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Friday, February 25, 2011

How do coaches judge potential?

I received a great question from a reader related to a post a few days ago called Tryouts: Current ability vs Potential.  The question was “How does a coach assess potential in a one-week tryout?”   If you were to ask a professional scout that question, he probably would say something that on the surface would sound very arrogant.  He probably would say “One week?  I can tell in 10 minutes whether the kid has potential.”  Although that may sound arrogant, in most cases it happens to be true.  The point is, it’s their job to judge and rate players’ current abilities and potential and do it quickly. 

An analogy of this in the entertainment world would be the show American Idol.  The judges on the show size up and evaluate a singer’s ability and potential based on 30 seconds worth of singing.  Based on their experience, they see and hear things the average fan does not.  They can do it so quickly and accurately because it’s their job to.

That being said, when evaluating potential, coaches and scouts first are going to look at skills and attributes that cannot be taught.  Body type, running speed, arm strength, bat speed, hand-eye coordination, and power at the plate.  Although good training and instruction can improve on all of these slightly, a player is most likely going to be limited in the amount of improvement they can make.  Instruction itself will never turn a 75 mph thrower into a 95 mph thrower no matter what an advertisement may say.  Genetics tends to take care of that.

Here's an example.  Say two kids both throw 78mph.  Player A has good, sound mechanics and is always around the plate.  He is  5’9” and comes from a family in which nobody is above 5’9”.  Player B is also 5’9” with horrible mechanics and very little accuracy.  He comes from a family of people above 6’0”.  My guess is that Player A has had a better career up to this point.  A coach may end up keeping both players but most scouts would say that Player B has more potential.  Why?  First, you can’t teach a kid to be 6’0” and the family background gives every indication that Player B will continue to grow.  Second, if Player A is throwing 78mph with sound mechanics he most likely will not get much better.  He probably has reached his ceiling of velocity because his good mechanics are currently getting the most out of his arm and body.  Player B on the other hand has a “better upside” because when you combine a future (probable) 6’0”+ frame with better mechanics that can be taught, chances are good his velocity, control, and overall success will improve fairly quickly.  The same principle applies to hitting and every other position on the field as well.  A coach and scout will determine if the player has a strong enough foundation of physical skills in which to build upon.  It's very much like the building of a house.  If you want to build a large house with many stories you have to first see if the foundation is strong enough to support the weight and eventual stress of the elements.  You can't build a 4 story house on a foundation that will only support one story.  To play at the high school, college, or professional level, a player must show that they have the foundation to support that level of competition.  Of course, a foundation is underground and cannot be seen by the average person.  Unfortunately, some kids and their parents dream of a huge house/career but fail to see that their foundation isn't strong enough.

All players want the big, beautiful "house" (career).
Scouts and coaches need to see the foundation first.
Of course, sometimes this all blows up in a coach or scout’s face when Player A  continues to grow and throw harder and Player B goes nowhere even with better mechanics.  Making projections about how a kid will develop and grow are all judgment calls.  It all comes down to whether the school, parent, player, and/or organization trust the judgment of the person making the call. 

During a one-day or week long tryout, coaches and scouts will try to put the players in situations or drills where they can gauge their natural skills quickly.  60 yard dash, a few swings, a few long throws, etc.  Usually an intersquad game is set up eventually so that the evaluators can see some of the finer points, technique, character, and make-up of the players.  Overall aggression, command of pitches, situational hitting, handling adversity, hustle, and enthusiasm are some of the things to be seen once the games begins.

It takes some pre-planning and some consistency on the part of the coaching staff to make sure all the evaluators are looking for the same thing.  If that's done, a whole lot can be seen by a coach or scout in a short period of time.

Hopefully, this answered the question.  If not, let's continue the discussion!


  1. Coach,

    Very well put coach!!! Parents have to trust the coaches and scouts based on their experience in evaluating talent even though the coaches or the scouts decision may not be the one the parents want to hear.

    At the end of the day, both the scout and all the coaches are trying to achieve the same goal and that is the success of the TEAM.


  2. Coach,

    My question isn't “How does a coach assess potential in a one-week tryout?” my question is why would he?

    Given how bad the weather can be in the spring during those five days why not have a solid foundation of information before those five days arrive?

    Three days is all it takes to have a better idea and a stronger more supported program.

    Instead of having freshman games scheduled against the other district freshman teams during the week. Schedule them for a round robin on a Saturday. Have the high school coaches attend. Have the high school players work the three games and sell food, drink and team stuff to raise money for the team. The coaches get to see the next group competing against the same kids looking for a spot on the high school roster. Coaches get a lot of information. Current team makes money for the team. One day and everybody wins.

    Next, run a 2 day "College type Showcase Camp/ Clinic at the end of the school year during the week for incoming freshman who want to tryout for the high school, incoming sophmores and incoming juniors who did not make the team, but want another look. One day of teaching and working out the kids. One day of game action. Two large teams coached by the staff working kids out during live game action. Sell refreshments durning the event and have a pig roast as a funraiser after the event for the families.

    Three days = money for the team and lots of good information for the coaches about those kids who show up for that "one week tryout".

  3. What you said made a lot of sense, especially when you examine the biographies of some current MLB’ers. Lincecum was only 4’11” when he was a HS freshman, and in spite his atypical mechanics, was a dominating presence on the mound. His dad was 5’11, so the powers saw some physical potential. Steven Strasburg was by all accounts an emotional mess in his high school and early college days. Kudos to his HS coach who was able to get past that and build his mental stamina. Thanks for the article Coach.
    – KM

  4. On the flip-side, the benefit of having players who are near their peak shouldn't be ignored. Winning games after all, is where "the rubber meets the road." I'm thinking in particular of Kelly Montalvo, the 4'9" 3B who was ignored by virtually all major softball programs in the country, only to be given a chance by the Crimson Tide. She helped lead them to the College Softball World Series.
    Sorry to ramble, this just popped into my head - KM

  5. Good ideas for getting to see the younger guys! Have you done these yourself or was it just brainstorming? If you've done them, any tips on the do's and don'ts would be helpful to us all. Thanks for sharing!

  6. KM -
    Don't apologize! Don't you love it when kids prove the experts wrong and use that adversity as motivation to keep getting better?! Love stories like that!