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AFM Magazine

Effective Grading Strategies

by: Ryan Dean Ruschhaupt
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Grading players should be easy, effortless and not take hours to do.  Our system will utilize a check box numbering system that allows coaches to rate players easily and effectively.  We will use three major criteria for determining a player’s ability at each play: Alignment, Assignment and Hustle.  Once a player has been graded a more complete picture will aid the coach in determining what a player needs to work on.  For example: A player might consistently be in a poor alignment yet his hustle grade shows that he has a great attitude and desire to make a play.  He obviously needs to spend more time learning his playbook.  The eye in the sky never lies!

Grading Scale: 1-5

1. Very Poor Grade; the player has poor athletic ability and a poor understanding of the play.
2. Poor Grade; the player either has poor athletic ability or a poor understanding of the play.
3. Average; the player has performed with average athletic ability and an average understanding of the play.
4. Good; the player has performed with great or good athletic ability and either an average or good understanding
5. Great; The player has completed a perfect execution of the play!

• Alignment

    A player’s alignment is the first step toward a successful play and should be the easiest way for a player to gain an effective grade.  Each individual coach should have criteria for their position and what they require a player to do.  They should consider stance, hand placement, and the distance from the ball or another player.  This should also relate to what the coach is teaching the player on and off the field.  

Example of a good grade = 5

    A defensive lineman is required to stem from one defense to another.  His stance should allow him to shift and slide easily, yet be able to move effectively when the quick snap occurs.  He should always have his man-hand down and change it according to the alignment he came from and is going to.  Moving from a 3 tech to a 2I requires that he switch hands.  If he completes all of the above requirements perfectly he should receive a 5 for his alignment.  

Example of a poor grade = 1

A poor grade would be given if he couldn’t do anything required by the formation call.

• Assignment

    Grading the assignment is the most subjective part of grading a player.  Each coach should have a great understanding of the result he’s looking for and the outcome that determines the difference between a 1, 2 or 4. Each block, blitz, stunt, rush, drop etc, needs to be understood from the “root to the fruit.” Once a coach has the criteria for each outcome of each play in the playbook he can begin to rate a players effort and execution of that play.

Example of an average grade = 3

The tailback takes the handoff properly from the QB, runs properly to his hole and is stopped for less than a yard.  He does nothing to avoid the tackler or create an opportunity that could give him and his team extra yards.  Players that are able to add to the above criteria would receive a better grade than players that had difficulty getting to the line of scrimmage properly.

• Hustle

This is an opportunity for a player to stand out and make a name for himself as a go-getter.  This is also how a coach physically sees a player’s attitude as he demonstrates his ability to make up for a missed assignment or raises the level of play by going that extra mile.  Coaches hate to see mistakes in alignment and the poor execution of an assignment. However, they get excited when a player runs 40 yards more than they should have to make a finishing block or game saving tackle.  

Example of a great effort = 5

    A defensive back blitzes and while he’s blitzing reads the QB’s 3 step drop pass to the opposite side of the field.  He then gets on a great pursuit track that enables him to make the tackle.

Using the Grade Sheet
    The player’s number, name and the date of the event will be recorded for each player being reviewed. The name of the session and the play number will be recorded in the column on the left side. Once the session and play have been recorded the coach will pause the play to check the alignment of the player, checking the appropriate box (1-5).  The play is reviewed enough times to make a proper assessment of the assignment and then the coach again checks the appropriate box (1-5).  The play is reviewed again to see how well the player hustles from snap to whistle and the appropriate box is checked (1-5). Repeat until all the plays for that player have been reviewed for that session (1 on 1), then start to grade next player in that session (1 on 1). Once the session is finished go back through each player for the new session and record the same way as above.  

• Players should only be graded on 2 sessions each practice.

• Once the player’s grades have been completed, total the numbers for each criteria and write down a percentage based on a maximum of 15 points for each play.  

• 10 plays x  (5pts. Alignment) + 5pts. (Assignment) + 5 pts. (Hustle))  =  Maximum =150 points = 100% grade

Example: Hustle Grade = 38pts (10 plays)  Maximum = 50pts.  =  Grade out at  76%.

Grading Without Video

    Many programs can’t afford video or have the time to break down practice film.  If this is the case for you like many coaches across the country, grading can still be done and be an effective tool in your program.  I suggest keeping a small notebook and a pen with you throughout practice.  When players do something well or something that needs to be corrected make a note in the notebook.  At the end of the day you can list the players and grade them on their overall daily performance for Alignment, Assignment and Hustle.  This is much quicker, yet still has the affect.  Try to be objective and positive, but never lose proper criticism of poor technique.    

Coaches and Players Feedback Sheet

    Once a player has been given a grade the coach should comment on his performance and what steps he can take to improve on and off the field.  The feedback sheet is a great way to communicate what you expect of your players and how they can help themselves to achieve those goals.  There is also a place for the player to comment about what he thinks he can do to improve.  This is a valuable tool to be able to recognize frustrated players, players that lack an understanding of the system and players that might have a learning disability that hasn’t been addressed.  

    Communication is essential in any organization, club or team.  Spending that little extra amount of time grading players pays off by dispelling those future headaches caused by the lack of communicating to your player exactly where he stands each day.  When players know exactly where they stand, there’s little room for complaining and negative emotions that can detract a unit. They can stay focused on improving themselves and those around them.  Everyone wants to know why he didn’t start or why he did.  I think this tool helps answer those questions while motivating at the same time. p

Coach Ryan Ruschhaupt has dedicated most of his coaching career to the development of American football overseas. He is currently coaching the Team USA American Football Group.  Ruschhaupt coached at Pima College in Tucson and graduated from California State University, Fresno in 2002. He can be reached at


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