College and pro teams grade the individual performance of each player on their team after each game. Youth football coaches should do the same.

True, college and pro coaches have much more time on their hands. So don't try to grade every player on every play the way they do. Rather grade every player on at least one play per game. Better yet, grade every player on at least one play that shows each of the various skills you request of him. For example, a wide receiver would be graded on a play in which he runs a pass route and has a ball throw to him as well as on a play where he blocks.

The reason you must do this is to avoid youth-coach blindness. Youth coaches tend to think they are doing a good job of coaching their kids, especially if they are winning. But the true test is individual grading. Most youth football coaches do an awful job. If you grade a play, you will generally find that the ball handlers are doing a good job. A few blockers are doing a decent, but not good job. And the rest are making no effort or a half-hearted effort. Because of the difficulty of seeing what's going on, and the tendency to follow the ball during a play, coaches and parents are ignorant of what is really going on with each player. Since the defense is usually doing the same thing, the poor performances are not revealed in normal games. Ignorance is bliss, until you get to the playoffs and have to play good teams. Then each and every weakness you overlooked looms large and defeats you.

Below are examples of what grades you get on each player depending upon his position. You should post the grades on your team Web site for all to see. I have found stats to be a great way to minimize parental and player grumbling about playing time and position assignments.

Offensive line Pass block
Drive block
Trap block
Double-team block
Tight ends Pass route
Run after catch
Quarterback Make sure everyone is set and in right place
Receive snap
Proper handoff technique
Proper pitch technique
Proper pass drop
Choose right receiver
Accurate throw
Throw away when appropriate
Take sack when appropriate
Defensive end Contain on play toward
Trail on play away
Contain rush passer
Force QB to pitch on option

And so forth. Get at least one grade per game on each of the skills you require each player to perform. The main reason to do this is not to evaluate the players, but to evaluate the coaches. The combined grades of the offensive linemen are the grade of the offensive line coach as to how well he is doing his job of selecting, training, and motivating players. The combined grades of all offensive players are the offensive coordinator's grade. And the combined grades of all players are the head coach's grade.

On the vast majority of youth teams, the offensive line sucks. Blocking by other players isn't much better. This has been a dirty little secret because of the lack of grading. Start grading. Get the dirty little secret out. And fix it.

If you grade teams at the various levels, the quality of the coaching would be revealed. I suspect fair grading of the four levels would produce the following profile, which is really a grade of the coaches. I have used school type letter grades because everyone understands them. For your grading, you should use numbers.

Position group Level
O-line A A-B B-D D-F
Receivers A A-B B-C C-F

This reflects the apparent lack of interest in the offensive line at the lower levels, as well as the use of the line as a dumping ground for weak players.

Competently coached teams will get As at all position groups at all levels. Youth teams would typically get Bs and Cs at best with their favorite players: the backs. But they would get lousy grades elsewhere. The solution is for youth coaches to get some training from local high school or college coaches. They also must reduce the number of plays and defensive schemes they put in in order to have enough time to raise all position groups up to A level. The difference between youth football and NFL football is not that youth players cannot get As. Rather it is that youth coaches neglect most of the positions and fail to get training to make sure what coaching they do is competent. A team with all As will dominate its league. At present, the typical youth league is full of D-F teams. The various youth coaches in those leagues figure they know what they are doing because they went 5-4 or some such. In fact, just as in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, in the league of the incompetent youth coaches, the coach with the fastest tailback is king. The coach with the highest player grades should be king, and will be if any coaches in the league in question clean up their coaching acts.

There are many grading systems. Which you use is not important. as long as it can be brought down to a number. I suggest you grade 0, 1, 2, 3. 0 is a worthless performance where the player in question either made no effort to do anything (They usually dance around looking concerned) or blocked the wrong guy or ran the wrong way. A 3 would be a vigorous, successful execution of the correct technique at the correct place.

Good luck,

John T. Reed