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MHR Scouting Services -- Getting Organized



Something with great potential is coming together here at MHR, and I am very excited to be able to introduce a few tidbits of information over the coming weeks to help out.

I am talking, of course, of MHR Scouting Services, founded by Jon Tollerud, and the information I would like to share will be a little of what I have learned from watching college players in order to assess their NFL capabilities.  A lot of it will be very basic, and old hat to many of you, but I am hoping it will still be useful to members who are new to the idea of scouting, and perhaps those of you who already have a good eye for assessing the talented players will be able to pull an interesting point or two from the articles.

Getting Started Means Getting Organized

These first few posts won't really be about scouting per se, but about the organization that will make you a better scout.  I maintain a list of almost 1000 players (at any given time), and the key to getting any use out of that list is Organization.  I'll talk a little bit about setting up a database, how to make the best use of your time, and the things that you should have on hand, but first I would like to talk a little about the overall idea of Organization.  Click below to follow along....

Its all about clutter...or lack thereof

Really, the essence of organization is about avoiding the bane of anyone who values their time and efficiency:  clutter.

Clutter represents decisions, specifically decisions that haven't been made yet, or which can't be made yet due to a lack of information or resources.  And decisions represent facts, assuming that you follow through on your decisions with action (tsk, tsk, if you don't).  Facts are a requirement of integration, and key to learning something well enough to be able to teach it, which is what a scout sets out to do:  educate others about potential players.  The upshot of all this psycho-babble is:

The point of organizing clutter is to facilitate decision making so that you can make what you see (facts) into what you know (knowledge).

In my experience, clutter comes from one fundamental place:  not automatizing common, everyday decisions.  When you are scouting, you run the very real risk of acquiring and dealing with identical pieces and types of information in a variety of different ways, causing an integration mess for your head.  Becoming overwhelmed by valuable information is a tragedy in its own way, because all that information becomes lost on you.  Just providing this information to the community will be a great asset, but you will get the most enjoyment from your scouting efforts if you are able to pass along an integrated view of the prospects you are talking about.  To do this you need to minimize the unnecessary clutter, both of your scouting workplace and of your scouting efforts.  And to minimize clutter you need merely to automotize your decision making systems.

So please understand that even though some of what I will say may seem like overkill for MHR Scouting Services, definitely consider doing most of the things anyway.  You can always excise unnecessary thing later, but it is much, MUCH harder to insert them midstream, after the clutter has already built up.  If you are worried about it being a waste of time, or are tempted to bypass it and get right to scouting without wasting a beat, you should know that in the long run, you will be making all of your decisions, i.e. integrating all of your observations, on an individual case by case basis.  This is astronomically less efficient and more time consuming than putting forth the effort to systemetize and organize early, creating set methods and parameters for the recording and analysis of your observations, thus reducing the overall decisions to be made.  Fewer decisons equals less clutter, which means more knowledge.

Hopefully I have enamored you of the idea of getting organized for this, so that you will be primed and ready to get started.  Which is really the best part about this whole organizing idea:  you get to get started on this project right away!

Organize your workspace

Have you thought about where and how you are going to watch these players play?  Do you watch at home?  Do you expect to travel to see most of them, whether to the game itself, or to a friend's or neighbor's house?  It is very important at this stage to visualize where and how you will be watching these games, as these instances, by their nature, will define what methods will be available for recording your observations.  Things to consider:

  • Will you have computer access?  This is helpful for those of us who like to type out our thoughts, and even more helpful for the ones who watch their games via Sopcast or bitTorrent.
  • What are the noise/disturbance levels?  I have found that a handheld recorder can sometimes be a useful tool for getting my thoughts down on a player, if I am at a public venue for the game such as a sports bar or restaraunt.  But I have also found that this can be a disturbance to others, and that certain venues are too noisy to get anything useful down on anything but the most expensive handheld voice recorders.
  • Will you have room to write longhand?  This is by far my preferred method of getting my thoughts down, even when a computer is at hand.  It can be done almost anywhere, and is very flexilble.  Plus it is a "hard" copy that isn't subject to power outtages or computer picadillos, and if your handwriting is nice, can look pretty sharp as well. :)  But the drawbacks include discomfort for many people who don't often write things out longhand, and the undeniable inefficiency of poring over pages of notes that could be brought up on a computer with a single click.  Transferring the information is always a dreaded task as well, but I tend to view it as a chance to review my notes. 
  • Will you have options for recording the game itself?  This is one of the most important considerations, and if you are ever having to choose between venues for the game, definitely go for the one that gives you the best option to record it.  Recording the games probably needs no justification, since the benefits would be obvious.  And with so many options for recording, whether by Tivo, screen-capture software, bitTorrent, DVD-recorders, or plain ol' VHS, there is bound to be an option that you can embrace in terms of functionality, convenience or budget.  Personally I use VHS because it is cheap, reliable and I view my gametapes as disposable.  (I am one guy who doesn't care a lick about college football.  Except for some fondness for Big Blue of course.)

 If you can, try to have your workplace be consistent, that way you can optimize it for your scouting tasks.  The more you optimize, the more talent you will get a chance to see.

Get it together

You should make a list of what you will need at your workplace, and get those things together early.  Outside of my notebooks, most everything is on my computer, and I have a separate user account set up to keep it segregated from my other computer tasks and chores.  But I still have to plan early to have my schedules, blank-tapes, recordable DVDs, etc. on hand when they are needed.  Don't delay lining out these items.

  • You should devote some space to this (and any) task you are undergoing at your work station.  Many of us use our computers for many of our day to day tasks, but this doesn't mean you have to clutter up your computer area.  Assess your space.  Maybe even chart out what would make it ideal, whether it is more work surface or better storage.  You would be surprised at how easy and inexpensive it is to set up exactly the kind of workspace that you would like.  Stores like Office Depot have more and varied organizing supplies than you will ever need, and often, if you are willing to assemble it yourself, office furniture can be very cheap, allowing you to add additional and devoted work surfaces.
  •  Most cpu operating systems (think Windows, Linux, etc) give you options for setting up additional "users" which allows you to switch between different profiles and layouts for your most used tools and files on your cpu.  Devoting an account to your scouting work is like devoting desk space:  you can load it up with files and info that are essential to your scouting activities and leave out all the files, links and programs that you don't use.  This saves considerable time when you need to look for something.
  • Get familiar with your database software.  Most new cpus come with Microsoft Database (Access) preinstalled, as part of the Works or Office suite of tools.  If you are like me you like faster, smaller alternatives to Mircosoft's 800lb gorilla/software.  Mac users are probably familiar with Filemaker, and there are a number of products like Paradox, Lotus (Approach) and Alpha Five that are very powerful.  But unless you are an SQL geek you don't need the powerful integration and web-applications that make these pricey products so valuable.  A simple and hopefully free database should serve you very well.  There aren't a lot of good free database options that I know about but you might look at Cache and then there is also the all around integrated solution that is OpenOffice.  Besides a database,openoffice provides a good competitive office suite of tools, and would be a wise consideration.
  • Choose a method for recording games.  If it is VHS, have the VCR hooked up early and have plenty of tapes on hand and a good labelling system that can accomodate re-labelling.  Same with DVDs.  I don't have a Tivo or anything like that, so I can't be any help to you if you are going that route, but hopefully some of you will be able to help eachother in that area.  If you are considering converting what you see on your cpu screen into AVI video for storage, or with running a bitTorrent client to download games, be prepared for the large file sizes associated with this and be sure that you have the harddrive capacity to deal with them.  For recording AVI video a cheap (as in free) option is Camstudio , which is easy and intuitive.  For bitTorrent downloading, I definitely recommend uTorrent , which is small, effective and highly supported and accepted.
  • Something that can't be overestimated is a scheduler.  This will allow you to keep track of which games you want to see and is a link to your database as far as deciding which players you want or need to watch.  Your scheduler can be as simple or complex as you are comfortable with.  Personally I print out simple, one-month calendars, and then fill them in as the season goes along, but I also keep track of things that wouldn't be of interest to MHR scouts.  Since most of the action occurs on Saturdays, simply printing out a chart that you can fill in week by week would suffice.  The idea is you want to keep track of what games are being played when, so that you can prioritize the games you especially want to watch, and the games that would be especially beneficial to watch, due to matchups or proliferation of as-yet-unscouted prospects.

Now that you know some of what you need to get on hand to organize your scouting efforts, I will guide you through setting up these elements in the next post.  And if this seems like too much work or too in depth, remember my opening statements:  you can always cut out the unnecessary fluff later, but it is very hard to insert new things once you are underway.  I should also note that the system I use is constantly being updated, streamlined and improved, so all I am looking to provide you with here is a barebones structure upon which you can drape the finery of your own skills and habits.  In the end, you should have a lot of fun doing this, while providing an invaluable asset to the community here at MHR.  This early organization should go a long ways towards not only improving the quality of your observations, but also the quality of the time you spend observing.


If you have any questions about any of the methods or software that I have mentioned above, or better yet, if you have some insight to add to this, please comment below, or email me.  I have a horrible summertime schedule that involves regular week-long abstination from the internet, but if you email I WILL eventually get you a reply.