Kids First Soccer

Soccer Skills Instruction and Assessment
A crucial aspect of goal-setting is the appraisal of initial skills and abilities. Armed with the knowledge of her/his players' baseline soccer motor skills, the coach's task of setting short, intermediate, and long-term motor skills and fitness goals is greatly facilitated. Still, to be able to evaluate a player's performance, suitable skills tests must be selected and then must be properly administered.

The purpose of this page is to provide parent coaches with phase and age appropriate skills tests. The criteria used in the selection of the specific motor skills to be evaluated are based on (1) the range and scope of skills that may be expected of a child at any given phase, (2) the relevance of the skill tested to game conditions at the tested phase (content validity--does the test measure whatever it is intended to measure?), and the ease of administration and accuracy of test results (reliability--repeatability: do the same testing procedures produce the same results?).

Data I collected over several years with beginner, intermediate, and advanced college students enrolled in general education soccer classes, revealed strong relationships among a number of individual skills tests and game conditions performance. Juggling, dribbling, and shuttle run tests produced r = .78 or stronger inter-test correlations. Dribbling ability was the one best predictor of overall class performance (r = .87). A correlation coefficient of .87 represents an r square score of .7569 for the tested sample. Simply put, this means that 75+% of the overall student performance in my soccer class' skills component could be explained by dribbling ability alone.

What the above data suggest, is that it may be possible to test kids on two or three skills to determine their game conditions rank in any given soccer league. The data also suggest that skills test batteries that involve more than three game strategies (e.g., dribbling, heading, suttle run, passing, etc.), more often than not, constitute a wasteful duplication. Consider your answer to the following question: How many cups or bowls of vegetable soup one needs to consume to be able to say whether he/she liked it or not?

AYSO's Region 71 "Player Rating Worksheet" (New 11/12/96) attachment IV includes player evaluations in three game related domains:
  • Natural Ability: Speed/Stamina, Reaction/Ability, and Strength/Coordination
  • Individual Soccer Skills: Dribbling, Throw-ins, Passing/Accuracy, Tackling/Defense, Trapping/Control, and Heading
  • Team Play: Field Sense/Position, Attitude/Coachability, Desire/Hustle
My observation of numerous little league games (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that often the kids that are the best dribblers also are hustlers, have better than average sense of positioning, are skilled defenders, and even can serve as effective goalies. Kicking ability of young skilled dribblers, on the other hand, is often a function of their size and strength. I therefore posit that same age group, young player ratings for league purposes, be based on dribbling ability by size (height & weight), and a 40 yard dash test.

The use of an extensive list of abilities for player ratings, while well meaning, is based on the naive assumption that it will accurately predict game conditions player effectiveness. In reality, it infrequently results, in gross errors of over- or under-estimation in individual player rankings. Thus, systems that use more extensive testing procedures than others, are not necessarily better. Also, rankings generated from ability testing procedures should be reevaluated and readjusted based on player performance observations under game conditions .

While AYSO's Region 71 "Player Rating Worksheet" may constitute an overkill as a player rating system, it is a superb system of individual player progress data recording. The three domains covered in the AYSO's Region 71 "Player Rating Worksheet" provide a more accurate intra-, as opposed to an inter-player performance evaluation. In plain English, the rating worksheet provides more valid information on individual progress (when repeatedly administered over time) than it acts as a valid "player rank generator."

Informal Phase I (GRADES: 5 - 6; Ages: K - 1)




Go to test Objective

Use of inside, full instep, and outside of the foot; start and stop; change rhythm and direction (note that the use of the sole of the foot and both feet for dribbling was purposefully left out at this phase) position of balancing foot; contact with ball; possession of ball; peripheral vision, speed/agility to ball control ratio


Go to Wall Test
Use of inside of the foot ground balls with variations in distance (force) and direction position of balancing foot; contact with ball and control of ball; peripheral vision; follow through; speed and accuracy of ball redistribution

Go to punting Test
Use of full instep with variations in direction (left, center, and right wings). planting of balancing foot; contact with ball and control of ball; follow through; distance and accuracy of punt

40 Yard

Sprinting test
Develop an effortless, smooth, and relaxed running style. Running style: knee lift, arm work, and leg extension; position of torso; running path


Dribbling sequence

The Balancing Foot's Role in Dribbling

The positioning and pointing direction of the balancing foot is most critical to dribbling (and juggling, trapping, passing, and shooting). Note that the difficulty in dribbling increases along with the requirment to change rhythm and direction at increasing speeds. Ball control is achieved by maintaining a delicate balance on one foot while manipulating the ball with the other.


Dribbling: Controlled Contact with Ball
To maintain good ball control in a limited amount of open space, the dribbling foot should push (have long contact with ball). When more space is available, the dribbler may kick/push the ball using force to coinside with her/his running speed. The dribbler's goal is to stay as close as is comfortable to the ball at all times. Dribbler may send ball to an open space given that he/she has a surprize, or a proximity to ball advantage over potential defenders (suggested learning cue to player: "push ball" meaning, use measured force when contacting ball).


Dribbling: Ball Protection

A proper positioning of the balancing foot may also serve as a protective barrier between the ball and a defender.


Dribbling: Spacial Awareness
Dribbling is the slowest and least energy effecient mode of ball manipulation in soccer. A simple pass to a teammate results in faster, more efficient, and often safer advancement of the ball toward the opposing team's goal. Why then should the coach emphasize dribbling skills if it represents an inferior game strategy? Dribbling is a game strategy that serves to improve one's options to pass or shoot. When the purpose of a dribbling run is not to create a better angle for a pass or shot, it should be used as a last resort rather than first choice game strategy. That is the reason spacial awareness is critical to effective dribbling. As soon as one starts dribbling (and sometimes even before) he/she should think about an "exit strategy." "What do I do next?" Soccer is a team sport after all. (suggested learning cue to player: "look up" meaning, scan the field and evaluate your options)

Trapping: Balancing Foot
Trapping animation The positioning and pointing direction of the balancing foot's toes is very important, especially at the beginner levels, to the development of proper trapping (and dribbling, juggling, passing, and shooting) skills. Ball control is achieved by maintaining a delicate balance on one foot while bringing the ball to a rest with the other foot.

Trapping: Eye Contact and Timing
Trapping image #2 Good timing is developed through persistent eye contact with ball, and proper positioning for ball's path interception. The skills level is evaluated here by answering the following questions: Is the player watching the ball until impact? Did the player adjust her/his position to intercept the ball while comfortably balanced on one foot? Did he/she raise head and checked the available spaces and passing options immediately following contact with ball?(suggested learning cue to player: "on my toes" meaning, don't stand flat on your feet, be ready to move in and intercept the ball)

Trapping: Ball Control and Protection
Trapping image #3 Proper positioning and timing result in ball control that allows immediate repositioning or redirection of ball. This is the real test of the most specific goal of trapping. Does the player seem to have a "magnet" to ball in her/his foot or the ball tends to deflect off the foot? Can the player trap the ball and keep possession? (suggested learning cue to player: "to myself, away from the opponent")

Trapping: Ball Redistribution
Trapping image #4 To be able to redirect the ball, the player needs first to have a controlled possesion of it. Effective trapping does not end with the control of the ball. Control has to be immediately followed by a number of game strategies. Thus, the evaluation of effective trapping needs also to address the the following questions: How soon does the player move with ball under her/his control? How soon, and with what level of accuracy does the player pass or shoot the ball? Does the player select a proper response (clear ball, or trap and redistribute) under match related or game conditions? (suggested learning cue: "hot potato" meaning, pass or move ball immediately)



Punting image #1

The Balancing Foot's Role in Punting

The pointing direction of toes, and the planting position of the balancing foot are critical to controlled cocking of the kicking foot and proper contact and follow-through. A proper toss that is "in sync" with the planting/cocking is also very important for effective and powerful punting. Take note of the the position of the player's arms in the above punting sequence.



Running differs from walking by including a flight and a recovery phase in addition to a recurring support phase. Another major difference is that, whereas in walking there is an overlapping of the stance phase, in running there is an overlapping of the swing phase (Adrian & Cooper, 1989).

Developmental Stage and Running Velocity

Available data on age and running speed suggests a fairly consistent positive relationship between a child’s developmental stage and her/his running velocity (Fountain, Ulrich, Haubenstricker, & Seefeldt, 1981). Girls' running speed peaks approximately at the age of 14 to 15, while boys' running speed continues to improve well over 17 years of age. When boys' and girls' running speed is examined in relation to developmental stage, a somewhat weaker relationship is observed. Developmental stage explains only 19 percent of the variance in running velocity in boys and 29 percent in girls (Seefeldt, Reuschlein, & Vogel, 1972).

Running Mechanics

As the running style matures is takes progressively less time for children to complete a 30-yard dash. While running efficiency improves naturally with age, a thorough understanding and mastery of running mechanics is needed to minimize energy waste.

Baeta and McKenzie (1989, pp. 95-96) stress the importance of the following attributes for efficient running mechanics:

  • 1. The trunk angle, except during acceleration, is nearly perpendicular in sprinters, middle distance, and long distance runners. As a general rule, the athlete must run tall, with the hips forward.
  • 2. The foot should touch down directly under the torso. As the speed of the runner increases the contact with the ground moves forward from the heel to the ball of the foot. During fast running the contact time of the foot is about one hundredth of that of walking (1.0 vs. 0.01 sec). While the up and down shift of the center of gravity is greater in running, the impact against the ground is similar to walking, about double the body weight.
  • 3. The legs move through drive, recovery, and support phases. The force of the movement is related to the speed of the runner. Distance runners use less knee lift and recovery-leg kick than sprinters. Some runners use little knee lift, instead keeping the foot close to the ground at all phases of the stride, using a shuffling motion. This is seen primarily in the longest races, such as the 10 km and the marathon. The stride length increases in direct relationship with the running speed. In experienced sprinters, initial speed increments are a result of increased stride length (SL). Once an optimal stride length has been achieved, additional speed may be achieved by increase in stride frequency (SF). Thus, running speed may be expressed as SL * SF. Overstriding, however, may create an excessive braking force and a decrease in stride frequency.
  • 4. The arms are used to counterbalance the off-center thrust of the legs and to transfer momentum, as in accelerating or running up a hill. As in walking, the arms move in opposition to the legs and are carried at about a 90-degree angle, swinging freely from the shoulders. The arms should not cross the midline of the body. The aggressiveness of arm movement is directly related to speed. The hands are cupped or curled comfortably, palms facing inward toward the middle of the body.
  • 5. The position of the head should be relatively leveled. The runner should look about 20 m to 30 m ahead. Some runners look just below the horizon as they are running. The base of the neck and shoulders should be also relaxed.

Sprinting Ability Analysis1

Name: _____________________ Age _______ Grade _____ M / F

Date Fly
_______ 30m ________ 30m ________ 60m ________
_______ 30m ________ 30m ________ 60m ________
_______ 30m ________ 30m ________ 60m ________
_______ 30m ________ 30m ________ 60m ________
_____ 10m _____ 20m _____ 30m
_____ 10m _____ 20m _____ 30m
_____ 10m _____ 20m _____ 30m
_____ 10m _____ 20m _____ 30m

Velocity should be established by repeatedly measuring 30m flys (allow a 20m acceleration run-up to the velocity zone). Then, check acceleration by a number of 30m starts. A difference of 1.9 sec. or larger indicates the need to work on acceleration. In the unlikely event of a difference that is smaller than one second (=1.0), velocity and/or anaerobic endurance work is needed (Vigars, 1979).

1. Based on Vigars, B. (1979, Summer). Sprinting analysis table. Track and Field Quarterly Review, 79 (2) p. 28, cited in Gambetta, 1989, p. 70.


  • Adrian, M. J., & Cooper, J. M. (1989). The biomechanics of human movement. Indianapolis, IN: Benchmark.
  • Fountain, C., Ulrich, B., Haubenstricker, J., & Seefeldt, V. (1981). Relationship of developmental stage and running velocity in children 2˝ to 5 years of age. Chicago: Paper presented at the Midwest District convention of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.
  • Gallahue, D. L. (1989). Understanding motor development: Infants, children, adolescents (2nd ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Benchmark.
  • Keogh, J., Sugden, D. (1985). Movement skill development. New York, NY: Macmillan.
  • Logsdon, B. J., Barrett, K. R., Ammons, M., Broer, M. R., Halverson, L. E., McGee, R., & Robertson, M. A. (1984). Physical education for children: A focus on the teaching process (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Febiger.
  • Nieman, D. C. (1990). Fitness and sports medicine: An introduction. Palo Alto, CA: Bull.
  • Payne, V. G., & Isaacs, L. (1991). Human motor development: A lifespan approach (2nd ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.
  • Seefeldt, V., & Haubenstricker, J. (1982). Patterns, phases, or stages: An analytical model for the study of developmental movement. In J. A. S. Kelso & J. E. Clark (Eds.), The development of movement control and co-ordination. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Seefeldt, V., Reuschlein, P., & Vogel, P. (1972). Sequencing motor skills within the physical education curriculum. Houston: Paper presented at the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation.
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Last Modified: May 18, 2016