How to Assess Soccer Players (Part 2)

By Tom Turner

The suggested games for observing players under the age of ten are 2v2, 2v2+1, 3v3, 3v3+1, 4v4, and 5v5.  While 5v5 is the best option to assess 9 and 10 year-olds, younger or very inexperienced children might find these numbers too complicated. For players older than ten, games of 8v8 and 11v11 should be used to complement games of 5v5. The smaller-sided games can be played to a line (dribble over the line in control to score), to a target player on the end line (pass to the target player to score / use the other team’s target  as a support player), or  to a goal (with or without goalkeepers). Eight ver sus eight and  11v11 should always be played to goals and with goalkeepers. The field sizes will vary,  but generally 2v2 is played on a field of 15×25 yards, 3v3 on a field of 20×30 yards, 4v4  on a field of 25×40 yards, and 5v5 on a field of 30×40 yar ds. The 8v8 field is 50×70  yards.

Here are the criteria used for evaluation:
Because players under t he age of 10 have not  developed a sense of group tactics, the following criteria deal with individual technical and tactical issues.
1. Does the player understand which goal to attack and which to def end? Have they established a sense of soccer DIRECTION?
2. Does the player try to CONTROL THE BALL when it comes to them, or do they look to kick it away?
3. Is the player COMFORTABLE WHEN DRIBBLING the ball? Does the player tr y to keep the ball close to their body?
4. Does the player try to use a VARIETY OF SURFACES when turning and running with the ball?
5. Is the player TWO FOOTED?
6. Does the player ATTACK OPEN SPACE when they have time and space to dribble the ball forward?
7. Does the player recognize when to DRIBBLE AWAY FROM PRESSURE? Does the player have the spatial awareness to perceive pressure and move into an open space with the ball?
8. Given time and space, does the player  have the technical skills TO BEAT AN OPPONENT and maintain possession?
9. Does the player MOVE INTO OPEN SPACES to receive passes? Does the player stand behind other players or  do they perceive open space and move away from the crowd?
10. Does the player naturally MOVE WITH THE GAME, or do they kick the ball and stand still?
11. Does the player SCORE GOALS? Does the player natur ally look to score goals and do they have the vision and technique to score by design?
12. Does the player try to RECOVER THE BALL when the other team has possession?

In addition to the elements used to assess players under the age of ten, the following criteria should also be used to assess players older than ten.
1. Does the player understand how to SPREAD OUT? Where should the player move to give the team a playing shape and create space between the defenders?
2. Does the team have player s on either side of the field and in the front and in the back?
3. Does the player understand how to CREATE SPACE TO RECEIVE A PASS?
4. Does the player move to help the passer make a connection? This may involve losing a defender to create space or  simply demonstrating an awareness of  possible passing lanes.
5. Does the player understand when to CREATE SPACE AT THE RIGHT MOMENT to receive a pass? Does the player’s movement help the passer? Do they run into space bef ore the ball can be played, or  do they run into space too late and the passing lane disappears?
6. Does the player understand when to SUPPORT A TEAMMATE AND WHEN TO STRETCH THE OTHER TEAM? Does the player understand when it is time to take a defender away from the area of the ball because other teammates are in better supporting positions? Does the player understand when to receive passes to feet in f ront of their defender and when to receive passes into space behind their defender? Does the player’s choice of suppor ting positions allow the team to maintain possession?
7. Is the player MOBILE within the game? Does the player cover a lot of ground in a purposef ul way? Does the player only move when the ball is close to them? Does the player move in anticipation of combining with teammates?
8. Does the player have a high TRANSITION WORK-RATE? Does the player expend much effort? In particular, does the player transition quickly fr om attack to defense and from defense to attack?
9. Does the player have VISION for the game? Does the player turn their head or open their body before they get the ball to help see teammates? Does the player look for teammates when in possession or does their poor skill level leave them fighting to control the ball? Is the player looking for opportunities to score goals or to quickly pass to teammates in more advanced positions?
10. SPEED OF PLAY and DECISION MAKING. Does the player  understand when it is time to possess the ball by playing forward, sideways or backward? Do they understand when it is time to pass, dribble or shoot? Do they read the position and movement of teammates and defenders and constantly adjust their own positions?
11. How many touches do they need to pass, control, dribble or shoot?  the seasons’ practices. Soccer has many, many elements that contribute to superior perf ormance and this interrelationship cannot be overlooked when assessing players’ ability.
12. INDI VIDUAL DEFENDING SKILLS. How well does the player defend against their immediate opponent?  Do they look to intercept passes? Do they understand how to close down their  opponent and remain balanced? Do they demonstrate controlled aggression when tackling for the ball? Do they deny their opponent space to tur n? Do they position themselves to channel their opponent away from dangerous areas? Do they position themselves to deny for war d passes when in the middle of the field? Do they understand how to use offside space?
13. GROUP DEFENDING SKILLS. Does the player help teammates to defend? Do they understand how to cover teammates? Do they understand how to defend passing lanes? Do they follow opponents running into dangerous supporting positions? Do they understand how to play within a zone?
14. PHYSICAL QUALITIES. Do they help the team because of individual qualities, such as speed and size, or because they have neat skills and a “feel’ for soccer ? In the long run, will their existing range of techniques help them become a competent soccer player, despite their current size? In the long run, will their physical qualities and athleticism compensate for  less-than-polished skills? Do they have the endurance to play soccer for extended periods without taking long rests or asking for a substitution? Are they agile and balanced, or cumbersome in their movements?
15. PSYCHOLOGICAL QUALITIES.  Ar e they competitive? Are they coachable? Are they focused and intrinsically motivated? Are they responsible? Are they a positive or negative influence on teammates? Do they view improvement or winning as more important? What ar e their goals for soccer and where do they want to be in 5 or 10 years? Do they pr actice their skills alone? Do they have other talents and interests in life?

Soccer is a game of decisions influenced by vision and technique. The most gifted technical player at the girls ODP regional camp in 1998 was quite stunning with the ball on the practice field. With her green soccer shoes and smooth technique, she was easy to identify; unfortunately, she was a non-entity during the games because she could not find her moments to get involved, she played too slowly, she was immobile, and she made very poor decisions. This, sadly, was an example of  someone who had apparently grown up juggling and practicing dribbling skills at the expense of learning to play the game.

Without question, she would have been the #1 ranked player at camp had the team been selected on skill tests. While technical players are obviously important at the higher levels, young players must learn to solve the problems of small-sided games as they develop their skill level, not afterwards. Learning to assess individuals on the basis of their performance in live games is an important step towards helping coaches recognize true soccer talent; an important step towards picking teams based on realistic soccer criteria; and an important step towards helping coaches develop an individual focus for theseasons’ practices. Soccer has many,many elements that contribute to superior performance and this interrelationship cannot be overlooked when assessing players’ abilities.

Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at



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