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A Parent’s Guide to Analyzing A Youth Soccer Game

Youth sports are meant to be fun and entertaining; to serve as a foundation for teamwork and managing challenging environments in later years.

Unfortunately, the desire to win at all costs and the agony resulting from defeat takes away from the joy of youth sports – both for parents and children.

Everyone likes a winner, but which would you rather your child to be: a minor contributor on a winning team or a catalyst on a mediocre team? As soccer parents, it is not our responsibility to analyze game results or figure out how to improve the team. Rather, we must focus on ways to help our own children have fun and improve their technical skills so that they can achieve greater success in later years.

So how do we go about turning a poor team result into a winning learning opportunity for our child, even if we know little about the sport?

In the early years (U4-U6), emphasis should be placed on technical development, specifically on dribbling as these young players have limited to no grasp of the tactical aspects of passing or team play. This is a great age to introduce dribbling moves such as step-overs, scissors, lunge, etc.

Parents will become frustrated and waste their voices if they scream for players to spread out and pass at this age. Instead, during games and practices players should be encouraged to dribble, be creative, and try different moves; look to see if they are able to keep the ball close to their feet, change direction, and dribble towards open space. If your child is able to dribble and easily change direction in a competitive environment, every game can be considered a success.

In order to perform an objective analysis of your child’s performance, it is important to understand the difference between technical abilities and tactical understanding. Technical ability refers to the soccer skills used by individual players such as dribbling, passing, receiving, shooting, heading, tackling, and juggling. Knowing where to be on the field based on game conditions requires tactical comprehension.

Between the ages of U8-U12, players begin to understand that soccer is a team sport and actually more enjoyable when the ball is shared with their teammates. Passing and receiving skills become much more important, but along with that comes the tactical concepts of spacing and movement.

During games, as a parent continue to observe dribbling moves, but take note of your child’s decisions with and without the ball. Count passes that are successfully completed; the number of times they received the ball from one direction and dribbled it or passed it in a different direction; how often they were able to control the ball close to their feet or bring the ball out of the air with limited to no bounces. In addition, keep an eye on their movements to create space and good passing angles for their teammates as opposed to standing behind defenders.

Another thing to look for is where your child’s vision is focused. Is it constantly following the ball, or is their head in continuous motion making them aware of their surroundings? Capturing as much of this information as possible will be the best indicator of progress and development, regardless of the final score.

Everything you need to help your child be inspired by the game!

The same type of analysis can be performed for older players, U13 and above, such that every game serves as a learning experience. So, the next time your child is at a game or even at practice, grab a pen and pad, find a comfortable spot on the sidelines, and keep track of:

Evaluating Players Aged U4-12

  • How many times were they able to stop the ball and turn away from pressure?
  • Which dribbling moves were attempted?
  • Did they look to dribble towards open space?
  • How many times was the weak foot used to either dribble or stop the ball?
  • How often did they change direction while dribbling?
  • Did they change speed after making a dribbling move?
  • How many passes were made? (for U10-U12)

Evaluating Players Aged U13+

  • How many successful passes were made?
  • How many good “first touches” were made? A good first touch is away from pressure and allows the team to keep possession of the ball.
  • How often was the ball played in the direction the player was facing?
  • How many tackles were won?
  • How many times was the weak foot used?
  • How many shots were taken?
  • How often was the ball played in a different direction than it was received?

When we start to focus on the performance instead of the results, it reminds us that our child does not have to be on the best team in order to develop into a good player.

Implementing this approach when watching your child play encourages you to focus on their performance instead of the results. If your child is open to feedback, the information you gain from your observations could help them reach their potential, regardless of their playing level; whether recreational or competitive.

Most importantly, it proves to your child that you’ve paid close attention to THEM; which is priceless in their eyes.

  • Coach Forero was my son’s coach when he was around 9 or 10 years old. He always created an instructive and creative enviroment for the team. His passing has always been a strength and has applied these principles that served him well all throughout his years of playing all the way through college.

    He was very fortunate to have Coach Forero as his coach. He cried when it was time to rotate to a new coach.

    Lou represents all the good that soccer has to offer a child.

  • Although you have good intentions, it’s information such as this which really confuses people. During the early stages of development (5-13), parents SHOULD NOT be analyzing youngsters’ performance levels. Period. Too much of this type of information is always geared towards ‘elite’ development – but what about inspiring kids to maintain a passion? That should be the first objective. When parents start analyzing how many passes a child makes, how many times they looked over their shoulder etc., etc., then kids invariably become dejected and demotivated. Instead of the sport being the outlet for enjoyment, creativity, autonomy, independence, and freedom, it gets ‘hijacked’ by the over-analytical adult who is eager to see ‘performance improvements’ week after week. Enough! Let the kids play without constant intervention or scrutiny; we might find more kids stay in the sport instead of dropping out.

    • Hi Paul! Thanks for your comment. Yes, of course the foundation of everything is fun and enjoyment and, as you put it, passion! I think you are missing a bit of the point of the article. It’s certainly not about talking to your child about any of these things you could observe…it’s simply to give parents with no background in the game a deeper understanding of what they could be evaluating – instead of gauging success simply by the scoreline.

      • I think the most important thing is how the kid feels after the game. For younger ages if the game ends and the kid comes off smiling and happy then a big hi-five and “good game” is all you need.

        However, even some younger kids will eventually start to notice if they’re always losing the ball and never getting a chance to contribute or score. You’ll see other kids on their team avoid passing them the ball. Even if the parent doesn’t say anything about the kids performance the player will eventually notice and some will start to internalize it and may begin to lose their love of the game.

        I think that’s where these other “success metrics” come in handy. If the kid is struggling and discouraged b/c they’re a weaker player you can still celebrate their small wins. If your child is upset b/c they never score but you can notice when they win a tackle, shield the ball, use their weak foot, make a run into space, try a move, take a shot and miss, etc – then you can praise them for those things at the end of the game.

        Kids are pretty observant. If they don’t do well and come off the field to a parent saying “you did awesome” they’ll know the praise isn’t 100% authentic. On the other hand, they could play pretty poorly overall but if they hear you praising one or two specific things they know they did well then you should get a smile out of them.

        Even better, they’ll probably remember you praised them for that success and will try hard to do it again the next practice or game so their brain will be focused on doing that one thing well – which should improve their chances of feeling successful.

        Honestly I think the earlier we start praising players for specific things the better it is for their development. For example, if they’re itty bitty and playing 3v3 its probably pretty easy to score a goal. However, if you only praise them when they score a goal then they’ll think that what really matters is how many goals you get.

        As they get older, it gets more difficult to score and they judge themselves harder b/c they’re scoring less often. If instead you praise them for specific, small developmental actions when they’re little they’ll associate success with those things. They can continue with those as they get older and can finish the game feeling like they contributed even if they don’t score a goal.

        I’ve seen young kids who can play great but judge their success solely on whether they get a goal. So they can have a fantastic game and their team is successful but they come off the field upset they didn’t score. In my opinion, if we put the focus on the small developmental success rather than scoring we should have fewer cases of that.

        So to Paul’s point. Rather than think of it as analyzing their performance, instead think of it as a list of things you can praise them for trying.

        My daughter plays soccer and also does dance. I can praise her plenty when she comes off the soccer field because I know the game. However, after a dance recital all I know to say is “you did great”. If she was disappointed in her dance performance, I could certainly use a “praise checklist” for dance dads to help me point out some of the things that she did well. I see this as something similar for soccer parents that don’t really know the game but want to encourage their little players.

    • Hi Paul, I can understand your concern with adults giving feedback to children and how it might be delivered. After 50 some years of coaching and teaching children and adults, I am quite certain it is an essential piece in the growth of all of us. Children love feedback when it is delivered with love and positive specific intention. IT IS, How IT IS Delivered! Key words were used in his closing lines which I re typed below.

      Implementing this approach when watching your child play encourages you to focus on their performance instead of the results.

      If your child is open to feedback, the information you gain from your observations could help them reach their potential, regardless of their playing level; whether recreational or competitive.

      Most importantly, it proves to your child that you’ve paid close attention to THEM; which is priceless in their eyes.
      Implementing this approach when watching your child play encourages you to focus on their performance instead of the results. If your child is open to feedback, the information you gain from your observations could help them reach their potential, regardless of their playing level; whether recreational or competitive.

      Most importantly, it proves to your child that you’ve paid close attention to THEM; which is priceless in their eyes.

      It is probably delivered effectively by coach Forero by the comments of Mr. Adams when he said his son cried when having to go to another coach. Unfortunately ,we don’t spend enough time teaching communication skills to coaches or parents. It is not feedback or measurement that is the problem …. it is in the delivery!

  • The major problem as I see it is the lack of free play and the ‘desire’ to win a game by any means necessary (always punting, throwing it right down the line, dump and chase, etc.).

    Why not eliminate league play and offer ‘development’ games where both coaches can experiment with different formations and different lineups throughout the course of a game. Yes, the kids keep track of the score, but if it means very little as to actual standings, it creates an atmosphere where players are not afraid to make mistakes and can attempt to try more moves/passes/ideas. During the season, have tournaments when you can play to ‘win’. This could be structured for each age group.

    Training to games ratio should be 2:1 to 3:1.
    Maybe development games versus play to win games should be 2:1 to 3:1.
    20 development games. 3 tournaments is roughly 9-10 play to win games.
    Adjust accordingly.

  • I like the idea, but for an entirely different reason. Having the parents keep track of all the little details will help them see the improvements in their child’s game, and also help them see that there is so much more than scoring goals to a soccer game. Perhaps most of all, it will keep them occupied.

    After that, parents should take the list, and promptly throw it away. Removing the pressure to score, by replacing it with pressure to “whatever”, is a zero sum game, and does not really benefit the child. Kids know if they are getting better or worse, they know if they are the worst on the team or the best, and they do not need you to tell them that.

    The only thing you need to tell them after the game is how much you enjoyed watching them, and where you are going to get ice cream.

  • As an Assistant Coach Tutor at the Caribbean Football Union level, I’m happy to see that the Coach attempted to put in place a guideline for his parents to give “feedback” to the children. Its important because at the end of the day a parent is the first teacher. The topic is about development based coaching and coach focused development. People in general and more so children ’emote” before they think………as a result a parent should be more interested in building the esteem of the child before analyzing the pros and cons of the child’s play. how a child plays at 5-8, 9-13 and even 13-17 does not necessary indicate whether that child would be a success or not at the sport-people ‘fire’ at different ages and stages. What however would determine if the child stick to it is the emotive support mechanisms that enable the child to “not be afraid of making mistakes’ sport development while being focused must never rob a child of being motivated to try and try again, other children not passing the ball as was mentioned is based on so many dynamics that it shouldn’t be evaluated- that my friends is a problem for the coach. Ever child must be however “en-tooled’ with the fundamentals to make the game FUN and as a coach there’s no greater joy than seeing a chi,d get it right and “self acknowledging” that they got it right….even as adults we self congratulate albeit quite quickly when we take a ball immaculately or deliver a sweet decisive pass……let’s let them enjoy it, in learning and playing…….a simple…..”how do you feel? ” hey buddy I saw you tried something there…what did you mean to do, looked interesting?’ “telll me what do you think when a ball is coming to you on the ground, or in the air?’ can do lots more than numbered analysis……it would mean we engage them and keep them engaged. Its what we want for the sport let them enjoy it all. Again I say kudos to the coach for his approach and I hope some of the parents would join him in his developmental coaching staff and provide the stats he identified so that he could better be able to see their children develop as great footballers and people. God bless.

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  • This information is great if you have a good organization that is focused on player and team development. However, if you have child on a team that has a different coach for every game then this information is practically useless. There is no development. There is no chemistry. There is basically chaos and frustration being paid for at a high cost not only in money but in the self- confidence of your child. Some so-called travel teams are the soccer equivalent of a puppy-mill where your daughter or son is basically a source of revenue and nothing else. So in addition to this article I would like to see you write another article that details what you should be getting from a travel organization and what to watch out for in case you are not because as useful as the article could be it can also be used to blow smoke upon unwitting parents who know very little about soccer.

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    Luis Forero

    Luis Forero is a USSF C-License coach with over 30 years of coaching experience at all levels of youth soccer. He is currently an AFC Lightning Academy Coach in Fayetteville, GA; a Georgia Soccer coaching instructor, an Olympic Development Program evaluator, and a USSF certified referee.