As a youth soccer coach for many years I have struggled to evaluate my own players and have seen how my soccer league evaluates players to place them on teams. As a professional learning-and-performance consultant who has focused extensively on measurement and evaluation, I think we can all do better, me included. To this end, I have spent the last two years creating a series of evaluation tools for use by coaches and youth soccer leagues. I’m sure these forms are not perfect, but I’m absolutely positive that they will be a huge improvement over the typical forms utilized by most youth soccer organizations. I have developed the forms so that they can be modified and they are made available for free to anyone who coaches youth soccer.
At the bottom of this post, I'll include a list of the most common mistakes that are made in youth-soccer evaluation. For my regular blog readers--those who come to me for research-based recommendations on workplace learning-and-performance--you'll see relevance to your own work in this list of evaluation mistakes.
I have developed four separate forms for evaluation. That may seem like a lot until you see how they will help you as a coach (and as a soccer league) meet varied goals you have. I will provide each form as a PDF (so you can see what the form is supposed to look like regardless of your computer configuration) and as a Word Document (so you can make changes if you like).
I've also provided a short set of instructions.
1. Player Ranking Form: This form evaluates players on 26 soccer competencies and 4 player-comparison items, giving each player a numerical score based on these items AND an overall rating. This form is intended to provide leagues with ranking information so that they can better place players on teams for the upcoming season.
2. Player Development Form: This form evaluates players on the 26 soccer competencies. This form is intended for use by coaches to help support their players in development. Indeed, this form can be shared with players and parents to help players focus on their development needs.
3. Team Evaluation Form: This form helps coaches use practices and games to evaluate their players on the 26 key competencies. Specifically, it enables them to use one two-page form to evaluate every player on their team.
4. Field Evaluation Form: This form enables skilled evaluators to judge the performance of players during small-group scrimmages. Like the Player Ranking Form, it provides player-comparison information to leagues (or to soccer clubs).
The Most Common Mistakes in Youth-Soccer Evaluation
- When skills evaluated are not clear to evaluators. So for example, having players rated on their “agility” will not provide good data because “agility” will likely mean different things to different people.
- When skills are evaluated along too many dimensions. So for example, evaluating a player on their “ball-handling skills, speed, and stamina” covers too many dimensions at once—a player could have excellent ball-handling skills but have terrible stamina.
- When the rating scales that evaluators are asked to use make it hard to select between different levels of competence. So for example, while “ball-handling” might reasonably be evaluated, it may be hard for an evaluator to determine whether a player is excellent, very good, average, fair, or poor in ball-handling. Generally, it is better to have clear criteria and ask whether or not a player meets those criteria. Four or Five-Point scales are not recommended.
- When evaluators can’t assess skills because of the speed of action, the large number of players involved, or the difficulty of noticing the skills targeted. For example, evaluations of scrimmages that involve more than four players on a side make it extremely difficult for the evaluators to notice the contributions of each player.
- When bias affects evaluators’ judgments. Because the human mind is always working subconsciously, biases can be easily introduced. So for example, it is bad practice to give evaluators the coaches’ ratings of players before those players take part in a scrimmage-based evaluation.
- When bias leads to a generalized positive or negative evaluation. Because evaluation is difficult and is largely a subconscious process, a first impression can skew an evaluation away from what is valid. For example, when a player is seen as getting outplayed in the first few minutes of a scrimmage, his/her later excellent play may be ignored or downplayed. Similarly, when a player is intimidated early in the season, a coach may not fully notice his/her gritty determination later in the year.
- When bias comes from too few observations. Because evaluation is an inexact process, evaluation results are likely to be more valid if the evaluation utilizes (a) more observations (b) by more evaluators (c) focusing on more varied soccer situations. Coaches who see their players over time and in many soccer situations are less likely to suffer from bias, although they too have to watch out that their first impressions don’t cloud their judgments. And of course, it is helpful to get assessments beyond one or two coaches.
- When players are either paired with, or are playing against, players who are unrepresentative of realistic competition. For example, players who are paired against really weak players may look strong in comparison. Players who are paired as teammates with really good players may look strong because of their teammates’ strong play. Finally, players who only have experience playing weaker players may not play well when being evaluated against stronger players even though they might be expected to improve by moving up and gaining experience with those same players.
- When the wrong things are evaluated. Obviously, it’s critical to evaluate the right soccer skills. So for example, evaluating a player on how well he/she can pass to a stationary player is not as valid as seeing whether good passes are made in realistic game-like situations when players are moving around. The more game-like the situations, the better the evaluation.
- When evaluations are done by remembering, not observing. Many coaches fill out their evaluation forms back home late at night instead of evaluating their players while observing them. The problem with this memory-based approach is that introduces huge biases into the process. First, memory is not perfect, so evaluators may not remember correctly. Second, memory is selective. We remember some things and forget others. Players must be evaluated primarily through observation, not memory.
- Encouraging players to compare themselves to others. As coaches, one of our main goals is to help our players learn to develop their skills as players, as teammates, as people, and as thinkers. Unfortunately, when players focus on how well they are doing in comparison to others, they are less likely to focus on their own skill development. It is generally a mistake to use evaluations to encourage players to compare themselves to others. While players may be inclined to compare themselves to others, coaches can limit the negative effects of this by having each player focus on their own key competencies to improve.
- Encouraging players to focus on how good they are overall, instead of having them focus on what they are good at and what they still have to work on. For our players to get better, they have to put effort into getting better. If they believe their skills are fixed and not easily changed, they will have no motivation to put any effort into their own improvement. Evaluations should be designed NOT to put kids in categories (except when absolutely necessary for team assignments and the like), but rather to show them what they need to work on to get better. As coaches, we should teach the importance of giving effort to deliberate practice, encouraging our players to refine and speed their best skills and improve on their weakest skills.
- Encouraging players to focus on too many improvements at once. To help our players (a) avoid frustration, (b) avoid thinking of themselves as poor players, and (c) avoid overwhelming their ability to focus, we ought to have them only focus on a few major self-improvement goals at one time.