Evaluating Youth Football Players
Evaluating youth football players either for a draft or to determine positions is one of the most important but most poorly performed tasks done by many youth football coaches. Too often a player is assigned a position because he “looks” like the position without regards to the skills required of that specific position. Often times kids that look like football players or are the sons of coaches are given preferential treatment and are selected for the “skill” or glory positions. Another mistake many youth football coaches make is they evaluate kids for skills in a way that has little or no correlation to what actually are critical success factors to performing well on the football field. Quite often a player is assigned a position based on just one required attribute of that position without regard to the entirety of skills needed to play the position.
I Made the Same Mistake
The end result is you often have youth football teams that don’t perform anywhere near the potential of the aggregate group. So often when I’m asked to come in and trouble shoot poorly playing teams, they have kids in the wrong positions and the disparities in players is blatantly apparent if you know what to look for. Early on in my coaching “career” I too was bamboozled by the physical appearances of players. One of my first years coaching a tough talking 10 year old kid showed up to our first practice, he had “the look” a Mohawk haircut, shirtsleeves torn off, scowl/I want to tear your head off look on his face and he was a stocky but solid 120 lbs. Heck I would have guessed he had a pack a day cigarette habit from the attitude he put off, we were drooling at the thought of having 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 weighed less than 65 pounds. He looked like one of the kids most coaches probably pray the DON’T get at first glance.
Looks Like Tarzan, Plays Like Jane
The Mohawk kid turned out wasn’t in very good physical shape, which isn’t a real big deal, but he was an excuse maker as well. He was one that 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 overeaten that day. In addition to all that, he didn’t have very good body control. He could move fairly well straight ahead but when he went to make a turn of cut it was like he was trying to turn the Titanic, he couldn’t do it. His core strength was terrible and his quickness was awful. While there are some technique and core strengthening movements we can do to improve this, even dramatic improvements would still have this player in the bottom 20% in this critical area.
Looks Like Jane, Plays Like Tarzan
On the other hand the shy scrawny 8 year old seemed to be a natural when we did our games/drill that revealed core strength. During the Dummy Relay Races, he was able to not only lift and maintain the balance of the dummy but he was running with it, where others were doing a wobbly jog. During the Towel Game, he always drug his opponents to the cone, showing excellent leg strength, natural leverage and heart. Even in the Sumo Game he showed excellent trunk and leg strength, tenacity and great natural leverage. The Deer Hunter game in my opinion is the best and most fun way to determine a players”football speed”. Football speed means the ability to start, stop and accelerate in small spaces, being able to change direction and control your body to escape the “hunters”. Our scrawny little 8 year old excelled at this drill, while our Mohawk was the first one out.
Doing Accurate Evaluations
The net is you cant judge a book by it’s cover and you HAVE TO measure kids to reveal their football playing skills, not how fast they can run 40 yards or how many pushups they can do. How many times in a football game do kids actually run 40 yards? And how often are 40 times actually accurate? The answer to both is rarely to never. What does a pushup prove? Upper body strength does very little to aid your linemen in his blocks, a proper block places much more emphasis on foot speed, trunk and leg strength as well as attitude and aggressiveness. Some say you can’t test for toughness, resiliency, tenacity or aggressiveness until the kids put the pads on, that is simply not true. So according to those that believe you can’t put kids into positions until you put the pads on for at least a week put themselves WAY behind. For them it is a crap shoot until the 2nd or 3rd week of practice. The Towel Game, Sumo Game, Dummy Relay Races and to an extent the Deer Hunter reveal all these traits without wearing pads.
If you are drafting 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 evaluate kids properly is STILL a huge advantage because you can assign positions earlier, put your schemes in quicker and you don’t waste a ton of time shuffling players from position to position to position like a church social cake walk until you find the right spot for the poor confused player.
Making It Fun
If you can make the evaluation process fun for the kids it is an added bonus. The first week of practice the kids and the parents are paying close attention to the fun factor and you. You can make some huge deposits in the emotional bank accounts of the parents that week if you can make the evaluations fun. We use all the above mentioned fun evaluation games during the evaluations of my teams and they are all found in my book. I’ve found the drills/games are so effective we are able to put kids into the correct positions after the first practice with a 95% success rate.
The first game we are almost always significantly ahead of our competition, even though we always practice less. A big factor has to be being able to do accurate and effective evaluation and early placement of players.
The evaluation should be preceded by making sure you have very detailed descriptions of the requirements of each position on your team so you know which skills you are looking for to make the best fits.
The Ultra in Unusual but Effective Evaluation Drills/Games
Here is a very interesting method one High School uses to evaluate it’s players, the Rabbit Catch. Bobby Bowden even thinks there may be merit in this unique assessment practice. Think about how closely this activity mirrors what successful football players do on the field on game days. Notice the 4 State Championship Rings on the Head High School Coaches hand.
For those of you that are using my system, doesn’t this look very similar to our Deer Hunter drill/game ? Evaluate your players well and you will not only be well ahead of your competition, but you will have much happier players and parents.