify which players would
make your team in a tryout setting or which players to draft in the professional setting. In both cases, the
problem facing teams and coaches is there are simply too many players to evaluate in a limited amount of
time. The inefficiency is that the scouting department is using poorly defined or subjective parameters to
identify talent. In baseball, many scouts still used the old hand-me-down term “he has the good face” to
describe a prospect they like and they believe has a high probability for future success. The problem being
fifty different scouts are likely to give you fifty different opinions as to what the term means. It’s too
subjective and vague. The tests bring a level of accuracy and precision that baseball has never had before.

Scouts and baseball men are very guarded about their traditions and procedures. It’s safer for them to fail
“going by the book” than to fail doing something outside the box. That gets you fired. It will take an
organization with guts to change the culture in their scouting and player development department to make
the change. Or maybe we simply need a man with the courage and conviction of Gil Brandt. So far, I have
used the same methodology at every level through high school baseball with excellent results. I would
like to see it eventually make its way to the professional level. It would be simply revolutionary.