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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 football players
Evaluating youth football players either for the draft or for determining positions is one of the most important, but most poorly performed tasks of many youth football coaches. Too often, a player is assigned a position because he “looks” like the position regardless of the skills required for that position. Often kids who look like footballers or are the sons of coaches get preferential treatment and are chosen for positions of “skill” or fame. Another mistake that many youth soccer coaches make is that they evaluate kids’ skills in a way that has little or no correlation with what are actually the key success factors for performing well on the soccer field. Often a player is assigned a position based on only one required attribute of that position without regard to all the skills required to play the position.
I made the same mistake
The end result is that you often have youth football teams that are not performing anywhere near the potential of the group as a whole. So often when I get asked to come in and have trouble shooting teams that are playing poorly, they have kids in the wrong positions and the differences in players are glaringly obvious if you know what to look for. At the beginning of my coaching “career”, I too was confused by the physical appearance of the players. One of my first years coaching a tough-talking 10-year-old kid showed up to our first training session, he had the “look” mohawk, ripped sleeves, scowling/I want to rip your head off look on his face and he was stocky but a solid 120 lbs. Hell, I would have guessed he was in the habit of smoking a hell of a cigarette a day from the attitude he was laying down, we were drooling at the thought of him playing football for us. On the other hand, there was a skinny, quiet kid, only 8 years old, probably less than 65 pounds. He looked like one of those kids that most coaches are probably praying NOT to have at first glance.
Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane
It turned out that the Mohawk kid wasn’t in good physical shape, which wasn’t a big deal, but it was also an excuse. He was the one who questioned every exercise and when he didn’t win (we do almost everything in a competition format) he had an excuse, he slipped, he started late, another kid cheated, he overeat that day. For all that, he didn’t have very good body control. He could move pretty well in a straight line, but when he went to turn it was like trying to turn the Titanic, he couldn’t do it. His base strength was terrible and his speed was terrible. While there are some core strengthening techniques and movements we can do to improve this, even dramatic improvements would still put this player in the bottom 20% in this critical area.
Looks like Jane, plays like Tarzan
On the other hand, the shy skinny eight year old seemed like a natural when we did our games/exercises that revealed core strength. During the puppet relay races, he was able to not only pick up and keep the puppet’s balance, but also run with it, where others did a wobbly jog. During the Towel Game, he always drugged his opponents to the pins, showing great leg strength, natural strength and heart. Even in the Sumo game, he showed excellent trunk and leg strength, perseverance and great natural strength. The Deer Hunter game in my opinion is the best and most fun way to determine “football speed”. Football speed means the ability to start, stop and accelerate in small spaces, the ability to change direction and control the body to escape from “hunters”. Our skinny little eight-year-old excelled at this exercise, while our Mohawk came first.
Making accurate estimates
The net is that you can’t judge a book by its cover and you MUST measure kids to discover their football skills, not how fast they can run the 40 yard dash or how many push ups they can do. How many times in a football game do kids actually run 40 yards? And how often is 40 times correct? The answer to both questions is rarely, never. What does a push-up prove? Upper body strength helps your linemen very little in his blocks, a proper block puts much more emphasis on foot speed, trunk and leg strength, as well as stance and aggressiveness. Some say you can’t test toughness, resilience, tenacity or aggressiveness until the kids put on the pads, that’s just not true. So, to those who believe you can’t position babies until you’ve been wearing pads for at least a week, they’ve GAVE UP. It’s crap for them until the 2nd or 3rd week of training. The towel game, the sumo game, the relay puppets and to some extent The Deer Hunter all reveal these qualities without wearing pads.
If you draft 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 evaluate kids is STILL a huge advantage because you can assign positions earlier, get your schemes in faster, and not waste a ton of time shuffling players from position to position like a church social pie until you find the right spot for the poor confused player.
If you can make the evaluation process fun for the kids, that’s an added bonus. During the first week of practice, children and parents pay a lot of attention to the fun factor and you. You can make some huge deposits into your parents’ emotional bank accounts that week if you can make the assessments fun. We use all of the above fun assessment games during my team evaluations and they are all in my book. I have found that the exercises/games are so effective that we can get the kids into the correct positions after the first practice with a 95% success rate.
In the first game, we are almost always significantly ahead of the competition, although we always practice less. The big factor must be able to perform accurate and efficient evaluation and early placement of players.
The evaluation should be preceded by making sure you have very detailed requirements descriptions for each position on your team so you know what skills you are looking for to be the best fit.
Ultra in unusual but effective assessment exercises/games
Here is a very interesting method that one high school uses to evaluate their players, Rabbit Catch. Bobby Bowden even thinks this unique assessment practice may have merit. Think about how much this activity mirrors what successful soccer players do on the field on match days. Notice the 4 state championship rings on the arm of the high school coach.
For those of you using my system, doesn’t this look very similar to our Deer Hunter exercise/game? Evaluate your players well and you’ll not only be way ahead of the competition, you’ll have much happier players and parents.
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