A New Take (To Me) on 4231

I took one of my boys up to Dallas to play with a team in the NPL.  It is an 04 team – so the boys are still struggling to play 11v11.  Having been coaching for over a decade now, I will say that the hardest thing to coach is the center-mids, especially for boys.

Boys tend to think forward all the time.  And, in the middle, they have no orientation points.  On the edge, they have the line.  At the back, they have everything in front of them.  Up top, they are usually playing on the back-shoulder (as much as you work on playing “between the lines.”). But, in the middle, they have nothing to orient to.  We work on it all the time with 8-10 yard grids we incorporate in our possession games.  I will set 3 center-mids versus 2 defenders in the middle and the rule is that the the CMs cannot occupy the same square as their partner.  It teaches rotation and off-the-ball movement.  It requires A LOT of work.  And, in the game, they crowd each other again….

Defensive mids split middle
So, while I struggle to teach rotation, I watched my son play holding mid on a team playing  what they call a 433. I call it a 4231 as the assign two center-mids to play in front of the defensive line.  And, to aid in orientation, the coach assigns them sides – left and right – and adds an imaginary line dividing them.

I must say I chuckled when I watched him start to move into the other side to stop at the imaginary line.  I thought – how silly – and, what is that teaching?  Isn’t the point for them to learn the proper way to play off-the-ball?  In support?

But then I thought, hey, I have struggled and struggled to play with 3 in the middle because they don’t understand rotation and spacing.  And, this helps.  It is an orientation point in the middle.  So I watched some more.  I found that the boys did better in giving space to their teammate – they resisted the desire to run into other’s space and solve their problems.  Interesting.

One thing I have learned in this game is that you can always learn.  You can learn from everyone around you.  I enjoy seeing another coach’s tactics and ideas and how they communicate ideas of the game.  So, now I am going to experiment with orientation in the middle.  I will report back…

3 thoughts on “A New Take (To Me) on 4231”

  1. Great points you make. CMs must also realize that sometimes the best supporting run they can make is to drop back a few yards to create time, space, and the best angle. Possession, not moving forward, a concept that requires much discipline, is the key. You consistently share ecellent insight.Thanks

  2. Thanks for the post! Good insights and thought provoking. I have u13 boys playing 11v11 this year for the first time. I have found it helpful to create situations in training that replicate the size and space they will encounter in games. For example, I’m imagining the possession games you are describing might be played within a 20×20 yard or 30×30 yard space. Not saying this is your approach but I know I do a lot on small grids and small numbers to create lots of chances for decision-making, tighter spaces, etc. Then on Saturday we play on a 120×65 yd pitch (too big for u13 IMO). Now our midfield is being asked to play within a 80×40 yd space. Now, at a given moment in the game these 3 players may be typically spaced only 10-20 yards apart, facing 2-3 opponents within a 30 yard square space. But I’d argue that the context of being surrounded by many additional players and the location of the 30 yard square “midfield box” ever changing within a much larger space creates a tactical environment that is different from the training environment. Within the real game environment it is much harder to find orientation points because these are always changing. In training can we add game-like complexity to the environment and still effectively teach rotation, spacing, etc to 12-year olds? I don’t know but I’m experimenting!

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