By Joey Rutherford
Football is back and the excitement from fans is palpable! Coaches are developing their game plans, finalizing depth charts and evaluating every aspect of their teams to have the best season possible. This is an evaluation blog, so I know you’re probably asking yourself, “why is he talking about football in a blog about evaluation?” Well, if you think about it, football coaches and evaluators share many common traits.
Football coaches evaluate film as they develop their strategies for upcoming games. Likewise, evaluators consider and reflect on various avenues and methods to evaluate programs. Coaches and evaluators alike will tell you that developing a game plan is a crucial part of the process. Just as players rely on a well-founded strategy, clients and partners seek reliable, evidence-based evaluation results to improve program operations or to highlight program successes. As with coaches and strong game plans for winning the football game, evaluators need strong evaluation plans to “win” the evaluation game.
Another connection between football coaches and evaluators is the ability to improvise. In football, almost all game plans go awry at one point or another. Good football coaches make adjustments throughout the game to ensure their players are in the best position to win the game. This is something evaluators know about all too well. We’ve all been there. We have the best plan and are excited to get going. Then, out of nowhere, our plans are thwarted by unforeseen circumstances. Like football coaches, evaluators’ ability to adapt and make changes mid-game ensures we gather quality data to inform program improvement and give clients actionable recommendations.
Coaching and Motivation
Coaches play a significant role in motivating football players on and off the field—often to improve their grades and athletic performance, as well as to become better citizens. When things aren’t going as planned, they are the support system that keeps the team going. Evaluators may not think of themselves as motivators, but they are. Evaluators look at the data, make suggestions to clients for program improvement and deliver results that are not necessarily the outcome the client expected. The motivation lies in the delivery—not just the message. Evaluators let the data speak and offer recommendations while inspiring clients to take the results, improve and achieve better outcomes.
At the end of the day, football coaches want to leave things better than they found them. Coaches want to take a team in need of improvement and create a winner! Ultimately, they work to develop a group of people who are able to go into the world and make a difference. Likewise, evaluators work with data to determine whether programs work and what can be improved with major implications for those served and community stakeholders. Often, programs are designed to improve the lives of vulnerable populations, increase employment in certain areas, create educational supports in high-poverty districts. I’m not sure about all evaluators, but for me, that is why I do what I do—to make a difference.