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RickyB

Registered: 01/26/06
Posts: 625
Reply with quote  #1 

Found this article useful with parents.  If you adhere to NSCAA player development model, as I have, this makes perfect sense. 

Working with U11's playing 8v8 and coming off winter futsal playing a 1-2-1 the trainsition to 2-3-2 was fluid and players had a good understanding of pressure, cover and balance which flows through the formations mentioned. 

I wonder how many of you buy this and do you stick with it if you use it?  I admit, if we are ahead in a game I will switch to a 3-3-1 just because it leaves you at risk to a counter-attack through the midfield with only two in the back.


Best Formations for Youth Soccer

The debate may never end…

By Coach V
http://www.SoccerU.com
 

I’ve got a few bucks in my pocket that bets you might be here for the wrong reason.  Most coaches find this article because they want the best formation to “win” soccer games.  What they should be looking for is the best formations to “teach” the game.  Surprisingly, they are often one in the same.

There have been many arguments (heightened debates we’ll call them) as to which formations are the best for youth soccer players. What I am going to tell you has been proven time and time again and is now endorsed by many national soccer clubs / organizations.  This format also basis itself in the K.I.S.S. formula (Keep It Simple Soccer) and “transitional development” for clubs, between age groups.  This means that younger players use the same simple thought processes throughout their development, aging, and change of venues. (More players on the field the older they get.)  

What this is NOT.
This is NOT an article about the best formations in soccer. This is not a reference for the Premier League, the MLS, or National teams. It is the basis for youth development that teaches players the right thoughts, decisions, and visual keys.  It makes the transition between the age levels easier and more developmental. So, please DON’T email me and argue about the “best” formation about “winning”.  I don’t do “winning soccer”, I do teaching soccer.  I really could care less if we win our games, I want to know that we are learning, getting better, and developing with long term goals in mind.  This has not always been my attitude.  Much like everything in life, it takes us a while to mature.

The best formation starts with a girl’s best friend… a diamond.
We have to keep things really simple for ALL levels of youth players.  We do not want to restrict creative activity / thoughts, but at the same time we want to teach the game and certain thoughts early on.  To do this we start the DIAMOND.  We all know what the diamond shape looks like. It has four points, one at the top, one on each side, left and right, and one at the bottom.  

So, assuming the ball is starting at the bottom point, nearest our goal, we want to get the ball to the HIGHEST point, which is the top, near the opponent’s goal.  If that pass is available and safe, that is the one we make. (Option #1) If not, we pass it left or right to the open player. (Option #2 and 3)  Now that player should try and get it to the TOP of the diamond. If not they simply pass it back or across.  This continues until we can get the ball to the highest point. The shape of this game naturally teaches what the coach wants to teach, three passing directions. Forward, sideways and back.

This is especially important near the midfield. You’ll constantly hear coaches preaching to their players, “Keep the ball, play simple, find feet” and more.  Often the team that can control the midfield is the one that has the most success.  Having MANY options is critical to players in the midfield.

5v5 soccer formation

So now you should have the single diamond visual in your mind.  This can also be used as a good warm up game for all levels of players.  A 20 x 20 yard square, 4 offensive players with one or two defenders.  A simple game of keep away that helps players look for open lanes, good passes, and keeps them moving into open space for support.  

Making the “transition” to the 8v8
Now that we have seen one diamond and the players understand this basic premise the move to larger teams and fields becomes a bit easier.  When we move to the 8v8, we simply position players to form more diamonds.  The same basic principles are followed. (2-3-2)
Keep it simple and try and move the ball forward.  If you can’t move the ball forward, look to the side.  Then let the side try and move it forward. If that is not an option, then pass it backwards. 

8v8 soccer formation

Moving to the “BIG GAME”, the 11 v 11
Our players are now becoming “big boys” and are moving to the 11 v 11 for the first time. By using the 3-4-3 we replicate what they have been taught for years.  Look at all the diamonds and keep in mind the keeper plays an important role in the field play.  You’ll notice that this formation spaces our team out evenly.  We also can push one of the three forwards (center / striker) higher up and still maintain the triangles. Because we give up a defensive player, the defenders must be ready to recover quickly and work on defending skills and communication. Also, the mid fielders must be willing to drop back and help defend when needed. Another benefit of the 3-4-3 is that it allows us to put heavy pressure in the opponent’s third of the field.     

11v11 soccer formation

This formation also encourages players to move as a team.  They see and understand that the DIAMOND must be maintained. They must move forward and back to maintain the proper shape.

Cure for bunching?
The other BRILLIANT aspect of this is that it often helps cure the “bunching” in soccer.  Players start to learn to find OPEN space to maintain “shapes”. They also start to learn that being AWAY from the ball has a real benefit and is a critical part of the game.

“I don’t think the 3-4-3 is the best formation to win.”
Yes, you will hear this often from coaches because they have their own opinions, and that is fine.  However, they TOTALLY missed the point of this article. If you are totally concerned about “winning”, you should consider getting out of youth soccer and coach an adult /older team.  Winning or succeeding is NATURAL with humans, but in youth sports it is an “inner voice” that somehow needs to be muted.  We use the “games” to practice and try what we have learned in practice.

A critical aspect of development.
I can’t tell you how many times I hear it from players. “The coach moved me to center mid and I don’t like it. I don’t know what to do.”  Not knowing is not the players fault. It’s the fault of the teacher / coach /club / league.  Using an easy to understand, transitional formation cures much of this anxiety.  Often a club / league wide commitment is needed to foster these transitional steps. 

The light bulb…
It really is funny to see the reaction when I teach this form of simple play to coaches and players.  It’s like I’m getting that look that says, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this before?”  Diamonds and triangles play such a key role in good quality TEAM soccer at the youth level.

 

Reprinted from:  http://www.SoccerU.com


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ipap2000

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 97
Reply with quote  #2 
2-3-2 does not lead to a 3-4-3. Playing 2 in the back on an 8v8 field means you are playing 2 center backs, like you would have in a flat back 4. Playing 3 in the back on a 11 v 11 pitch for youth players really handcuffs the players because they aren't big enough or fast enough to cover the width of the field and this discourages defenders from going forward, which is necessary to breaking down well-organized defenses as they get older.
Goal150

Registered: 08/14/09
Posts: 2,900
Reply with quote  #3 
For 7v7 I use a 2-3-1. . . it's essentially a 2-1-2-1, we play with the CM deeper so in essence it stacks two diamonds on top of each other. The gk is the base of the back diamond.



Ned

Registered: 12/23/06
Posts: 4,990
Reply with quote  #4 
I've heard the arguments for and against this.  Proponents of 3-4-3 will say the following:

- you develop better defenders when there's only 3 at the back
- you develop an extra forward with 3 up front
- there are more natural triangles and diamonds
- it's a natural progression from 1-2-1 to 2-3-2 to 3-4-3 (1 diamond, 2 diamonds and finally 3 diamonds).

Personally I think that formations are just a spatial framework that can be used to explain roles and responsibilities.  Teaching good technique and a good understanding of how the game should be played (e.g. through the  Principles of Play) is the most important thing.  A formation is one of the tools to help achieve that but, with the right coach, any reasonable formation will do.  Triangles and diamonds can be created by movement within any formation.

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Goal150

Registered: 08/14/09
Posts: 2,900
Reply with quote  #5 
Like Ned said, I don't feel the need to change up because of a lead because what dictates our play is pressure/cover/balance/compactness. I've never actually given instruction to stay more compact to preserve the lead, in fact last time we were up 1-0 with 8 min left I emphasized that we go on the attack and put the game away. We still only won 1-0 but they were forced to defend because we were peppering them with shots.
Walrus

Registered: 08/02/10
Posts: 601
Reply with quote  #6 

Not sure about the 3-4-3 being the perfect system even at a young age.  You can easily get decent triangles and diamonds with a 3-2-3-2, but the author doesnt mention that!

RickyB

Registered: 01/26/06
Posts: 625
Reply with quote  #7 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ipap2000
2-3-2 does not lead to a 3-4-3. Playing 2 in the back on an 8v8 field means you are playing 2 center backs, like you would have in a flat back 4. Playing 3 in the back on a 11 v 11 pitch for youth players really handcuffs the players because they aren't big enough or fast enough to cover the width of the field and this discourages defenders from going forward, which is necessary to breaking down well-organized defenses as they get older.

I think the 11v11 was more intended for the full-sided game at older ages not at the youth level. 


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RickyB

Registered: 01/26/06
Posts: 625
Reply with quote  #8 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Goal150
For 7v7 I use a 2-3-1. . . it's essentially a 2-1-2-1, we play with the CM deeper so in essence it stacks two diamonds on top of each other. The gk is the base of the back diamond.



Haven't played much 7v7 soccer and don't quite understand why any organization would based on the normal progression of the game; 4v4, 6v6, 8v8, 11v11?


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RickyB

Registered: 01/26/06
Posts: 625
Reply with quote  #9 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Walrus

Not sure about the 3-4-3 being the perfect system even at a young age.  You can easily get decent triangles and diamonds with a 3-2-3-2, but the author doesn't mention that!

The point is developing at younger ages, up until U13, no one in their right mind would advocate 3-4-3 for younger kids.  They should be playing 6v6 and 8v8.

Anson Dorrance was a proponent of 3-4-3 for many years winning championships with that formation.

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RickyB

Registered: 01/26/06
Posts: 625
Reply with quote  #10 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ned
I've heard the arguments for and against this.  Proponents of 3-4-3 will say the following:

- you develop better defenders when there's only 3 at the back
- you develop an extra forward with 3 up front
- there are more natural triangles and diamonds
- it's a natural progression from 1-2-1 to 2-3-2 to 3-4-3 (1 diamond, 2 diamonds and finally 3 diamonds).

Personally I think that formations are just a spatial framework that can be used to explain roles and responsibilities.  Teaching good technique and a good understanding of how the game should be played (e.g. through the  Principles of Play) is the most important thing.  A formation is one of the tools to help achieve that but, with the right coach, any reasonable formation will do.  Triangles and diamonds can be created by movement within any formation.

Agreed! 

But what formation makes it easiest for the players to achieve this?  Some coaches don't think triangles are a part of developing play.

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Walrus

Registered: 08/02/10
Posts: 601
Reply with quote  #11 

Ricky, here in Canada i am about to take our boys born in 2000 to the U11 league in about a month on a FULL FIELD!!  Sounds crazy cuz i think a full size field was intended for kids 13+, not a bunch of 10 year olds turning 11.  Many of the veterans around here however will tell you that formations are only "real" before the whistle blows.  Once the game starts it's about "team shape" rather than a formation.  Relate it to chess............  If you know how to set up a chess board then you know what I'm talking about.  Once the pawn and knight make their first moves, your starting "formation" is out the window.

messifan10

Registered: 06/21/10
Posts: 1,993
Reply with quote  #12 
Here is my take on formations in youth soccer:

Each formation has its benefits when it comes to teaching and developing youth players, whatever the game format may be. There isn't one that is better than the other. It all depends on the type of players you have, what roles they can fulfill and how, their natural instincts, tendencies and game awareness. It also depends on at what stage of development your team is and what playing philosophy the coach wants to adopt.

In my 10 years of experience as a youth coach, I've used all kinds of formations for each game format, regardless of my preference. I've probably used all possible (reasonable) formations and still don't think one is better than others. Here is what I've used:

5v5 - 1-2-1 and 2-2
6v6 - 3-2, 2-3, 2-1-2 and 1-3-1
7v7 - 3-1-2 and 2-3-1
8v8 - 3-1-3, 2-3-2 and 3-2-2
9v9 - 3-3-2, 3-2-3 and 2-3-3
11v11 - 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 3-4-3

IMO, formations such as 1-3-1 (6v6), 2-3-1 (7v7), 2-3-2 (8v8), 2-3-3 (9v9) and 3-4-3 (11v11) require that your players be very advanced level throughout most if not all of your team and that they have ability to control the play, individually and as a whole. When using 3-2-2 (8v8) it requires your players to have very good understanding or potential/talent for good movement on the field for their specific age.

In the last few years, what I've done with my teams is to use different formations - one in the Fall, another one in the Spring. I've used the Winter (indoor) season as a transitional period, where I slowly introduce my teams to the new (different) formation. I think that using different formations throughout the whole year provides me with different opportunities to rotate players in different positions and give them different experience.
RickyB

Registered: 01/26/06
Posts: 625
Reply with quote  #13 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Walrus

Ricky, here in Canada i am about to take our boys born in 2000 to the U11 league in about a month on a FULL FIELD!!  Sounds crazy cuz i think a full size field was intended for kids 13+, not a bunch of 10 year olds turning 11.  Many of the veterans around here however will tell you that formations are only "real" before the whistle blows.  Once the game starts it's about "team shape" rather than a formation.  Relate it to chess............  If you know how to set up a chess board then you know what I'm talking about.  Once the pawn and knight make their first moves, your starting "formation" is out the window.

Not sure what you mean by "real".  If you think any U11 player is able to see the options, game speed and dynamics at 11v11 with that many players then you have the next Canadian National Team. 

Here in the USA, GO BRUINS!!, I know of very few U11 boys or girls that can comprehend the full-side game.

Agreed, it is about team shape, and changing that shape based on how the game develops.  KISS for the kids!!

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Walrus

Registered: 08/02/10
Posts: 601
Reply with quote  #14 

We have an exceptional club in our area.  Last season they were playing mini U10 soccer which was 7vs7 (counting goalies).  They were so good they didn't lose all season and won the 5 tournaments they entered.  Their goal differential was something like +85??  Anyways, they thought they would attempt a U11 tourney where they would play 11vs11.  They entered that tourney (8 team tourney) and won it.  They had never played 11vs11.  They had never been on a full field.  Only reason they entered was because a team that was suppose to be in the tourney dropped out due to it being a long weekend. They played what looked like a 3-1-4-2 or something along those lines.  Anyways, i do agree with you that with kids born in 2000 playing on a full field 11vs11 is crazy, but it is possible!  This example proves that.

edfordham

Registered: 05/30/05
Posts: 5,311
Reply with quote  #15 
The problem with systems that show the various triangles and diamonds is that they are FLAT/static.

The key is movement.

In this way, I play 7 in a 312 formation because I want my wide 2 in the 3 to go into the spaces either side of the 1. If the front 2 can cross over it is a hell of a system but it don't look that good on paper!
Walrus

Registered: 08/02/10
Posts: 601
Reply with quote  #16 

Ed is right.  On paper it looks great, but it's the actions, and reactions of players and opponents that move players around and they are not always in a nice 3-4-3 formation as shown in the pic.

AFB

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Registered: 02/16/04
Posts: 6,365
Reply with quote  #17 
The topic is diverging into two separate issues - "formations" and small sided games/appropriate ages; though they are intimately related if you view the game from the perspective of space and time rather than relatively fixed positions.

You can certainly have 10 year olds playing a full sided game.  In fact, for some it is better.  The issue is not size, or even strength, though those can be factors.  The issue is the ability to keep all players involved in the game.

If players are not involved they lose enjoyment in the game.  They cease developing as players.   Involvement will mostly mean opportunity to possess the ball for that is how too many players are taught to understand the game.  If you teach players to see the game as the control of space, they can be involved at a much earlier age, even if they do not have the ball.

When we talk of formations, too often a rigid pattern is presented, with distinct offensive and defensive sections.  Rigidity has the advantage of being simple to teach (i.e., easier on the coach) and easier to learn.  It has the disadvantage of being inflexible and ill suited for expansion.  

We talk of formations as if static, with nice passing angles (triangles and diamonds).  Yet, we all know such angles are at best transitory.  In the article that Ricky presented we see pretty angles, but no defenders.  What will the defenders be doing to assert their control over these angles?  And, how many of these angles will survive?  What happens if a player slips or becomes the temporary space cadet all 10 year olds seem to become at one time or another?

The major problems with formations are the defense will not let you have what you desire and to defeat the defense you must move, with movement corrupting those nice angles.

The key to redeveloping lines of support (those angles) is for players to understand space, how it is created (through movement) and how time limits space. 

If you start teaching the concept of space and support to players early, they will learn and be able to create both space and support at young ages.  They will know how to organize without need to reference a formation.  It is organization, particularly on defense we want. 

Bring this back to how do we use small sided games to teach involvement.  You teach overlapping runs, right?  Look at the nice formations in the article.  Where is there space for an overlapping run, unless the formation breaks apart?  It isn't there.

What triggers an overlapping run?  Space - vacant space or soon to be vacant space.  As a puzzle think how a larger volume of space makes it easier on young players to see the space, learn to create it and exploit it. 

The key issue is how to keep the players removed in distance from the ball involved in the game.  

If you are seeking to keep them linked by a single pass, it is very difficult to do for most U11's or even U12's on a large ("full size") field.  If, however, your players are taught to move, yet remain no closer than X and no further than Y, it becomes possible to move the ball quickly all over the field and players are linked easily by two passes. 

Not all players are capable of doing this.  The foundation rests in strong technical training.  You need to train them in tight spaces as well as large spaces so they are comfortable with both. 

It is helpful in training players to see space if you break the game down into segments that are basically mini SSG's.  Think of an 8v8 game as really different 4v4, 4v3 and 3v4 games.  Likewise an 11v11 game is series of 6v6, 4v4, 5v6, 6v5 games.  Players interchange between these games every few minutes throughout the game. 

A common 4v4 game you see in regularly with an 11v11 game is the a defensive four man pattern (flat four, 3 man zone with a sweeper behind, sweeper-stopper) against two forwards and a winger with a supporting mid.  It plays out on usually one side (left or right of the field). 

If you teach your players to see the game in this manner, rather than a rigid formation, many more possibilities open up on the attack.  They see space and so move to support it quicker.  They also learn to create. 

It also means it is much easier to teach pattern plays in future years. 

It is not position-less soccer.  In truth that never really existed.  There are positions and differing responsibilities depending on where you as a player are on the field.  You are just interchanging with other players.  All player become much more involved.  Defenders quickly become forwards, and those who were in midfield drop into defensive roles. 

(Interesting things happen as you do this at the youngest ages.  Teach players to dribble effectively and a shot on the goal keeper that she picks up, suddenly leads to that goalie racing with the ball up one side of the field, a defender dropping back to cover the goal, and the other team in disarray as parents and coaches scream, The Keeper is OUT!  Speaking from personal experience I can say it is quite enjoyable - especially when the Keeper goes coast to coast to score.  Everyone is involved in the attack and on defense.)

If Coachmarino is reading this, CM was it eight or nine years ago we had a long and involved debate over mandating SSG's?  For the youngest ages, below U10, I am all for a mandate and believe 5v5 is the best number.  Beyond that point, if taught correctly players can cope with large size fields by letting the ball do the work IF they have learned to space themselves and all be involved in the play. 

This is near impossible if you try to make things simple by using a rigid formation. 

One final matter to ponder.  Fifteen years ago I remember a long running debate I had with an American coach who was recently inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame.  He loved defense and was ardent in stating that a 4-5 (3-2)-1 was "the formation."  It had layered defense and known passing angles. 

Eight years ago I had a debate with a former MLS Player of the Year who went on to coach two MLS teams about "formations."  He stated unequivocally that a 4-4-2 was the best, and nothing would or ever could be better. 

This year it is a 4-3-3 we are to teach all players.  It is the best we are told, you need only look to Barcelona.

Given history I wonder what will be the "best formation" in 2018 after two more World Cups?  I would not hazard a guess other than to say it will be different from a 4-3-3, but when broken down you will see that for the players on that team it best suited their ability to exploit space and frustrate their opponent's attempts to do the same.     

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coachkev

Avatar / Picture

Registered: 01/26/04
Posts: 13,673
Reply with quote  #18 
Ed's on the right track.
As you know I view formations ONLY as a START reference.
Its what players DO individually and collectively when the whistle blows that determines the effectiveness on where they are positioned.

I like to have a 'journey' of tactical elements I want to see occurring no matter what formation I start with.
The 'journey' consists of the Start >> Towards the Destination >> Momentum >> Adjusting to the Current Match Pattern Of Play Unfolding >> Tactic Adjustment (subs/positional?) >> Nearing the Destination >> Arriving (Winning the Match)

 


coachkev

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Registered: 01/26/04
Posts: 13,673
Reply with quote  #19 

Whatever happened to the 1441 & 154 rotating strikers formations???

Oldtimer

Registered: 03/04/04
Posts: 3,084
Reply with quote  #20 

On this forum I stumbled across Bob Christensen's "2-3-2-3 Double Sweeper" Formation.  I've found it the perfect starter for 11v11.  Simply taught (the "sweepers" and outside defenders move like a pendulum around the center defendere mids) good balance and a strong foundation for both stopper5-sweeper and zonal play.

Don't know if that Bob C is still in the game. 

I did a 1 page handout.  E-mail me for a copy.


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"Winning is important. The lessons learned by winning and losing in sports last a lifetime. However, the goal of every youth coach should be to help young soccer players understand and enjoy the process of participation and to teach the skill necessary to succeed. When the pressure to win begins too early, the passion and the love for the game can be lost." - Jay Martin, editor, NSCAA Soccer Journal
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