Seeing Potential

The following comes from Danny Searle, Head of Coaching U15-18 at West Ham United F.C.

You can read his original post on LinkedIn Here.

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After finally reading the book MoneyBall by Michael Lewis I found myself asking the question, "do we as Coaches/Scouts really understand the potential in players?" There are many differences between Baseball and Football but there is one major similarity;

Players who do not catch the eye can be and are often missed!

I would suggest that most people could watch a game of football at grassroots or Academy level and pick out the most effective player on the pitch, the physically developed player who can pick the ball up and beat 2/3 players and score whenever he choses, the rapidly quick player who's pace alone gives him multiple opportunities to score and so on.... But do we recognise the players who do not catch the eye?

In every game there are always the physically underdeveloped players: The player who has yet to develop any real power or pace, they do not understand how to use their bodies nor do they generally want to engage in any real physical contact. These players are often bullied off the ball and unfortunately can and have been described as 'Soft'. Players who are going through a growth spurt: these players present themselves as uncoordinated, clumsy, they miss time passes, headers, tackles and are high in turnovers of possession. Then there are players who have only just begun their journey: these players lack any understanding of tactics and I was go as far as to say the game itself, they run around like headless chickens and in the majority of cases everything they do is reactive and generally not productive.

The above players generally seem to be the ones that get missed. Now I'm not talking about all Scouts and Coaches and I'm certainly not saying that the physically developed and quick players do not have potential but there does seem to be this fixation on match effectiveness in the here and now. Having read the revolutionary way in which Billy Beane used statistics and facts to draft players who in the scouts eyes "Don't have a face for Baseball" it made me think about the Scouts and Coaches in football.

Do we recruit players based on perception?

Perception is a major factor in all walks of life, how people perceive someone can massively determine how they are treated. The scruffily dressed man who walks into a designer shop and gets little to no respect based on his appearance, the lady who drives a high end car gets inadvertently perceived to be married or dating a wealthy man, the fact that a child who is on the autistic spectrum will be perceived to be unable to lead a life in the fast lane or be at the top of his chosen field. The scruffily dressed man could be a multi-millionaire who just fancies dressing down, the woman could be a CEO of a major company and the child who is on the autistic spectrum could end up being 'Steve Jobs' who would have been on the spectrum according to professionals. All of these are just examples of how someones perception can impact on the way they are treated or in the case of Football; whether the Scout will recommend them to their respective club. So, when the Scout turns up to the game on a Sunday and the two teams walk out on the pitch, I would bet that before a ball is kicked he has subconsciously picked who he feels will be the better players purely based on perception; whether it's size or even the way the young player acts around their team-mates. This happens across the country every Weekend and in some cases the Scout will be spot on; however does his fascination with his already chosen player take away from the other players on the pitch, the small player who makes several one touch passes that gets the goal scorer on the ball, the headless chicken who's complete lack of understanding finds him making numerous tackles and interceptions or the clumsy player who just once, steps in front of his man and breaks the defending line to create a goal-scoring opportunity; each one showing a small glimpse of what potentially could come.

The Challenge...

I challenge you as Scouts, Coaches and even Parents to try and watch the game through objective eyes, really look past the stereotypical player who generally receives all the plaudits and see that player, the one who's subtle effect on the game goes unnoticed. Can you recognise the characteristics that cry out 'Potential'?????

Danny Searle

*Views are strictly my own