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Measuring Performance in Youth Soccer
Measuring performance as an individual, as a team, of strategies, and as a function of improvement over time can add a lot of fun and utility to youth sports experiences. It doesn't matter if we're talking about a grassroots program or a competitive elite team, if development is part of the goal, then measurements can help.
The way we measure performance is by tracking key activities or soccer statistics (stats for short). Every professional team has them, but what many might not realize is that stats are useful for all coaches, get parents involved in the game in productive ways, and help players of all interests and backgrounds to set goals and strive to break them.
Management consultant, educator and author
If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.
What Are Soccer Stats?
Not hard to understand, soccer statistics are simply a set of recorded actions. Think of them as a journal of activities. As a game unfolds, player actions generate counts and percentages. Each touch, for example, might be counted. Each successful pass, each shot, each shot on goal, etc can all be recorded by a statistics keeper, and attributed to specific players during a game.
Some statistics that are typically kept during a soccer match are listed in the table below.
Shots on Goal
Pass Completion %
Time of Possession
Time of Possession %
Average Passing String
Longest Passing String
Why Keep Soccer Stats?
Soccer stats provide a picture of a game. They capture individual and team statistics, that when reviewed later can highlight strengths, weaknesses, and help players and coaches adjust their focus, identify talent, and keep a record of progress made.
Soccer stats help coaches to measure the effectiveness of their practice sessions and plan future sessions. The opposing team always has a vote in how well a given team is going to perform, but over time, trends will emerge.
As a coach, I focused on passing strings and possession pretty tightly one season. During that time, I noticed that our possession stats went up significantly. This was obvious on the field during games, but it also emerged in the stats. I could also see who was taking the ball into attack the most, how well our goal keepers were performing relative to one another and relative to themselves over time.
Soccer stats gives players thought provoking feedback. "Let's talk about Saturday's game" I might say. "I noticed that our best passing string was 10 passes. Do you guys remember that? What were we doing well at that time? What might we have done to hold onto the ball for 10 more?"
Soccer stats also give players a sound track and goals to work on. When a player knows that his or her best game included 3 shots on goal and 10 total shots (the other 7 went wide), they know that 30% of their shots are on target. What might they do to improve that 30% to say 50% or higher? Players with specific feedback like this can work on their own game and think about solutions.
Soccer stats give players a conversation they can have with recruiters. Recruiters want to see how well a player knows themselves and how focused they are on their own performance goals. If a goalkeeper knows what their save ratio is for a given season in a given league, they can talk about this intelligently with a recruiter when they come calling.
How to Keep Soccer Stats
One word of advice up front: don't try to keep stats and coach at the same time. Yes, it can be done, but keeping stats takes bandwidth, the focus is on technical actions and numbers, and the human brain - at least my brain - doesn't easily track stats AND monitor safety, player energy levels, techniques, hydration levels, opponent's strengths and weaknesses, the clock, and the bench all at the same time. I have a parent volunteer who does the job really well. He's also a basketball coach, so he knows what's on my plate and how to watch the game with coach's eyes (he doesn't just get locked in on the ball action). He's interested in the numbers and is pretty good at catching the action. I always make sure he gets a copy of the final results - along with some explanation / interpretation from me after the reports are processed.
Another bit of advice: if you don't have a superstar stats keeper, divide up the workload. Ask one volunteer to track only fouls, one to track shots on goals and goals, a third to track passing strings and first touches, a fourth to track corners and assists, etc. Have them synchronize their watches, use the same tracking sheet, put their name on the top and the function they are watching, and go. If you can't get help in this way, just do the best you can with whomever is willing to help out. Especially as new volunteers get started, it helps to get more than one pair of eyes on the field. Just don't have them tracking the same things, because you will get frustrated by the fact that each of your volunteers would have seen different things. When I had more than one parent tracking general stats, the sheets that came back to me never matched. It was as if they saw two different games. Then you're left wondering which game was the actual game or if you should mix the two.
The Paper Way
Tracking stats on paper is simple. Once you start working with a format, you will develop your own shorthand and symbols. I've posted an example of a stats chart below that I used for several years. I found the chart online as a free resource, then I modified it over time. I added items, changed some of the shorthand, wrote notes in the margins around the chart once I had it printed, and found that I could manage this paper pretty well while coaching.
Between the examples above and below, you can see that from one season to the next, I added slots for time stamps, start time and end time for the game, # of players, and results from fouls and cards. If you find yourself acting as stats keeper, you will evolve your tool as 1. you get familiar with the flow and 2. you realize the extra items you want to track and 3. you realize the items that you don't ever track.
I believe each stats keeper will have a slightly different approach, but there are also good tools you can buy from Amazon that will give you very much the same thing. I've posted two such tools below. I've used the KWIKgoal Score Book myself and found that it works. At the end of the day, I liked my home made (modified home made) version better, but this is personal preference.
You can click on either one of these products to check them out on Amazon.
The Electronic Way
Over time, I checked out a lot of electronic stats keepers / lineup helpers for my IOS devices. Two of my absolute favorites have been Soccer Dad and SoccerMeter Pro. I used Soccer Dad for many years to help me with lineups, rotations, tracking play time, and keeping stats on each player. While I believe Soccer Dad to be more feature rich than SoccerMeter Pro (Especially since it now integrates with TeamSnap), I moved to SoccerMeter Pro for it's simplicity and ability to capture possession stats well.
As a possession team, I was most interested in tracking touches, passing strings, etc. Many coaches have tracked touches using a finger counter. I just couldn't bring myself to use one during a game to much effect. I really needed someone else to watch possession stats all by itself. So, when I found a reliable volunteer who quickly understood how to track this properly, I need to give him a tool that would do a lot of the heavy lifting. Using SoccerMeter Pro, I could track possession stats for both teams at the same time. This gave me percentages split between the two teams. I could tell who controlled the ball better - and how well my team stood up to other teams throughout the season.
While I still love SoccerDad for it's feature rich system, I tend to use SoccerMeter Pro more now in games for it's strength in tracking possession and for it's simplicity.
No Matter How You Measure It
No matter how you prefer to measure performance by keeping statistics, it's a team effort. No single person - especially not the coach - should be doing all of the work.
It's important that all stats keepers are on the same page. If you're dividing up volunteers into teams where one watches for shots and shot n goal, the other watches for assists, another watches for fouls, etc. Make sure that everyone knows the difference between a shot and a shot on goal. Make sure that fouls include the time they were committed, the team they were against, the player who drew or committed the foul, and the result (e.g. free direct kick wide to the right, indirect kick with a turnover, etc). This kind of detail helps the coach a lot when thinking about what he or she needs to work on in future practice sessions.
Work with the coach to find out what statistics are most important to collect and how he/she wants them recorded. If everyone is on the same page, the picture of the game afterwards is much cleaner & useful.
What To Do With Stats After The Game
I like to review the stats the same day of the game. Usually at the end of the day, I will open up my reports, go over the stats, and think through the game. I look at the overall team performance and try to get a sense of whether or not the team is making progress given the things we had been working on during practice. I think about what things stand out as opportunities for improvement and how I might structure practice sessions (or modify practice sessions) for the coming week.
Finally, I upload the statistics - usually hand jam them - into our Team site for my players and parents to find if they come looking. We use SportsEngine which has some pretty robust stats keeping abilities. But others like TeamSnap also have those options available. You may need to pay for them in some apps.
As a development tool, individual statistics can help players with goal setting and seeing the relationship between work effort and results. Players like to refer to their own stats and compare them to earlier versions of themselves and to others. Even if they have no intention of playing at more competitive levels, just having the ability to see where they are can be both fun, and instructional.
Coaches from other teams and recruiters in the more competitive spaces use individual statistics as a resume of sorts. If a player can have a discussion with a recruiter and can cite their own statistics and show ups and downs over time, that player will stand out. It's impressive to a coach when a player has a good handle on their own performance.
One bonus feature of the SoccerMeter product is the fact that they have a database built presumably from SoccerMeter users around the country. By entering team parameters, you should, in theory, be able to pull some average statistics about other teams that are similar to your team. This kind of information could be incredibly useful.
The downside of this database are two-fold: 1. data collection is not consistent. What one person counts as a first touch & how many first touches they see will vary from another person's count - even when watching the same game. It would take a large amount of data to come up with meaningful averages, and those averages are bound to include a good amount of misleading data. 2. The times I've searched this database, I've not been able to come up with good reports. Either not many people are playing teams configured similar to mine, people are confusing parameters (like choosing "Select," "Travel," "Division II," or "Club" when I might actually field a Club Select Travel team in Division II), or others are simply not uploading data. I'd love to see this feature matured, but for now, I think it's a little weak.
Keeping soccer stats can be a useful and fun addition to the sport and a big help with measuring performance. It can't be left entirely to a single coach, but it can be done in any setting. It's great for coaches, fun for players, and can be fun for parents who follow the game.
My recommendation is to find some volunteers or delegate to an assistant coach. Consistency is important, so make a little time to be sure that all stats keepers are on the same page.
Keeping statistics and measuring performance is a great way to get more people involved in the game! Parents who hep out will have a more discerning eye when they watch games. They will notice things that usually only coaches notice. They will add to their soccer vocabulary and appreciation of the game. Best of all, it's just fun!
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