My Favorite Best Drills for Evaluating Youth Football Players Positions

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best drills for evaluating youth football players

This is Part 1 of my favorite best drills for evaluating youth football players for individual positions in American tackle football ages 6 to 12. I am sure many youth football coaches use other youth football drills, but these have served me well over 25 plus years as a tackle youth football coach.

Evaluating Youth Football Players / Talent

Evaluating talent is almost an art but can be learned as a skill over the years through many years of experience of coaching football. Some coaches have a knack for it. Coaches that have bought into systems and schemes also have general ideas in what they are looking for in players so what one coach thinks is a starting RB might be a Wide Receiver to another coach. This happens more than you think. This is why so many high school players transfer to other programs.   

For many youth coaches, players will be assigned to your youth football team so a full-blown travel team / select evaluation process will not be as important. But I think these coaches should still go through an eval process to determine positions and starters for their team. 

Evaluating Players in General

Registration Information

When starting the youth player evaluation process, it is good to start reviewing height, weight, age, experience, and any other details you can gather from the registration process.  Many youth football leagues will have weight restrictions on ball carriers and positions, so this may help you determine a quick separation of talent from Ball Carriers to Linemen.

Age is a huge indicator for maturity. I have found older players, even within an age group, are more mature. So, if you have a weight and age restricted age group maybe with 8, 9 and maybe small 10-year-olds. The small 10-year-old fast Tailback might be a good first look or choice. 

Heavier slow-footed linemen are not always the best youth football linemen. Do not let the size and weight of a linemen determine their true abilities. 

One last thing, either in the player interview or in your registration process, make sure to understand physical issues with a player.  Asthma is a big issue that always comes up for a few players and peanut allergies can be an issue at snack times and team parties. 

Player Interviews

I personally like to interview players in the general evaluation process. It is amazing what you can find out when talking to players and sometimes parents during the initial try-out process / registration. Just asking a player if they like to hit, block and tackle and if they would tackle the biggest kid in the try-out / room prompts some interesting responses that might surprise you.

A few good player interview questions are:

  1. Do you like to hit? Would you tackle that big kid over there?
  2. How many TDs have you scored?
  3. Are you a Center / QB / RB / LB?
  4. What other sports do you play? Travel team?
  5. Who was the best hitter on your last football team?
  6. Did you play whole games or half games or just a few plays?
  7. What is 5+5 or 4×4 or square root of 16?
  8. What are your grades in school?
  9. Will you be able to attend every practice? Why not?
  10. What position did you play last season? Coach?

Coach’s Referral

If you can contact a players past team’s youth football coach or coach from another sport this is a huge advantage to determine the skills and character of a player. I try to get coach referrals for all our top picks. Many times, flag football, baseball and soccer coaches will let us know about key players trying out for tackle football. This is a huge advantage, especially flag football and baseball coaches. Most young boys will start baseball before football. I did, and my two boys both played flag football, baseball, and soccer before tackling football. Find the players past coaches and get feedback on them if you can.

Speed Testing 40 and more

Everyone wants a 40 time on players. Even me. For ages 5 to 7 a 20-yard dash might suffice.  But for older ages 8 to 14, I like to get both a 20 and 40 times and for linemen even a 10 is nice to have for reference.  Many of the new timing systems will have these time split capabilities. If not, the old stopwatch still works or your phone. 

Even though Speed in the 40-yard dash is a key factor in the eval process. Be careful of letting it dictate your player evaluation process. Yes, it should play a large factor, but I have seen so many fast youth football players hate physical contact.

The 3 cone NFL combine drill is also great for determining stop and go quickness.  I also call it the L Drill. I’ve found a few good LBs and Defensive Ends / OLBs using this quickness cone drill.

A 4-bag shuffle drill or ladder or tires will help determine quick feet, especially for big linemen. If all players are carrying a football, it is interesting to see experienced RBs switch arm positions if the drill changes directions.  It is always the little things.    

If you want to test endurance you can do 20-to-40-yard line shuffles, but I do not worry about endurance too much until I’ve got them on my team. 

For many youth teams, they will use a Deer Hunter game or a basic chase game in a big square to determine speed and quickness. Personally, I do not use this drill other than a fun conditioning drill. I use Ultimate Football instead, which is a fast-paced touch football game.

Once we get our rostered team together, we will run against each other in groups of 5 to find our top 5 to 6 fastest players on the team. The competition sometimes gives us faster outcomes than the individual 40 times provided by our league. 

Passing & Catching Pod

I really like to see young players in a passing and catching game and or drill. It lets me know who has played football before; plays at home with friends and really wants to play football. It always surprises me when youth players show up to football try outs and evaluations and they cannot throw or catch a football. Yes, I understand some linemen or young players just are not good at it, but you can tell if they have at least picked up a football before the try out or not.

Pop Pass Youth Football Drill for Passing by Coach Parker

I use a Pop Pass Pod to help me find skilled and experienced players. We have everyone that wants to try out at QB and let all the linemen even stickered catch passes to find out who might be athletically inclined. I love youth football stickered linemen that also play basketball or soccer. These big athletes are usually just big for their age and will eventually be highly skilled High School athletes. Find these gems and use them.  

Stance and Strength

I’ve found a few sandbaggers in our league’s try outs trying to hide from other coaches, until they showed me a perfect 3-point stance by mistake. LOL. I like to see a great stance from so-called experienced players. Even though we use more of a low two point, a good 3-point stance means the player was probably coached well and is strong enough to move out of the 3-point stance.

Along with stance strength, I like to find out the strength of the player. Pushing an individual sled or adult with bag can tell you a ton about a player’s core strength. I used to use a portable king crab sled to try out travel team OLM and the guys that could push the sled without a struggle were usually my starters. 

Gilman Gear King Crab Sled

Evaluating Offensive Positions in Football

Everyone loves Offense. It is very important to find a great Tailback / Running Back with speed in youth football. Speed kills and will determine your competitive outcome in most youth football tackle leagues. The fastest running back in a youth tackle league can usually Sweep wide outside on slower cornerbacks all day long. Yes, the QB is an important position, but your top RB will almost always be a major factor in your youth football team’s win loss record.

In the past I have been very competitive without a speed TB, but we were not able to make it deep into the playoffs or win championship games without that “true tailback” with top speed. In youth football, the Sweep is King not the pass play. 

I know it is not about winning but Play for Fun and Winning is Funner. Here in Texas, parents like to win and if you win, there are fewer problems. That is just a fact. Find an experienced Speed running back and you will be on your way. If you do not get one, do not despair, but you will be required to outcoach most of your competitors.

Best Drills for Evaluating Youth Football Players Positions

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Finding your Quarterback – Drills

I like smart Quarterbacks. So, in my interview process I will test for memory and ask about grades and conduct. I would also like to find out if they pitch on a youth baseball team and who is the coach. Most of the time, they have played QB in flag or on another team, so we will get as much info as we can on these teams and their experience.

Here’s another article on Choosing your youth football QB.

QB Eval Drills

At the youth football level, we use a few football drills to help us determine who might play our QB1 and QB2. Of course, the 40 times are reviewed, the player / parent interview along with our pre-evaluation process as an initial cut but these are the specific physical football drills, I like to use to find a youth football Quarterback. 

  1. 3 Cone Drill / L Drill – Quick Feet / Change of Direction
  2. 20/40 Dash Group Run – Competitive Speed
  3. Pop Pass Drill – Throw / Catch / Snap / Cadence / Drop
  4. Snapping POD – Take Snap Under Center / Shotgun / Footwork
  5. Hand Off / Toss / Pitch POD – Ball Skills / Footwork / Hand Skills
  6. Name Game – Trust / Memory / IQ / Leadership
  7. 7on7 Drill – Passing / Leadership / Football IQ
  8. Half Line Scrim / Big OK – Live Action / Snap Exchange Under Duress
  9. Ultimate Football – Speed & Quickness / Leadership / Player Recognition
  10. Game Simulation Drill – Wrist Coach / Memory / Communication
  11. Live Full Scrimmage against another team – Game Time Pressure
  12. Pre-Practice Attendance – Attendance / Tardiness / Priorities / Focus

When looking for a youth Quarterback I am really going to be focused on football IQ, ball skills, footwork, communication, leadership, and attendance to practice helping me feel comfortable with this player so I gain trust to make them a QB on my team. If I find a great running youth QB I am not going to be upset. Passing at the youth level is a luxury.

Finding your Running Backs – Drills

As I stated earlier, as a youth football head coach’s top priority is to find fast, experienced, and skilled running backs, especially a top tier Tailback type player. Speed is a huge advantage for any football team, especially at the youth football level. If a youth football team can Sweep on your team, then it will be a long day. 

I would also like to find a great Fullback / blocking back, Wingback and a Halfback type player that is a hybrid between all three of the latter, maybe a heavier or beefier version of my fast TB. I am more of a power offensive formation coach so my top skill priorities might be different than yours, but the RB evaluation drills below should assist you in your eval process.

RB Evaluation Drills

  1. 3 Cone Drill / L Drill – Quick Feet / Change of Direction
  2. 20/40 Dash Group Run – Competitive Speed
  3. Running Back Gauntlet – Ball Protection / RB Skills
  4. Open Window Cut Drill – RB Skills / Vision
  5. Hand Off / Toss / Pitch Pod – RB Skills / Hand Capabilities
  6. Pop Pass Drill – Throwing / Catching / Route Running
  7. Snapping POD – Take Snap Under Center / Shotgun / Footwork
  8. Texas Swing Drill – Running in Traffic / Lead Blocking
  9. Half Line / Big OK Drill – Live FB situations / Break Tackles / Sweep Speed
  10. Tee Time Drill – Toughness / Grit / Goal Line Situation
  11. Ultimate Football – Speed and Quickness / Football Skills
  12. Live Full Scrimmage against another team – Game Time Pressure
  13. Pre-Practice Attendance – Attendance / Tardiness / Priorities / Focus
rb gauntlet drill youth football drill new by coach parker

Yes, these are a large set of drills to find your starting Running Back. But you should be able to get to a quick cut on Speed and then toughness with the Texas Swing and a full speed Half Line / Big OK drill to narrow them down quickly, then use these other drills throughout the pre-season to determine your final starters.

Finding a Center

So many coaches and parents think finding your QB is the most important position on the team, but I like to find a Center early in the player eval process. Playing Center is hard. And finding an experienced, consistent, trustworthy Shotgun snapper is tough not to mention just finding a Center than can snap and block. Maybe since I played Center and o-line in youth football, the Center position is very important to me. But the Center touches the football on every offensive football play, so they are very important to your team’s overall success.

snapping pod drill

Center Drills

  1. Snapping Pod – Comms with QB / Consistent Exchange / Snap Reps
  2. Snapping to Bucket – Shotgun Accuracy / Consistency / Snap Reps
  3. Blocking Box – Blocking Capabilities
  4. Blocking Pod – Blocking Rules / Techniques
  5. Name Game / Memory Game – Trust / Memory / IQ
  6. SUMO Circle – Toughness / GRIT or Quit
  7. Half Line / Big OK Drill – Live action snapping / Teamwork
  8. Game Simulation Drill – Huddle / Communication / Alignments
  9. Live Full Scrimmage against another team – Game Time Pressure
  10. Pre-Practice Attendance – Attendance / Tardiness / Priorities / Focus

The Center is an important position to get right. They touch the football every play and have a huge impact on sustaining offensive drives so your team can score. Any muffed snap is a potential turnovers and turnovers lose football games. 

This is the end of Part 1. Part 2 Coming soon.

What are your favorite best drills for evaluating youth football players? Did you find any new youth football drills

Let me know your favorite youth football drill. I would love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below or find me on Twitter. I am hanging out more and more on Twitter. I just created a new Twitter youth football community. Come on over and say hello.

Contact me anytime. I love to talk coaching youth football.

Remember, Play for Fun and Winning is Funner!

Good Luck this Season,
Coach Parker
Keller, Texas, DFW, Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas

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