Suitable, simple metrics for assessing youth development

(pretty catchy title…)

A couple of weeks ago, Andrew Latham, Head Coach for Lower Island Soccer Association (LISA) put a very interesting story on his blog. You can read it here. It was based on his impression that the current format for U8 to U10 was not providing ‘average’ players with enough touches on the ball.

In an effort to confirm if this was true or not, he came up with the idea to count the number of touches per minute (TPM) of individual players. He wasn’t surprised that his instincts were right and the number of TPM’s was low but he was surprised at how low it was in the initial games he watched.

I thought, following on the bit I did on how too many girls teams seem to be coached to treat the ball as the enemy and launch it as far down the field as possible rather than to keep it, that this made a lot of sense so I got in touch with Andrew and we had a good talk about his TPM idea.

The hope now is that we can discuss it more, refine a statistical model to capture the right data and look at ways to increase the likelihood of the average U8 to U10 player getting more touches, and hence more involvement and enjoyment, out of the game.

Stay tuned (and suggestions are welcome) but in the meantime I’ll attach the Cal South (the southern California equivalent to BCSA) study that Andrew’s TPM idea evolved from. It’s a relatively simple study using video software to compare player involvement and enjoyment in 4v4 and 8v8 games. So not only did the software analyze what the players did but they were asked three questions at the end about their impressions of the two game formats. Incorporating player feedback is something I think is very important and I love the idea that Semiahmoo have to do exit surveys for players leaving the club (or soccer in general) to get a sense for why they are leaving and what they can do to reduce attrition.

I’ll attach the summary of the project and a short PowerPoint that goes through what the stats collected for each player looked like.

Cal South Pilot Study

Cal South 4v4 Study

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14 Responses to Suitable, simple metrics for assessing youth development

  1. K says:

    Ideally this would look at adaptation of the u12 game, at least at the “top” level of u12 – as well. By the u12 age the boys have figured out the offside line to such an extent as they realize the game “isn’t like it is on TV” and they also realize there can be significant advantage to “kicking it to the big kid.” These kids are smart!

    Ideally, certainly at u11 and u12, the game starts to look at grouping players based on size and/or age within each year. ie, grouping players born Jan-June, and July-Dec separately with the exception of those late-borns that are physically developed.

    That would significantly increase touches – many teams have players nearly as tall as adults at age 11 while also having players barely over 4 ft tall….

    Maybe a pre-season fitness test should be required? One that measures speed etc….although we are looking at technical development as first and foremost those small technical players have little chance against a far more physically mature opponent – despite their best efforts.

  2. TM says:

    Interesting study but I can’t shake the feeling that people are over thinking this. It is kind of obvious that a comparison of a game on a smaller field with no fixed positions to one in a larger one with restrictions on where players can go would result in more touches by the players and, given their age, enjoyment by the little gals. Simple math shows that in the big field each player had to “cover” 250 sq yd compared to 109 sq.yd. in the small game. Combine that with players moving freely all over the field in the small sided game and you get what the study showed.

    Now, the question to be answered is if that approach results in increasing player participation and retention and how it impacts player development. Different countries have approached these questions from different angles and not always reached the same conclusions on what the best model should be (just have to look at your previous bit about that little boy’s team in Spain to get another perspective).

    In Brazil, we could have the same debate about the benefits of starting in Futsal. The fact is many kids do start in Futsal nowadays and as adults we more likely than not play 5-a-side than the full game. But there is nowhere a mandate to make that a recipe for player development. On the other hand one can safely argue that the chaotic model in Brazil only works because we’re monomaniac about football and have a big population, so that a huge number of potential players can go through a “natural selection” mechanism and we still have enough good players coming down in the other side.

    • Gregor says:

      Good points TM but I’m actually not looking at this so much from a player development point of view. Maybe I should have made it more clear but this is more about finding a format of play that works for the ‘average’ players so that we allow them to develop in an environment that makes them want to keep playing. For me it’s more about looking into the reasons why kids stop playing at younger ages and reducing that attrition.

      One way, I think, to reduce attrition is to work towards game formats that allow all players to feel like they are contributing to their team’s efforts. Another is to form teams to create a level playing field within leagues (ie. parity) so that you mitigate blowouts.

      What we have done at VUFC is to ‘soft tier’ U9-U10 boys leagues (there’s logistical reasons why we haven’t done it with the girls yet but we’re working towards it). Teams have ~20 players and play two 7v7 games side by side on 50×36 yard fields. One field is designated the “Challenge” field for stronger players and the other is the “Development” field. Coaches can move players between the fields as much as they want. They can set squads in advance and not make any changes or they can, as I do, have some players change at half time. Almost all players should experience both fields at least once or twice but generally as the season goes on players are playing on one of the two fields more and more. The way the game is today with some players focusing on the sport at a very young age and getting extra training as much as possible, it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect new players and players who only have a modicum of ability and motivation to play on the same field with and against the better, motivated players.

      Our format provides two game environments so that a higher percentage of the players have their needs met in terms of being able to participate and contribute to their teams efforts. Players who have never been able to control the ball, beat an opponent 1v1, stop an opponent or score a goal have a bit more time and space on the Devlopment field to hone these abilities while those on the Challenge field are also suitably challenged. It’s the fourth year we’ve run it and every year we have more and more buy in from coaches and parents as word gets out that the kids respond well to it.

      I’m convinced, and hope to measure it using Andrew’s TPM model, that newer, less experienced players get more involved in the games under our format than if they were compelled to play against more experienced, faster players. I think and hope it results in more players continuing on through divisional age groups.

      • Gregor says:

        I’ll add one more thing. I’m wary of advocating that all practices should incorporate at least x number of touches per player. Some practices should be like that but I really favour quality and variety of touches over pure quantity. If you’re working on passing and moving with medium length passes, you’re just not going to get the same quantity of touches as a session based on moving with the ball and 1v1 attacking. There also needs to be just as much attention paid to support off the ball as the touch on the ball in some sessions. That goes for all levels of play starting around U8/U9 in my mind.

      • RR says:

        Having a child who experienced this format, (U9) I can attest to the fact that it works — on gameday.

        The problems come to the fore during practices, where the drills / technique delivery is geared to the lowest common denominator, or very close to that end of the spectrum. The most able players find themselves “practicing” elements that they’ve already demonstrated a high degree of proficiency in, and as a result find the practices “boring”. Fifteen minutes spent practicing passing with the instep to a player 6 feet away is beneficial — if you can’t already do that. But it’s a near waste for a player who can do so every time in their sleep.

        Practices should be structured in such a way that every player can be challenged, engaged, and benefit from. Definitely not easy to achieve, with 20 kids and just two coaches. I can appreciate that out of necessity there’s a balancing act going on, and those more able have other options such as WSPD, Tulis, and TSS. I just wonder if more can’t be done during “team” practices.

      • Gregor says:

        Yeah, the difficulties do arise at training with the large team format. We’ve done a lot to try to equip coaches with ideas on how to manage teams of 20+ and teams were supposed to have at least four coaches but I’ll admit that theory is not always reality. I coach my son’s U10 team under this format now and I don’t find I have any problems at training but I shouldn’t given this is what I do. I have three very capable and reliable asst coaches who help facilitate quick transitions and a high level of activity (key to a smooth running practice that has twenty 9 year old boys in attendance) and I create groups or stations that pool players of a similar ability to they are suitably challenged. I think these are the keys and if you can manage that then the training runs well.

        The reality though is that the quality of a training session is not really a function of the number of players in attendance or the range in ability present. Effective coaches can tailor training to mitigate these factors and you’re just as likely to have an ineffective training sessions with ten players who are similar in ability if the coach is not prepared and capable.

        If all our volunteer coaches, who I have tremendous respect for, all had a long background in the game as a player and coach, I wouldn’t have a job though. They step forward to coach teams and, in the process, enable kids to play. My job is to support them with advice, programs….and blogs.

  3. Soccer Extremist says:

    4v4 is really the basis of the game and allows you can incorporate many aspects of soccer into a 4v4 session. I am quick to launch criticisms at both the CSA and BCSA for their lack of insight into development, but in their defence the 4v4 concept is a key component of the coaching cirriculum. When I took the B-level course myself, I was kind of surprised and how easy it was to teach so many soccer tactics within the 4v4 framework.

    Metro-Ford now has incorporated 4v4 into their SPL and MSL training regiments, with 4v4 weekly academies. Player groups change from week to week, and the kids are not automatically grouped by their own team.

    In my own youth sessions (non-select) I have included 4v4 and other small sided dynamic games into the training repertoire and it’s had a measurable success.

    I agree with the idea that we, as coaches, and those above us, have made coaching far more complex than it needs to be. What we need to remember is the fundamental beauty of our game is that you only need a ball to play. Everything else is gravy. That is why developing and third-world countries are able to develop international players.

    Even something like “soccer tennis” which most coaches scoff at, I have found to be incredibly successful. Firstly, almost every kid enjoys it. Second, it usually guarantees considerable amount of touches all round. And finally, it can be tailored to focus on a number of different concepts: possession, passing, defending, support, etc. etc.

    Last week I watched a u12 select girls team train for 90 minutes. Half of it was without a ball. This is what is wrong with soccer. Speed, agility, fancy warm ups are all great tools. But we must remember that we’re developing footballers, not just athletes. — Soccer players are highly advanced subset of the athlete species. 😉

    Keep it simple. Let’em have fun. And above all else let them have the ball.

    • K says:

      Think that u12 select girls coach needs to have “some assessment” of their own…

      re: 4v4 – yep yer pts are great … the kids also love playing it!

    • Rich says:


      Not sure who is scoffing at soccer tennis. I receive a coaching publication from the LMA every month and have done for a couple of years now. The most common themed game that the top managers/coaches use is different forms of soccer tennis. My only advice would be to add undefended narrow passing channels into the middle zone. This stops the successful ‘hoof’ of the ball over to the other side and produces a measured pass.

      Totally agree with the 4v4 stuff. Danny J was telling me last year how much success they had with their program.

      • Colin Elmes says:

        Been running 4V4 and 5V5 at our place for 15 years……

      • Gregor says:

        If I’d had training sessions that were primarily 4v4’s and soccer tennis when I was a player, I’d have been in heaven. Great tools but like any great tool it still needs someone knowledgeable wielding it to get the most out of it.

    • Gregor says:

      On the soccer tennis thing…

      I bought one of these:

      And it’s been great. You can put it together in two minutes, plop it on artificial turf and play doubles soccer tennis. Didn’t but the exact same one pictured but got mine at a tennis store on Granville at 70th (forget the name) for about $120 and it’s lasted two years now.

  4. TM says:

    I see.

    My two cents (which by now have accumulated to probably a million bucks) on the matter is that we over-coach these kids in N. America, and as much as we may talk about development first policies we have to deal at all levels with the old discussion about how to address results-oriented parents and coaches. I like your set-up but I’d make a simple tweak to your schema, I’d also get rid of the fixed team idea all the way to U11/U12. In my scenario kids would be assigned a coach for the day (or week if you factor in practices) and be told every week where and to whom to report and play. That way we can rotate all players in the club through the available coaches (allowing them to experience and learn from many different “teachers” of the game, some obviously better than others), there is no talk anymore of standings or how the team did last week but the focus shifts to how the kid did, did (s)he have a good game, scored a goal, etc… One may argue that you “lose” the team building part of it but not only there is plenty of time for the children to experience that after U13 (when they would begin competitive soccer) but also there is plenty of evidence that younger aged players should be focusing in the development of their own skills not in team play.

    BTW, I kinda think practices are redundant at the young ages and I’d have only games (no drills) happening all the way to U10, with the “coach” there only to monitor the play and intervening only to ensure that all kids are involved in the game and have the opportunity to touch the ball a lot. But let the kids learn by doing it and leave the “teaching” for later (beginning at U11/U12) when they have already acquired a liking for the game and familiarity with it. That’s how the game developed in South America and Europe and, you know what, it seems to have worked OK there….

    • K says:

      TM – your theory of moving players around at u11/12 is already in place. And the possible concerns you noted are exactly the ones that were put forward. The practice was not adapted by the club to suit the complaints – thank goodness. I am thrilled with how the development of the players has gone – and the parents don’t seem bothered with wins/losses at u12 as they did at u11 – so they are apparently learning right along with the players. It’s great!

      I am all for rotation, squad and teams, practices etc at the younger ages.

      Player retention is a huge issue of course….I think in an age when kids of 15 sports they can play in, school, other extracurriculars, friends, and video games player retention will continue to be a huge issue. It’s the nature of the beast in a country such as Canada – wealth.

      I agree – start the “competitive” soccer at u13 and stop keeping scores at u12 and down completely. No cups etc. The players are plenty competitive from game-to-game but by the next practice they really couldn’t care less and usually half of them have the score wrong anyway!

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