How to Evaluate Youth Soccer Players
so you know your soccer players strengths and weaknesses
7 Critical Things to Watch Forin Soccer

If you're a Travel/Select coach see Tryouts Evaluation Article and Evaluation Form

If you are a Rec coach with a new team or many new players, there are 5 things you should do soon if you haven't already done them (ideally these should be done in pre-season practices):

  1. Have a 40 step foot race. (40 yards more or less depending on age; when we use the term "step" we are referring to the length of the players step). If you have a large team, split in to 2 or even 3 groups, have each race twice and then have finals so you can see who is the fastest. Have one of your assistants start the race while you and another assistant wait at the finish line. Try to see who has the quickest start and who are the fastest 3 and slowest 3 in the group. Take notes so you don't forget. It is important to know who is fast & who is slow.

  2. Have a 10-minute Throw-In session. You must be sure everyone can do a proper throw-in and find out who can do a long throw-in. (Throw-ins are critical because you will have many of them during a game). First, have all players line up facing you (you should face the sun so they aren't looking into it) and practice their technique without a ball. (Read "How To Teach Throw-Ins" at "Skills" or "How To Teach Proper Techniques" from the Home Page if you have any questions or want longer throw-ins). Then, pair them up by size, one ball per pair, facing each other, 20 steps apart and see who can make the longest throw-ins. Take notes. You may want to have your best throwers take the throw-ins during a game, but keep in mind that it's safer to have a midfielder take the throw-in than it is to have a Fullback take it (because they might not be able to recover if there is a turnover and fast counterattack), and you probably don't want a Forward taking it, since you want them to be thinking about scoring.

  3. Have a Small-sided Scrimmage Without A Goalie. While you and your assistants stand outside the field (on different sides) to watch & take notes. (See the "Small Sided Scrimmage Without A Goalie" practice game for how to set this up.) Do not try to coach during this scrimmage, just observe. Set this up by dividing into 2 teams (a parent or sibling can play if needed or just try to balance the teams). Use vests or some method to identify the teams (I suggest avoiding "skins" since it causes embarrassment & reluctance to scrimmage for some thin or overweight boys). Use disk cones to outline a "field" that is 30-50 "steps" in length (30-50 yards depending on age; better too short than too long for this purpose) and about 25-40 steps wide depending on age (just step it off & drop 3 or 4 cones down each side; accuracy is not critical); use 2 cones (ideally a different color) to make a "goal" at each end that is 5 steps wide, put one cone in the Middle to mark the Halfway line and put a Red ("scoring zone") Cone 10-12 steps out from each goal (toward the Halfway line; if you don't have 2 red cones or they are all red, just paint 2 with stripes; it is important these be distinctive since goals can only be scored on shots from inside these "Red" or "Striped" cones). Start each game or each "kick-off" by having each team start from behind its "Red Cone" (both attackers & defenders start from behind their Red Cones, in this way they start by controlling the ball & you don't get bogged down in "Kick-offs" which are among the least important things to worry about, see Kick-Off in the Dictionary & below). Neither team has a Goalie (this forces all players to learn to be defenders without relying on a Goalie, trust us this is a great teaching method, it works). Don't assign positions, let the players choose their own (give them a minute before they start to talk about it; one thing this does is start to get them thinking). Before they start, be sure they know each others names. Don't worry about offside, that isn't the point of this scrimmage. For corners, allow the ball to be delivered by either a throw-in or a kick. Goals can only be scored on shots from inside the "Red Cone" (i.e., an imaginary line straight across the field) and must be below "goal height" to count (you make the call on these). Play 2 games of about 7-10 minutes each and at the end of the first game swap up the teams so you can see how different combinations play together. This game is not as complex as it sounds on paper.

    There are 7 critical things to watch for:

    1. Who likes to play defense & is a brave, tough defender (a good defender doesn't have to have great ball skills and in Rec soccer can have weak skills, but look for those who are not afraid of contact and who will step in front of a shot and block it with their body; see "Assigning Positions" for more)

    2. Who has talent as a scorer and which side they like to play (especially true if you have a good left footed player) or if you have a player who is a natural "striker" and would be a good center forward (read Assigning Positions).

    3. Which players are good passers and which are poor passers.

    4. Who is a ball hog, not a team player or a disruptive influence.

    5. Who has very weak skills or is afraid of contact even if they have good skills (you do not want to put either of these at Fullback, see soccer positions or it may be someone who would make a good CMF, Stopper or CFB; in any case you probably want this type of player in the Center of the field.

    6. Who are your best dribblers? If you have a really great dribbler who can quickly change direction, think about putting him or her at Forward to "take on" the defense, pulling defenders out of position can create scoring opportunities and you can pair this player with a good scorer who the dribbler can pass to if he can't get a good shot.

  4. Test Passing, Dribbling, Chipping and Clearing (i.e., kicking) Skills. The easy way to do this is by playing the "Dribble Across A Square" game to test dribbling (after 2 games, which takes about 5 minutes, you will know who are your best and worst dribblers; for details read number 8 below). Use the Passing Pairs game to test passing (two-touch and one-touch) and follow Passing Pairs by simply moving the players 20 steps apart and playing the "Chips/Lofted Passes" practice game (let them use either a Chip form or a Lofted Pass form, whichever works best for them). Follow the Chips/Lofted Passes game by moving the pairs 25 steps apart and having them each roll the ball 5 times to the partner who kicks it as far as possible (remind them to lock their ankle on contact and to keep their head down, some have never been told; if you don't know how to teach proper technique, buy the "Just Kickin' It" DVD or the Mia Hamm's Soccer Secrets DVD), this will teach them how to clear a ball. For skills that are useful in midfield or at Forward, play the "Dribble Around Cone and Pass Relay Race".

  5. If you have time and your team is U-10 or older, play the "2 Team Keepaway" game. Watch for who is a natural leader and who can steal the ball.

For more on this subject see Tryouts Evaluation Article and Evaluation Form on Premium.