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Youth Football, Who Goes in What Position in Youth Football? How to Put Players in the Right Spots
Evaluation of youth footballers
Evaluating youth football players, whether in the draft or when determining positions, is one of the most important, but most poorly done, tasks that many youth coaches perform. Too often, a player is assigned a position because he “looks” like the position, regardless of the skills required for that position. Oftentimes, kids who look like soccer players or the sons of coaches are given preferential treatment and selected for “skill” or glory positions. Another mistake that many youth soccer coaches make is to evaluate kids’ abilities in a way that has little or no correlation to the critical success factors of performing well on the soccer field. It is common for a player to be assigned a position based on a single mandatory attribute of that position, regardless of the overall skill set required to play the position.
I made the same mistake
The end result is that you often have youth soccer teams that don’t perform anywhere near the potential of the overall group. So often when I’m asked to come in and shoot a team that’s playing poorly, they have kids in the wrong position and the differences between the players are obvious if you know what to look for. At the beginning of my coaching “career”, I was also confused by the physical appearance of the players. One of my first years coaching a tough-talking 10-year-old, he showed up to our first practice with a Mohawk, ripped shirt sleeves, a scowl/I want to rip his head off, and a stocky but solid 120 pounds. Hell, I would have guessed that he used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day from his procrastinating attitude, we were drooling at the thought of him playing football for us. On the other hand, there was this thin, quiet kid, crew cut and only 8 years old, probably weighing less than 65 pounds. He looked like one of those kids that most coaches would probably NOT get at first glance.
Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane
The Mohawk kid turned out not to be in great physical shape, which wasn’t such a big deal, but he also made excuses. He was the one who questioned every exercise, and when he didn’t win an exercise (we do almost everything in a competitive format), he had an excuse, he slipped, he started late, the other kid cheated, he ate too much that day. On top of all that, he didn’t have very good body control. He could go straight quite well, but when he took a turn it was like trying to turn the Titanic and he couldn’t. His base strength was terrible and his speed terrible. While there are some techniques and core strengthening moves we can do to improve this, even with dramatic improvements, this player would remain in the bottom 20% in this critical area.
Looks like Jane, plays like Tarzan
On the other hand, the shy, lanky 8 year old seemed like a natural when we did our games/exercises that revealed core strength. During the Dummy Relay Races, he was not only able to lift and keep his balance, but also ran with it where others jogged shakily. During the Towel Game, he always drug his opponents to the cone, showing excellent footwork, natural strength and heart. Even in the Sumo Game, he showed excellent core and leg strength, toughness and great natural strength. The Deer Hunter game is, in my opinion, the best and most fun way to determine a players “football speed”. Football speed means that you can start, stop and accelerate in small spaces, change direction and control your body to avoid “hunters”. Our fussy little 8 year old excelled at this exercise, while our Mohawk was the first to get out.
Making accurate assessments
The thing is, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and kids should be measured to reveal their football skills, not how fast they can run 40 yards or how many push-ups they can do. How many times do kids run 40 yards in a football game? And how often is 40x accuracy? The answer to both is rarely never. What does the push-up prove? Upper body strength does very little to help linemen with their blocks, a proper block puts much more emphasis on foot speed, core and leg strength, and attitude and aggressiveness. Some people say that you can’t test toughness, flexibility, tenacity or aggressiveness until the kids put the pads on, that’s simply not true. So for those of you who believe you can’t position the kids until you’ve put the pad on for at least a week, they’re WAY off. For them, it’s a hell of a drive until the 2nd or 3rd week of practice. The Towel Game, Sumo Game, Dummy Relay Races and to some extent Deer Hunter all reveal these qualities without wearing pads.
Knowing what to look for and how to look for it is a huge advantage when you draft players. If you don’t have a draft, evaluating kids properly is STILL a huge advantage because you can assign positions sooner, set your scheme faster, and not waste time shuffling players from position to position. like a church social cakewalk until you find the right spot for the poor confused player.
Fun It Fun
If you can make the assessment process fun for the kids, that’s an added bonus. During the first week of practice, children and parents pay close attention to the fun and to you. You can make huge deposits into parents’ emotional bank accounts that week if you can make assessments fun. All of the fun evaluation games mentioned above are used in my team evaluations, and they are all in my book. I have found the drills/games to be so effective that we can get the kids into the correct position after the first drill with a 95% success rate.
In the first match, we are almost always significantly ahead of our competition, even though we always practice less. Accurate and efficient assessment and early placement of players should be a big factor.
Before the assessment, make sure you have a very detailed description of the requirements for each position on the team so you know what skills you need to be the best fit.
Ultra is unusual but effective in assessment exercises/games
Here is a very interesting method that one high school uses to evaluate their players, the rabbit catch. Bobby Bowden still thinks there may be merit to this unique assessment exercise. Consider how closely this activity mirrors what successful soccer players do on the field on game days. Notice the 4 state championship rings on the hands of the Head High School Coaches.
For those of you using my system, isn’t this very similar to our Deer Hunter practice/game? Get your players right and you’ll not only be way ahead of your competition, you’ll have much happier players and their parents too.
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