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Youth Football, Who Goes in What Position in Youth Football? How to Put Players in the Right Spots
Assessment of young soccer players
Assessing youth football players, whether for draft or determining positions, is one of the most important but poorly performed tasks by many youth football coaches. Too often a player is assigned a position because they “look like” the position without regard to the skills required for that specific position. Often, children who look like football players or are the sons of coaches are given preferential treatment and selected for positions of “skill” or glory. Another mistake that many youth football coaches make is that they assess children’s skills in a way that has little or no correlation to the critical success factors for performing well on the football pitch. Quite often, a player is assigned a position based on a single required attribute of that position without considering the skill set needed to play the position.
I made the same mistake
The end result is that you often have youth football teams performing nowhere near the potential of the overall group. Quite often when I’m asked to come in and help out teams that are playing badly, they have kids in the wrong positions and the disparities between players are stark if you know what to look for. At the beginning of my “career” as a coach, I too was amazed by the physical appearance of the players. One of my first years training a tough talking 10 year old showed up at our first practice he had “the look” mohawk haircut, shirt sleeves ripped off, scowl / I want to rip your head off look at his face and he was a stocky but strong 120-pounder. Heck, I would have guessed he used to smoke a pack a day because of the attitude he repelled, we drooled at the thought of him playing football for us. On the other hand, there was this skinny, quiet kid with a crew cut, and only 8 years old, probably weighing less than 65 pounds. He looked like one of the kids most coaches probably pray they don’t have at first sight.
Look like Tarzan, play like Jane
The Mohawk kid turned out wasn’t in great physical shape, which isn’t a big deal, but he was also an excuse maker. He was someone who questioned every drill and when he didn’t win a drill (we do almost everything in competition format) he had an excuse, he slipped, he started late, the other kid cheated, he had eaten too much that day. On top of all that, he didn’t have very good control of his body. He could move straight quite well but when he went to carve it was like he was trying to turn the Titanic, he couldn’t. His base strength was terrible and his speed was terrible. While there are basic boosting techniques and moves we can do to improve this, even dramatic boosts would still put that player in the bottom 20% in this critical area.
Look like Jane, play like Tarzan
On the other hand, the shy, skinny 8 year old seemed like a natural when we did our games/exercises that revealed core strength. During the dummy relay races, he was able to not only lift and maintain the dummy’s balance, but run with it, where others were doing a wobbly jog. During towel play, he always cones his opponents, showing excellent leg strength, natural leverage, and heart. Even in the sumo game, he showed excellent core and leg strength, tenacity, and great natural leverage. The Deer Hunter game is in my opinion the best and most fun way to determine a player’s “football speed”. Football speed means the ability to start, stop and accelerate in small spaces, to be able to change direction and control your body to escape “hunters”. Our skinny 8 year old excelled in this exercise, while our Mohawk was the first out.
Make accurate assessments
The bottom line is that you can’t judge a book by its cover and you MUST measure kids to reveal their soccer skills, not how fast they can run 40 yards or how many push-ups they can do. How many times in a football match do children actually run 40 meters? And how often is 40 times actually accurate? The answer to both is rarely or never. What does a pump prove? Upper body strength helps your linemen very little in their blocks, proper blocking puts a lot more emphasis on foot speed, core and leg strength as well as attitude and aggression. Some say you can’t test tenacity, resilience, tenacity or aggression until the kids put the pads on, that’s just not true. So according to those who believe you can’t put kids in positions until you’ve put the pads on for at least a week, get GOOD behind it. For them it’s a crap shoot until the 2nd or 3rd week of practice. The Towel Game, Sumo Game, Dummy Relay Races and to some extent the Deer Hunter all reveal these traits without wearing pads.
If you’re recruiting players, you have a huge advantage if you know what to look for and how to look for it. If you don’t have a draft, being able to properly assess kids is ALWAYS a huge advantage because you can assign positions sooner, get your patterns in place faster, and you don’t waste a ton of time mixing up the players from one position to another. like a social cake in church until you find the right place for the poor confused player.
make it fun
If you can make the assessment process fun for the kids, that’s an added bonus. The first week of practice, children and parents pay special attention to the fun factor and to you. You can make huge deposits into parents’ emotional bank accounts that week if you can make the ratings fun. We use all of the fun assessment games mentioned above when evaluating my teams and they are all in my book. I have found the drills/games to be so effective that we can get kids into the right positions after the first practice with a 95% success rate.
The first game, we are almost always significantly ahead of our competitors, even if we always train less. An important factor must be being able to make an accurate and effective assessment and early placement of players.
The assessment should be preceded by ensuring that you have very detailed descriptions of the requirements of each position on your team so that you know what skills you are looking for to make the best adjustments.
The ultra in unusual but effective evaluation exercises/games
Here is a very interesting method that a high school uses to evaluate its players, the Rabbit Catch. Bobby Bowden even thinks that this unique assessment practice may have merit. Think about how much this activity mirrors what successful football players do on the pitch on matchdays. Notice the 4 state championship rings on the senior high school coaches hand.
For those of you who use my system, isn’t that a lot like our Deer Hunter exercise/game? Evaluate your players well and you’ll not only be way ahead of your competition, but you’ll have much happier players and parents.
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