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How to Get the Most Out Of Your Quarterback

How to Get the Most Out Of Your Quarterback
In partnership with Athletic Intelligence Measures, The 33rd Team features a weekly article on Sports Psychology and its effect on performance within the sport of football.
Each week, we discuss an important aspect of Sports Psychology with Dr. Goldman that can help football coaches, management, and player personnel learn what Sports Psychology really is, and learn how best to put it into practice.
In previous articles we have discussed topics such as: Different Players Must Be Coached in Different Ways, Intelligence as a Competitive Advantage in Sports, 3 Ways NFL Teams Can Promote Mental Health, Increasing Engagement With Injured Players, Inside the Mind of an NFL Tight End, and How to Be a Successful Mentor.

While having an excellent quarterback does not guarantee success, it is no secret that getting the quarterback position right is the most essential component to prosperity in the NFL. 

Figuring out which ways to accentuate your quarterback’s strengths and mitigate their weaknesses is of prime importance. In a league filled with intelligent coaches who consistently scheme up ways to take advantage of their opponents’ flaws, no matter how small, limiting those flaws is paramount.

On the other hand, it is often said that wins and losses often come down to the Jimmys and the Joes, not the Xs and the Os, meaning that skill ultimately trumps scheme when one player is simply better than the other. If a coach can figure out how to get the most out of their player’s strength, they can put their Jimmy in the best position to overpower the opponents’ Joe.

The AIQ helps teams understand the strengths and weaknesses of their Jimmys and Joes, and has been found to significantly correlate with key on-field performance including rushing yards for RB, interceptions or DBs, sacks for DLs, and Pro Football Reference’s Career Approximate Value metric. 

A strong score does not guarantee that a player can do something and a weak score does not guarantee that a player cannot do something. Rather, a strong score indicates that it will be easier for that player to execute a certain task, while a weak score indicates that they will have more trouble with that specific task and may have to rely on other attributes such as arm strength or mobility at the quarterback position.

As Doug Pederson emphasized in his article on How to Build a Super Bowl Winning Quarterback Room, knowing your personnel is paramount to achieving success at the quarterback position.

Good coaches eventually figure out a players’ strengths and weaknesses, but the AIQ gives coaches and decision makers the answers to the test before a player even gets in the building, allowing them to craft an efficient plan of action.

AIQ scores are broken down into a Full-Scale score, four broad abilities, and 10 narrow abilities. The four broad abilities are Visual Spatial Processing, Reaction Time, Decision Making, and Learning Efficiency.

There are multiple elements in each of the broad categories that relate directly to a quarterback’s performance, which as Dr. Scott Goldman suggests, can directly impact a team’s game plan and player’s developmental path.

The narrow abilities in the Visual Spatial Processing category include navigation, manipulation rotation, visual retention, and spatial awareness.

“Navigation, which is finding the most efficient route from Point A to Point B, is not just about a quarterback scrambling to get to the first down marker and find the most efficient route. It’s also finding ideal throwing windows and passing angles,” Goldman says. “One NFL team informed us that they found Navigation to have statistical significance with quarterbacks according to their analytics department.”

“Spatial awareness is another trait that is very helpful at the quarterback position. Imagine a quarterback rolls out of the pocket, resets, and now has to calibrate where he is in relation to key landmarks such as the first down marker, the end zone, or where his wide receivers are in relation to where the defense is.

“Manipulation rotation, or the ability to see a play unfold in your mind’s eye, is a contributing element to a quarterback’s anticipation.”

Measuring traits such as anticipation have previously been thought of as unquantifiable by some NFL coaches and decision makers, but the AIQ’s ability to measure anticipation has proven helpful for teams.

While one may think that reaction time may be less valuable at the quarterback position because they’re the one who initiates the play and controls the flow of the game, Dr. Goldman suggests that a high or low reaction time score can directly impact a quarterback’s maneuverability in the pocket.

“Imagine you’re looking downfield at the coverage, see a defensive end flash in the corner of your eye and have to step up, duck underneath him, or take off,” Goldman says. “That’s where reaction time and ability to respond to the stimulus of seeing a pass rusher comes into play.”

Another important trait for a quarterback is his decision making ability. No matter how physically gifted a quarterback may be, his ability to be effective at the highest level ultimately hinges on his ability to make good decisions.

To assess a quarterback’s decision-making ability, the AIQ uses a multiple target search, which is essentially a “Where’s Waldo” type of task in terms of looking for details in a crowded field.

“This helps the quarterback recognize when a wide receiver flashes his hands in a crowded space, or identify the defense’s coverage pre-snap based on the alignment of a defensive back,” Goldman says. “Multiple target search is about the ability to see important details that the quarterback can mentally tag.

“This is where the cognitive abilities that the AIQ assesses can actually play off each other. A quarterback may be able to identify an important detail, but that does not necessarily determine whether they know what it means.”

That brings us to learning efficiency, which can often be a make-or-break trait in a quarterback’s development and understanding of an offense. 

When the microphone in the quarterback’s ear goes off with 16 seconds left and they no longer hear the play call, those 16 seconds of that quarterback being in total control is where learning efficiency can come into play.

One of Dr. Goldman’s most commonly received questions from teams stem from the coaches trying to gain a better understanding of how to optimize a quarterback’s understanding of the playbook based on their learning efficiency.

“I’ve been flown out on several occasions by teams where coaches have asked me to help them understand their quarterback and provide tips on how to get the best out of them,” Goldman says. 

“One example of such a situation occurred when a team had a quarterback who was highly agreeable. Each week, the quarterback would tell coaches that he understood everything. But then on game day he would consistently make mistakes.

“I asked the coaches, ‘How do you know he understands everything?’

“They told me that this player, when asked if he knew plays X, Y, or Z, would consistently say, ‘I got you coach.’ It was almost to a point where it was his catchphrase.

“My hypothesis about why this was happening was based on his low learning efficiency. He was saying, ‘I got you coach’ because he wanted to please the coaches, not because he actually understood the play.

“The tip I gave was that instead of enabling him to give his catchphrase answer, they should ask him to retell what the coach was teaching. When they did that, they noticed that the player was only grasping about 30% of what they were teaching.

“They came back to me and said, ‘What do we do now? He’s only learning 30% of what we tell him.’ That put them in a tough situation to either simplify the playbook or get him more reps.

“When asked how to get this player more reps with the minimal practice schedule that teams have to work with, we devised a plan that took advantage of this player’s high work ethic. I said, ‘Let’s recognize that what most people take five reps to get will take him 10 and come up with different ways to give him 10 reps without impacting his body or exposing him to more injury risk.’ 

“This led to virtual reality rooms and film room sessions. It also led to my recommendation of the medical model of ‘See one, Do one, Teach one.’

“The player looks at the game film (see one), then he takes his reps at practice (do one), but the coaches were not sure how to have him teach one. I told them that you could go anywhere to have this player teach that concept, from teaching a quality control coach at a different position to teaching it to local high school quarterbacks. Anything to get him that extra mental rep.

You can find more information about Scott Goldman’s company Athletic Intelligence Measures here. If you would like to learn more about implementing sport psychology into your program, please email him at [email protected]