Category Archives: Soccer Tactics

Why You Should Have 2 Center-Mids in Small Sided Formations (9v9)

Our league (United Soccer Club) transitioned from 8v8 to 9v9 this year.  In any event, in any league you play, you will encounter variations of small-sided games.  As you balance development versus results, the way that you align your players at young ages says a lot about your motive.

I believe, without reservation, that the optimal developmental formation for SSGs (7v7, 8v8, 9v9) requires you to play 2 Center-Mids. This opinion has been years in the making.  Are there other formations that would be easier to get forward? Yes.  To score goals?   Of course.  The problem is that at the ages where the players are playing SSGs, you have to balance development heavier than tactics or results.

In the new 9v9 setup, I see most coaches play a 332.  The lone center-mid is left to spray the ball forward for the forwards to run onto it.  To me, this is seed of the 442.  My problem is this:  if you can teach players how to build through the middle and teach 2 players to operate in that boundary-free zone, they can always play “direct” 332 style when necessary.  But the reverse is not true.

I played competitive tennis as a youth. I loved overheads.  I loved to spike them (play them short).  I was taught by a wise coach to play deep overheads – preferably in the corners – but in no case should I spike them.  He told me that if I could learn to play deep overheads, I could always spike one when appropriate – but knowing how to spike doesn’t mean you know how to play a proper deep overhead.

Using 2 CMs in youth soccer is the same to me.  Will it slow down your attack? Yes.  Will it cost you goals? Yes.  But, if you can start building the concepts of having 2 CMs learning to work together in the middle – learning how to move in support (either away or to each other), it is like learning to hit a deep overhead.  As a coach, you just need to do it.

So, for the last year my 9v9 teams have played a 323.  And, for me, I do not see a 433 like Real Madrid – they are not all 3 “forwards” for me.  I have a lone forward with two wingers or attacking midfielders (however you want to call them) that provide width to the attack.  They are expected to track back and defend but not all the way back to the touch line.  The their defensive duties usually stop around the penalty area or a touch higher.

But, for me, the bottom line is that you need 2 CMs in the SSGs to encourage play through the middle and encourage technical growth, not selling out for short-term results.

MVP of Premier League

Great article about “the most effect player in the EPL.”  http://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/22/football/kante-chelsea-roi-football-stats-win-percentage/

unknownLove this article because of the point it makes.  Alex Ferguson said this player was the best in the EPL last season.  He is the best this season.  He is not a forward.  He is not a #10.  He is not a flashy winger.  He is a center midfielder!  He is known for interceptions and tackles and high work rate.  Love it!

Cant makes the players around him better.  That is why he is the most effective player in the EPL and regarding by Sir Alex as the most valuable.  Yet, coaches at all levels, particularly youth coaches, fail to recognize these traits in players.

I can watch a game with another coach – see a player disrupting play form the other team, cutting out passing angles, intercepting, tackling, and be amazed.  I then ask the coach what he sees – he doesn’t even notice the CM.  He sees the fast kid up front or the big kid at back.  It is embarrassingly poor observation.

So, for all of you, read this article and ask yourself, “why does Sir Alex say what he does about Kante?”  And, “what can I do or say to reward these types of behaviors on my team?”

3 Takeaways:  

  1.  Track interceptions made at center mid or back line.  I like to give those players a target when they walk on the field – specific – “I am looking for 5 interceptions.”  I love doing this – gives them a target to aim for and accountability.   Lets them know also what I am looking for.
  2. Track tackles made at center and back.  Again, I like to give players a target – “5 tackles” – this does not mean that they win the ball, it could mean turning a player around, shoving them off a run, etc.   Same as above – helps with accountability as they know what my expectations are.
  3. Track connected passes or turnovers.  Either one.  If your team is struggling to connect, track turnovers.  For youth players, here is my standard:  “If you have the ball with little or no pressure (like, say, after an interception), I expect you to make a connection (which may require some dribbling and looking).  I count turnovers.  I have yet to have a player I coach tell me that any coach has ever done that for them.  Sad.

That being said, I do not mind turnovers if they are risking something.  That is different.  If they are trying to play through or over, fine.  I am talking about turning the ball over when they have time and space to find the next pass.

Coaching 442 – My “Aha” Moment

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:

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Be flexible, so you don’t get bent out of shape.

Parent-Coaching: Perspectives of an Elite Player’s Parent (College-Bound Player)

piano teacherThis comment was left to my post on Can a Parent-Coach be a Professional Coach.  I received a lot of email regarding that post –  Sam Snow, our U.S. Director of Coaches, distributed it to all 55 State Association Technical Directors.  But this particular comment was left by a parent who I have great respect for and who has navigated the elite youth soccer world.  I think her comment is great and enlightening to any parent who has a soccer player and are worried about their development.  It was just too good to bury as a comment to a post — here goes:

Love the post. I read it just before going on a trip with my daughter to visit a soccer school, so it was the perfect time to reflect on her experiences and how it relates to your post. The college coach sat down and told us why he was recruiting her. “She has courage on the ball…she plays creatively…she wants to control and possess, which is our style….” This school we were visiting is ranked in the top 10 in the country, and I couldn’t help but pause and think of how she developed these skills that got them to notice her. She has only played at the ECNL level for two years. For the rest of her career, she was “parent coached”. She was given the creativity to “make something happen”. She was challenged to take a player on. She was never afraid to make mistakes. She was taught a concept called “magic” where you could give the ball away…run to space, and it would magically come right back. (That is now a style that defines her.) She learned soccer in an environment that was rewarding in every way…which includes socially and psychologically. It was the right amount of focus on winning/developing. It had the social elements the right environment (sometimes low pressure…sometimes more pressure) that must exist in order to avoid player burnout by the time they get to high school. Her parent coaches had an almost obsessive desire to learn more about “the beautiful game.” The coaching never got stale. There was always something else to master…a new skill or formation or style to learn and try out. It was always exciting to her…always like playtime.

In my opinion, “professional” is a term that indicates ability/effectiveness as a coach. I think listening and paying attention and then knowing what to do with the information is the first step. (I listen and pay attention, but I don’t know what to do with that information. I look at skill and technique, but I don’t pay attention to the game as a whole as well as a professional coach. My brain doesn’t work that way.) My oldest daughter’s piano teacher couldn’t play that well…so he said. I don’t know. I never heard him play. But he would listen with his eyes closed, and then stop my daughter and correct her again and again…the same measure over and over. Until it was perfect. He was a genius at listening and paying attention to the details. At times, he wanted my daughter to hear the piece played, so he would bring in his wife to play it because he couldn’t…then he’d go back to teaching. He was a brilliant teacher because he paid attention to every single detail and then knew exactly what to do with that information.

Enthusiasm and ability to motivate the young kids, especially when the newness is over and it is hot and you might be losing…or when a player isn’t as good as they want to be (or think they are) …that’s tough. A professional coach can do that. They can keep the kids engaged and willing to work day after day. They can keep the intensity up in practices. They teach the kid to “compete”…an invaluable trait in a soccer player. It is easy to do that the first season…but what about the 10th…or longer. It is a long journey—a marathon. You have to know when to sprint and when to jog, and even when to rest… When to push and when to back off. It is a skill that requires an ability to understand people—kids in particularly. You have to push them hard, but still delicately at the same time. You have to be able to get them to listen to you…to want to make you proud of them. They have to think, “I can’t let my coach down.”

Humility and hunger to learn: A great coach has to be confident but also have a desire to learn from the experts. When they feel that their player/team needs more, they need to bring in the help. Both of my daughter’s “parent coaches” were continually seeking out the experts to run special sessions. There were so many. They were like master classes. A “professional” coach will soak up new information and then get excited about passing it on to the player. They will learn new drills and teaching methods that allow for maximum player development. They are not intimidated by those who know more and who are better. They are in fact drawn to them.

Not every parent can be a professional coach. I can’t. I have the enthusiasm and love for the game. I could watch it all day every day. I can identify talent and appreciate a great play. But I’m not a coach. I have one or two of the necessary elements (such as a love for the game), but not enough of them. You have to have a coaches mind. You have to see the game in a way that is at a different speed/level than others. Coaching is a talent that combines a certain combination of several skills, and when someone has it, you know it. You can see it immediately.

As we drove home from the college visit, we asked our daughter what she liked about the different schools. Her answer is not surprising. It’s all about the coach. She wants to play for an amazing soccer coach who inspires her and motivates her and is obsessive about helping her get better. That…and blue bell ice cream. One of the schools had a cafeteria with a huge freezer full of blue bell, right around the corner from the room she’d be staying in. That was impressive too. :)

Rebecca Chilton

Thanks Rebecca.