One Size Does Not Fit All, Part 2:

Utilizing a System of Qualification for American Football


Other than powerlifting, the sport I spend the majority of my time working with is American football. Within the sport, there has never been a qualification system utilized that is in line with the class system that I outlined in my previous article. Whether or not the previous system fits is something that can be debated; however, it is possible to use a similar system for rating players on a large-scale level (their possibility of developing a Division I college or NFL career) and a small-scale level (their importance to their own team—from being a body occupying a uniform to someone who actually is a contributor and/or focal point of a game plan).

Background information

I currently coach at a public high school in Tampa, Florida. We are a fairly large school—6A Class, which is only under 8A and 7A, but we have a deeper class talent-wise because of more schools. We have been fairly successful in the past few seasons, including a district championship title in our last season and a district runner-up title the previous year. Unfortunately, we have been defeated in the second round of the playoffs for the past two years.

After our season ends, we have a post-season staff meeting to discuss what we will do in order to look forward to the next year. We discuss our off-season preparation and also take a look at who we have on our roster. At the meeting this year, I proposed a system for rating our athletes. In doing so, I spoke about both the large scale and small scale systems in regards to how we can rate our athletes. One of the standards I referenced was the standards of rating that Roman used (I discussed this in my first article): Novice–MSIC or WR. However, after realizing that this didn't necessarily fit in the spectrum of American football, I also turned to what Dave Tate has said: Shit, Suck, Good, and Great. This actually registered a lot more with the coaches and gave us a simple yet reliable way of rating our players, and it can be adapted to both the large-scale career or the small-scale team spectrum for football players.

Large-Scale Qualification

In the long-term view of athletes in the sport, the classifications can be adapted to fit players from the time they begin playing all the way up to an NFL career. However, I would propose that different classifications are used because the sport is not an international sport. Because of this, the classifications of MSIC (Master of Sport International Class) and WR (World Record) would not apply. Also, I refuse to rate anyone until he is at least of high school age. In my opinion, athletes of a very young age should not be rated in a sport such as American football.

© Rickbolt | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

To break down the classes in the large scale, we could look at it like this:

  • Novice: These are high school athletes who play on the junior varsity or freshman level and are learning the basics of the game. These players also possibly occupy a varsity roster spot but are scout team players at best. The physical preparation of these athletes needs to be developed as it is of a lower level. Developing general qualities will still improve sport form in these athletes.
  • Class III: These are high school athletes who contribute or start at the varsity level. The best of this class of players could possibly go on to play at the small college level (D2 or D3). GPP will still be of benefit to these players, but they also need to refine their skills in the realm of specialized preparation in order to continue to improve at the sport.
  • Class II: These athletes are able to play at the Division I level (FBS or FCS). These players have a great deal of general athletic ability and are among the best players in their respective areas of the country. When they move on to college, they will either occupy a roster spot on a Division I team, contribute in a role, or eventually become a starter in the latter part of their career. While talented, these players will still not be amongst the best of the nation and will need a higher level of coaching to refine their sport form.
  • Class I: These are athletes who are national-level recruits and will be able to go to the college level (DI-FBS) and contribute or start within their first two years. These players are ahead of other athletes from a GPP standpoint and possess knowledge of the game as well as above-average technical skill. In the long run, these players may make an NFL roster but playing time is not guaranteed at the professional level.
  • Candidate for Mastery of Sport (CMS): These players will have started at the college level, proven themselves against top-level talent, and also contribute or start at the professional level. These players are both physically skilled and also possess superior technical abilities along with a great understanding of the game. They will be able to stay in the league for a number of years. However, while steady contributors, these are still not the top-level players in the football arena.
  • Master of Sport (MS): These athletes will be considered the best at their positions at the professional level. They will possess a high level of physical preparation, superior technical ability, superior work ethic, and unparalleled knowledge of the game. These players will not only remain in the league for a number of years, but they will also be very productive. They may be statistical leaders in their respective areas, will have been part of numerous championship teams, or be selected to numerous Pro Bowls, amongst other accolades.

Small-Scale Qualification

As far as the small-scale qualifications, this is where the “Shit, Suck, Good, and Great” continuum comes into play. When you break down your own team, you are going to have some players that are merely taking up a jersey on the roster and will most likely never do anything. (This is especially true at the high school level). You will also have a few who are very skilled and will have great potential to succeed at a high level. Because of this, it is necessary to break these athletes down into the aforementioned categories:

  • Shit: These players either have limited physical preparation or are terribly unskilled in the actual sport itself. These athletes will need almost every type of work because they have no appreciable levels of GPP or SPP. In the short term, they will be nothing more than a body that can hold a tackling dummy or maybe fill-in on a scout team spot (albeit not actually give a good look). If anything will come out of these players, they had better be freshmen or rookies with years ahead of them to improve.
  • Suck: These players either possess an adequate level of GPP with poor technical ability or an adequate level of SPP with poor physical preparation. They have the potential to contribute, but they either have to bring up their general qualities through GPP or have to become more technically sound in the sport itself through SPP. While they may contribute, they are not a coach's first choice to put on the field. However, in a pinch, these players will see playing time and possibly start depending on the depth of the roster.
  • Good: These players are average or above average in both SPP and GPP. They will be reliable and can be trusted to see a good deal of playing time. While not exactly the cream of the crop, they will make the plays that are required of them and will be on level with any opponent they face. They will have a good understanding of the tactical side of the game as well as a technically-sound method of play.
  • Great: This is the best player on your team and the best in the area (region, state, etc.) at the position he plays. These players may be a focal point of the offensive or defensive strategy. They are either physically dominant in a GPP sense, technically superior in an SPP sense, or both. They will be better than the players they face, and they will either be able to physically manhandle them or be so far advanced from a technical standpoint, that they can make plays in clutch situations. When a team needs something big to happen, this is the player they either 1) want the ball to go to or 2) want to be in a position on defense to make a play.

© Taran55 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Where to go from here...

After being able to classify your players, you will then have to see how many fall into each category. If you have a team full of guys that fall into the “Shit” category, you will need to pretty much work on everything. GPP will need to be stressed before even being able to think about getting too advanced. For your guys that fall into “Suck,” you will need to analyze if they are skilled at the actual sport and just not physically prepared, or if they are weight room warriors or sprint kings but have no actual ability at the game itself. For the guys that are “Good,” you may need to break this down further and find out which aspects from each side are lacking. (Perhaps a player is technically skilled and posseses a great deal of strength, but he is not very reactive, slow, and/or has some other limitation). For your guys that are “Great,” you need to make sure you work toward their strengths and keep them injury free. You also should analyze any weak points and be sure to address anything that may take away from their game. However, do not spend time on anything that is not relevant to the position they play or the role they serve on your team.

Another consideration to keep in mind is that at each level the “Shit, Suck, Good, Great” continuum will change. It would be hard to say that any players in the NFL are truly “Shit” (as we defined earlier in the truest sense). However, compared to their peers in the NFL cohort, they may be over-matched and have a hard time actually making it in the league. Conversely, the high school player that may be “Great” in the small world of high school football is, in actuality, not truly a Master of Sport. Thus, it is best to look at this within the realm you coach and always develop your preparation to fit the needs of your athletes.

Understand that this is not the Holy Grail for rating football players. This is more to stimulate some thought and provide some organization for classifying athletes. By being able to rate athletes, the possibility of prescribing training methods that will be appropriate for each level is more likely. Through this, coaches can fit the training to the needs of their players and not attempt to wedge an entire team into systems that may not fit. Thus, both the individual athlete and the team can reach a higher level of performance.