You can follow my education on coaching soccer on this blog. I was a clean slate starting in ’06 and relied on coaching experience and coaching education to form my foundations. At that time, the US Youth Coaching guidelines (through Reyna) were to teach and work toward a 433. I took that to heart and tried to apply it and its concepts of short passing, ball on the ground, etc.
So, for one reason or another, I felt like I was caving to use a 442 – that somehow it was below me. That I was selling out for direct, kick ball results if I used it. How naive.
While reading Alex Ferguson’s bio and a few other books (I list them on the site), I learned that there are a lot of variations in formations and tactics. And, the player’s tactical role matters more really than whatever formation you think you are using.
So, while coaching my U14s (they are a top Division 1 team in the Houston area), I continued to work and work and work with the center mids on spacing and building through the middle – taking advantage of the number advantage in the middle (as most teams we played used a 442 direct approach – even in the A bracket in Division 1). But, week after week, I noticed we seemed to gain little advantage with the spare midfielder. They continued to struggle with spacing – not giving enough space to each other or giving too much. Most often, though, they would crowd each other in possession. And, we were still scoring mostly on the counter.
So, I tried something new. I wanted to create more space in the middle for the mids so I went to a 442 and, aha, we were able to build through the middle. We actually possessed more. It was an “aha” moment for me. Here are my lessons learned:
- U14 players, even elite college-bound ones, are still kids. And, as I continue to learn, the hardest thing to coach is the middle because it requires more cleverness and the spacing decisions are not as obvious (no orientation point). Quite simply, simplifying the approach can make it easier for them to play the right way.
- If your team is struggling with spacing, decisions, etc., consider a formation that is more simple so that they can use their mental energies on creativity on the pitch not on trying to remember where they are supposed to be for the formation.
- It is what I learned a long time ago with kids – less is more. If you give them fewer players and more space, they will do more. If you put more players in smaller spaces, they struggle. They are not sure what is their job and someone else’s.
- I still think it is important to learn other formations – this team plays a 433, 4231, 352, and now a 442. They are learning and my job is to educate. Even it it means suffering a result. As a coach, be open to ideas and learning.
- I am still learning all the time. Just watching the boys play in a 442 taught me a lot. As a coach, I feel like I should always be learning something new.
- I don’t agree that we should be told what formation to coach from a national standard. As a coach, you should teach your players all different variations. I don’t agree that US Youth Soccer should be telling coaches which formations to use and those ideas get dated. The most important thing for me is to use a formation that best helps to teach ideas to my players – whatever that may be.
- When I am coaching for a result (like a Cup or competition game), even then my formation depends more on the players I have that day and their characteristics then some genera guideline.
- Be flexible, so you don’t get bent out of shape.