There is more science behind the NFL drafting process than one may think, for psychologists have discovered new ways to help coaches assess which players are more or less likely to succeed in the NFL based on the psychological and behavioral qualities that they bring to the table. These qualities are exposed by mental assessments that key in on facets such as mental speed, behavioral traits, impact traits, learning traits, and cognitive functions that would not otherwise be visible to the eye. One specific test that has assessed more than 10,000 past and current NFL players is called the TAP (Troutwine Athletic Profile) (Duncan, 2014). Used by approximately 95% of current NFL franchises, the TAP allows coaches to not only see whether a player will fit well with their team, it also compares the mental profile of the draftee with previous successful and unsuccessful NFL players, to see where they rank with regard to their overall mental capabilities (Athletic Types, 2016). Pretty cool huh?
So what kind of mental and behavioral qualities are coaches looking for based on previous successful NFL players?
One important quality picked up by the TAP is “drive”. Coaches are ultimately seeking players who continually look for ways to push and challenge themselves, not because of any external rewards that are on the line, but because they are internally driven to improve. They want players who are intrinsically motivated to train and play hard even when there is nobody watching. Players who display this kind of drive make their teammates around them better, and create an atmosphere of integrity and tenacity both in the weight room and out on the field.
Another key quality that coaches are looking for is coachability. A player who has a high level of coachability is someone who is willing to listen to and internalize any feedback that the coach has to give. They use positive feedback to reinforce productive habits, and accept constructive criticism as a tool to make corrections and enhance their play. Because of their natural humility and openness to feedback, every bit of additional information that they can get from coach is wanted. Now, “being coachable doesn’t mean you have surrendered and don’t have an opinion of your own. It means you have the awareness, perseverance and determination to seek out someone to help you be better” (Probert, 2016). Coaches appreciate players who are receptive to their coaching, and who readily adapt to their roles within the coach’s schemes.
One final quality that coaches are looking for in an athlete’s psychological profile is the ability to communicate effectively. On the football field, this skill is particularly important for quarterbacks. In fact, the TAP helped the Colts select Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf in the 1998 NFL Draft as a result of his promising scores in communication, focus, and preparation (Athletic Types, 2016). “Although Ryan Leaf was the stronger athlete in many respects, he turned out to have a 10-cent emotional quotient to go with his million-dollar arm” (Haberman, 2014). These emotional dynamics were picked up by the TAP, and helped lead the Colts away from Leaf and toward Manning, who became one of the best quarterbacks of all time.
Although there are additional qualities that could be added to this list, I encourage you to assess where you fall within these three metrics, and incorporate them into your life on and off the field. The drive to improve, a commitment to mindset training, and the ability to listen and to learn from feedback, both positive and corrective, are deal-makers for NFL prospects. They can be for you, too.
Duncan, D. (2014). Hiring A New Team Player? Lessons From The NFL Draft
Athletic Types. (2016). About the TAP
Probert, L. (2016). What it Means to be Coachable and Why You Should Care.
Athletic Types. (2016). TAP History