In my local competition teams start grading at the Under 9 stage. Players are graded into groups of perceived similar skill level. From U9-U11 they are placed in non-competitive groups that are usually given a name, this year it was the names of Socceroo’s and Mathilda’s players. When players enter the U12 age group players are ranked into div 1,2,3 and so on.
The grading system itself is massively flawed. There is no such thing as a qualified grader and there no pre-requisites to become one especially at community level. This is a problem for a few reasons. The first is that people who have not done any courses on Talent ID or grading as a whole will often pick the player that’s the fastest, biggest and strongest. But these kids might not be the most skillfull or talented. These teams quite often just end up playing route 1 style of football because they will have big strong players at the back and quick players up front. What they should be doing is picking the players who have a combination of skill and the physical attributes to back that up.
This however does have its drawbacks, this often means that clubs should be sacrificing the desire to win as the only priority. This poses a problem though. Good players want to go to good clubs and good clubs are the clubs that win. Meaning that often clubs who try and do the right thing lose their players to clubs who are perceived to be more successful. But success in youth football should not only be judged on the result of the game. It should be judged on the development of players, this can be measured objectively, for example a player improves their shot accuracy by 20%. Or subjectively through the eye-ball test.
Now, we told you what gradings are, but many of you reading this will want to know how to stand out and give yourself the best possible chance at making it to the level you want to. In all honesty and I will state this at the end of the post as well but if you really want the absolute best chance possible then you have to put in the work. Working hard on your skills and technical ability as much as humanly possible is the best way to ensure you achieve the results you want. It is also more impressive to a grader or a coach to have a player who can use their skills to get themselves out of a tricky situation rather than a player who just uses their strength or speed. So number 1 tip, work on your skills and technique.
In terms of things you can do outside of your own ability this is quite subjective. But appearances do matter. So, one thing I would say is, look the part. Make sure your wearing boots, socks and shin pads as a start. Also wearing proper football shirt, short and socks doesn’t hurt, even better if you wear your favorite players kit. This has the added benefit of being easily identifiable by the name on the back of the shirt. Graders often have a large amount of kids to choose from and the easier it is to identify individuals the better. Bright kits also make players easily identifiable, anything fluro will help even though in most grading players will be given a bib, you are still able to see the shirt through the bib.
When you are at the grading in your favorite kit, maybe in some bright boots there are a few more things you can do in order to help your case. Coaches and graders will not pick you if you never get the ball. I recently had a player who was isolated on the wing and never touched the ball until the last 5 minutes after they were told to move into a position to receive the ball more often. After that the player turned out to be amazing and i ended up selcting them. But I would never have known that until someone who had previously coached him told him to get on the ball more. So, if you are not getting the ball, go get it or demand it.
This leads nicely into my next point, communication. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to the coaches or graders who are watching you. It shows a great deal of condfidence which I think is a positive. Also when you are playing there is two types of communication that coaches like to see. Instructional and motivational. Instructional is telling other players what to do and also listening to what other players are telling you. A very good skill to have and massively stands out at a young age, although it does come with experience and you want to be telling your players the right things not the wrong ones. Motivational refers to the communication that inspires teammates and can lift the team. It also demonstrates a winning mentality, a key to any successful team. Saying things like “C’mon lets win this” or “Great shot Jimmy, you’ll get it next time” are both examples of positive motivational talk. On the other hand, what you 100% do not want to do is winge, complain and be negative towards any of the other players, it shows a character flaw and may be perceived as arrogance which is a highly undesirable trait.
If I had to put it in a priority list, I would say technical skills how often you get on the ball, communication and then your appearance has the biggest impact on how well you do at a grading.