Biases About “Athletic Ability” Can Hurt Young Players

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What really matters is confidence, mind, and heart.

Athletes are overlooked for different reasons. Things like skill level, height, speed, agility, and strength are some of the reasons. But you know what cuts through those conventional specs? It’s confidence, mind, and heart.

Take baseball for example. It all starts with a pitcher and a hitter. Let’s focus on the pitcher.

Does it really matter if a hurler can throw a fastball 100 mph? Or that a curveball or slider breaks “just right?” Not really.

What counts is a pitcher’s mentality–to know what to throw, when, and to whom. It’s about having the confidence to execute that pitch and the heart to know it’s the ‘right’ pitch.

Courtesy: NBC Sports

In football, having a ‘great arm’ doesn’t automatically mean a player is a great quarterback. There’s a lot more to it than arm strength or even passing accuracy. At issue is being able to lead a team–doing what needs to be done to keep the chains moving.

Tom Brady, inarguably the best pro quarterback of our time, was a 6th round draft pick, 199th overall, in the 2000 NFL Draft. Why was he drafted so low? NFL scouts told GMs that Brady didn’t have great arm strength, couldn’t move around well in the pocket, and wasn’t effective running downfield.

All of these things may have been true. But Brady had other attributes that contributed to winning. He’s now the winningest quarterback in Super Bowl history.

We shouldn’t forget about Brady situation when we think about how to evaluate young athletes. Yeah, it’s easy to measure things like pitching speed and how accurate a player than throw a ball. But neither of those attributes (alone) makes a player “great.”

It’s not so much that the scouts were wrong about a player like Tom Brady. It’s just that they were looking at the wrong things.

Confidence, mind, and heart are at the top of the evaluation pyramid. Some players come with all three. But those players are few and far between. The real challenge for coaches is helping players develop those attributes. That ability separates an ordinary from a great coach.


About Matthew Paris

I grew up an avid Houston sports fan. After graduating from Texas Tech University in Theater and English Literature I worked as a marketing rep and coach for I9 Sports, coaching baseball, flag football, soccer, and basketball. I’m currently with Austin Sports Academy as a marketing coordinator, baseball and football coach, and coordinator of middle school and high school open play nights. I’ve written three short films for Looknow Productions and have also written articles on film marketing, producing, and directing. I really enjoy writing about sports and being an active contributor to The Sports Column.

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