The Senior Bowl is going to have a change this year — not in anything it does on the field, but rather how it helps athletes work through things off of it.
The postseason draft evaluation and All-Star event has partnered with the Tatnuck Group, a talent assessment and development firm that focuses on professional sports, in a two-pronged process to help both prospects and teams throughout the week.
The first thing the group is doing is providing on-site performance coaches to help prospects deal with the intensity, stress and uncertainty of what the Senior Bowl really is — a week-long job interview. Just as players have coaches for positions and strength-and-conditioning, this would offer an opportunity to make sure they prepared for another part of the process.
“More than anything, if guys are there and they find that just like they want a strength coach to help warm them up physically before practice,” A.J. Scola, the founder of the Tatnuck Group, told ESPN. “If they need someone to help them get warmed up mentally and get prepared to perform, that’s what we’re there for.”
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy told ESPN that the game tries to add things to help the players every year — citing the event adding a recovery room a few years ago. Nagy said the Senior Bowl takes the mental health component of their week very seriously and Simone Biles’ experience in the Olympics hammered home the point of the need of mental health performance coaching.
Nagy, who is also a draft analyst for ESPN, said everything about performance coaching will be confidential throughout the week — even he won’t know who goes and who doesn’t — but he and his staff will make sure players will know that this is available to them.
“We’re just trying to put something in place for these guys as they go through a really demanding week,” Nagy said. “If they need somebody to talk to, if they need to unpack anything during the week, we have that support system in place.”
Nagy said NFL teams want the week to be taxing because of the demands on the NFL schedule and what is asked of players. So Nagy wanted to offer this as a service — whether anyone uses it or not, it’s important to him that they have it as an option.
Scola’s company is also developing a survey for the Senior Bowl to help teams identify leadership and character traits in players.
That includes identifying a player’s leadership skills, the type of coaching they respond to, team culture and their learning processes. The thought behind it, Scola said, is that the success of a player in professional sports goes beyond on-field skill to circumstances a player walks into, culture fit and personalities meshing with the team and coaching staff. Nagy said a lot of times why players make it versus why they don’t make it sometimes has to do as much with organizational fit as scheme fit.
“The hard part of the pre-draft process is really getting a beat on the person and how he is in your building,” Nagy told ESPN. “That’s what you always tell players when you start going through the process, and I share this with all the guys at orientation, as you move through the process, just be yourself.”
Scola said the hope for this part of the partnership is for both players and teams to get more from their interactions than what typically happens in rapid-fire, canned-question interviews that so often happen at the Senior Bowl and combine.
Nagy also told Scola when they agreed to do this he didn’t want negative things to come from the survey but to make it about understanding fits and identifying strong ones for players and teams.
“You have a limited amount of time to get to know these players at something like the Senior Bowl and the combine,” Scola told ESPN. “We hope that through this, the players not only get to put their best foot forward with the teams but the teams have actionable information that they can then tailor their interviewing on the player to hopefully find a better match in a draft pick.”