Coaching Youth Soccer: 8v8 Formation Idea — Applying Spanish Team Tactics to a Youth Squad

So…let me start by saying that I have spent way too many hours thinking about this issue.  While development is the goal, particularly in the small-sided years (anything below 11v11), does there exist a formation for 8v8 that complements development?  Or, I should say, that complements development and my coaching philosophy?  My coaching philosophy is player development with the style of play being possession based soccer, emphasizing creativity and mastery of the ball, short passes with the ball primarily on the ground.  I encourage dribbling around defenders in 1v1 situations, while at the same time recognize the value of the give and go and other 2v1 sequences.   I want the boys and girls I coach to be cerebral players and always “think about the next play.”  “Show for the ball” when your partner is in trouble, move to space when he is not.   I believe strongly that all players need to learn all the positions and be able to interchange (that is Code for “yes, little Johnny may have scored 100 goals as a 7 year old but he needs to learn to defend too”).  That is my philosophy in a nutshell.

I have coached 8v8 since 2006.  I cannot count the number of games I have coached.  I have coached players at all levels of skill, both technical and tactical, from basic recreations to high level competitive kids.  I have labored through the years to come up with an approach from a formation to assist the kids in their understanding of the game and their responsibilities.  I do not believe in teaching kids positions in this stage other than basic soccer concepts and theories of defense (compress the field, delay, cover) and attack (enlarge the field, penetrate, support).   So, what are some formations I have used?

1.  2-3-2

This was where I started.  I did not know then but this is an aggressive, attack-minded strategy.  We were recreation combos of 8 and 9 year olds (before they changed the small-sided rules).  I would think this is still a good rec-based formation but one vulnerable to attacks without the midfielders lending defensive support.  Also, it means that 2/7 of your team is laying up top, not really involved in defense.

2.  3-1-3

This was my second formation.  This formation should turn into a 3-3-1 on defense.  This is the year that I coined the phrase for my outside mids (wingers or whatever you want to call them) that “you are a midfielder who occasionally gets to play offense.”  I found that if kids define themselves as forwards, they tend to work less defensively. They come pre-wired with ideas of what a forward should and should not do.  The fewer of them that you have, the better.  This formation worked but it required a lot of management–reminding girls to return from their runs.  It also stretched the center-mid because the outside mids usually did not return.  Now we have 3 players waiting up top…

3.  3-2-2

I have tried this over and over again.  I just do not like the shapes and I do not like the layers.  At the 8v8 years, it is hard enough to learn how to touch the ball, effective dribbling, etc.  I do not want kids thinking in the games of what is their job versus someone else’s.  I want them “playing soccer and thinking about the next play.”  With the wrong kids in the middle, you will quickly find yourself in a 3-0-4, removing the links you need on the field and continuity.  So, now we have 4 up top….

4.  3-1-1-2

So I varied it.  Since I had a hard time getting the boys (this is year 6 and now with boys…) to defend the middle, I turned to Animal Kingdom.  Basically, what I wanted was a defensive-minded midfielder and an attack-minded midfielder.  Since they generally have no idea what those are, we decided to give the Mids animal names.  The boys named them:  Rhino for the defensive mid (a Rhino has armor they say), and a Jaguar for the attacking mid (obviously).  This really worked.  Each game, different kids were excited to be the Rhino or Jaguar.  What’s more, with something as simple as an animal name, it helped them to know where to be and what role to be on the field without a lot of second guessing.  I tell people all the time that a lot of coaching youth is the ability to effectively communicate with them.  In this instance, I let them name the animals.  So, instead of telling them to “get back” — a vague statement — I could say simply, “remember, you are our Rhino!”)  Even though we play a different formation today, we may shift a midfielder to holding mid now, we still call it Rhino.

5.  4-2-1 Winger Attack

This was Coach Tom’s baby.  The two outside defenders operate as wingers.  With only one forward, you are strong up the middle with 2 center backs and 2 center mids.  The problem with this formation is that the workload on the wingers is too high and field dimensions vary too much.  If all 8v8 fields were the same dimensions, there is a chance this formation would work.  But, having been involved in 8v8 for the last 6 years, I can tell you that you never know what you get with a field.  I think full-sided fields are more consistent, but 8v8 fields are all over the place.  If it is on the small side, this formation works great.  But, if it is a large 8v8 field, it is just too much work for the wingers and the boys cannot manage it.  It is a lot to ask mentally too – a player starting as a defender, on the back line,  has to add defensive pressure all the way up the pitch, while at the same time provide cover all the way back.  Our boys just couldn’t manage it.  So, when we were in a bind, we switched to…

6.  3-3-1

It was 2008 all over again, except for this time I was wiser.  Instead of calling it a 3-1-3, where players can get the idea that they are “forwards,” we remove all doubt by calling it a 3-3-1 and again reinforcing the old adage “you are a midfielder who occasionally plays offense.”  I do not think this is that confusing, but it does require some management to remind players of their defensive duties and, alternatively, remind them to go up and attack.  Sometimes we would find ourselves with only one player attacking the goal.  I never loved it, was never loyal to it, and was shopping for the next big thing when the Euros were televised in June…

This is a good formation to teach width in attack.  The midfielder responsibilities transition fine to 442 or 433.

7.  3-4-0 CURRENT FORMATION

This brings me to today.  Through the summer I worked with some high school girls from Vidor in a 6v6 league.  As I have posted on here before, I love small-sided games, especially for older players.  The small field compresses the game requiring better touch and less space.  Ball control is at a premium, as is the talent of using the dribble to create space (or your first touch).  Some of the girls had a hard time with positions – they tended to define themselves as a forward or defender.  The forwards generally waited for the ball while the other girls battled to get it to them.  My concept of 6v6 is different – I prefer no positions with the requirement that they attack as a team and defend as a team (5 on attack, 5 on defense).  This was a little hard  to accomplish so we modified it 2-3-0: 2 defenders (rotating), 3 midfielders, and 0 forwards.  I used this formation to emphasize that we attack as a team and defend as a team.  I discouraged long counters that stretch our team (making us vulnerable to loss of possession in the middle).  I stole the idea from Spain in the Euros – when they played a 4-6-0.  How did it work?  Fantastic!

While there were still players who tended to “lay up,” the idea started to gel that we all defended and all attacked.  That does not mean that everyone does the same job in attack and defense.  Some pressure, some cover, some support, etc.  But the idea of playing as a unit in a small area of the field, discouraging long passing , encouraging keeping the ball on the ground, started to work.  So, if girls who, for many, had no prior club experience could do it, why not our 10 year old boys, most of whom have played for 5-6 years?

It works!  Not only does it work, it requires less “reminding” than the old 3-1-3.  Somehow, when they know that there are NO FORWARDS, they get the idea of defense.   Again, since there is NO FORWARD, they know that they cannot rely on someone up top to score – they all have to be part of the process.  Mind you, I coach a group of boys that are fairly versatile.  Since we have been together (1 1/2 years), we have not allowed people to play one position.  So, in our first tournament with this formation, everyone played defender and everyone played midfield.  We used four different goalies.  I do provide them with some guidance in the middle by saying two are central mids and the other two outside mids.  But I tell them to feel free to change it as they see fit.  More than half of our team has scored in only two games.  We are still incorporating the winger-cross attack our trainer has emphasized, but, at the same time, we are enjoying a lot more defensive help in the middle from players other than the defenders.  I am not sure it is the ONE (as I have been down this road before), but it sure seems to fit what we are trying to teach and develop.

***Caveat:  I would not recommend this for a team with players who lack tactical understanding of the game.  The two center-mids are not only good technicians, they are good decision-makers.  Some kids just cannot do that job.  For that matter, I would not recommend something with the vagueness inherent in the job description for the kids (like the 2 CMs) for beginning level players.  Our boys compete in the most competitive league in Houston – a very competitive soccer area.  For younger or beginning players, I would prefer a formation that would be easier to teach out of and reinforce concepts I am introducing to them (width in attack, using the CM to link play, etc.)

If you have formations or ideas about game management that has helped you with player development, please post your thoughts.

Coach Clint

30 thoughts on “Coaching Youth Soccer: 8v8 Formation Idea — Applying Spanish Team Tactics to a Youth Squad”

  1. Nice article, Clint. I have used a variety of formations in 8v8 as well, mainly depending on what team we were playing and if I needed to go offensive heavy or defensive heavy. I usually favored the 2-3-2 with a defensive minded center mid (rhino, lol…i like it) that only pushed up on the attack when I gave the order to charge!! This gave me as close to a balanced attack as I could get. I usually try to maintain a balanced attack even today with 11v11 as I feel it serves the game well due to the open space it provides and it allows ample opportunity to adjust offensive/defensive pressure quickly if needed (since there are no timeouts in soccer, lol) without having to sub.

    I always felt I needed one of my two back defenders to be my fastest player to help in shutting down any chance of shots on our goal. Seemed to work well for us.

    My MF’s were usually average-skilled players and were sufficient in playing both sides of the ball. They understood their role of getting back on counter attacks to provide aid to our defenders and they were able to distribute the ball well to my forwards.

    I rotated my best players at RF and I would have them stagger on the ball side to create opportunites during the attack as we usually attacked down the right side (like my varisty girls last year). My weaker players played LF (unlike my varsity today as I place my better players at LF)as I always wanted to give them multiple chances to score as they could clean up misses from the attack or “be in the right place at the right time” to receive an assist from my better-skilled RF.

    The two years I coached 8v8 were successful years for our team. We finished in the top two of six teams both years. Everyone on our team scored a goal the second year. It was really fun. I have made many friendships and connections with some of my players and their families and some have followed me with my daughter to higher levels. Their absolute trust in me and my ability to coach and mentor their children means a great deal to me. I wouldnt be the coach I am today without their support.

  2. I think the 3 – 4 has great potential. I love the idea because most players at this age (even the advanced players) have trouble playing consistance and smart defence. How many times do I see more effort on offence than on defence. Also you dont have to beg patients to go up like you do to come back. I hope we can try it some this year.

  3. Nice job, Clint. I like that you have rooted through a lot of variations on the theme to find a shape that will teach/ reinforce principles and roles rather than concrete “positions.” I do think that idea of playing without a recognized forward is a very interesting and innovative way to teach these lessons. Well done! As I am sure that you’ve experienced, sometimes the hardest thing to do with these ages is to talk the talk and walk the walk. I admire the fact that you found a way to do that. Great job!

  4. Thanks Justin – we will see. Seems like I have been in 8v8 forever. There have been other “aha” moments in the past – maybe this one will stick!

    Thanks Ralphy — appreciate all you are doing with Vidor soccer.

    Good luck Chad — we will see tomorrow how it holds up. Patience. Patience. Patience.

  5. Very informative article Clint , Currently I am coaching players who are above 17 and below 22.We were using 4-2-1 formation but like you wrote in your article there was was tremendous pressure on the wingers. I decided to tweak the system a bit.We have started playing more like 2-1-2-1-1 when we attack and turn into 2-4-1 when we defend .My logic behind this is, we want to outnumber our opponents in midfield area so that we can play short pass and move game.Another reason is we have a hard working striker so what we try to do is we press our opponents inside their half and make sure they misplace the pass and we attack again.I ask my cm to cover the wing if our wingers does not fall back.

  6. Nice article. I like the 4-2-1 myself. I think it prepares them for 11v11. That said, there are a few reasons it works for me. First, I start at 6v6 with 8-10 yr olds running a 3-2 with the outside defenders pushing up as wingers. This leaves me only 1 defender, but he just needs to learn to delay. Second, my 2 mids are a center mid and a defensive mid (Rhino). So if the outside defenders are tiring, the defensive mid just hangs back between the center defenders. This creates a nice, compact defensive shape. What I love is about this configuration is that it teaches the outside defenders to overlap.

    1. BTW- our boys are now U13s and we run a 433. In the middle, a Rhino and 2 Jaquars, as they say it (and they still use those terms!). When we want to close up shop, they call it “Double Rhino.” Word choice is very important in coaching.

  7. Clint. This is a great article. I really appreciate it. I am fairly new to coaching. I have 7-8 year olds playing 8v8, a few have little to no experience, the most experienced have 2 years so this is a novice but eager squad. Teaching positions has been challenging to say the very least. We play teams that have been together since they were 3-4 years old so we are outmatched most games. Would this concept of a 3-4 be good for this level of experience? I am trying to keep it simple for my girls.

    1. I would think a 3-3-1 would be easier to teach for less experienced players. 3-4-0 requires tactical understanding in the middle. My experience is the biggest problem in transitioning from 6v6 to 8v8 is the added layer – particularly CM. I think a formation with more defined roles would be easier, like a 322 or 331. I like 331 because it introduces winger play (get wide on attack) and i emphasize 6 people behind the ball on defense because kids that age dont usually get that responsibility (“i am a forward” or “i am a defender”). the outside mids are easy to teach because, once you get the ball, they can orient to the line to ask for it. The CM is always the biggest challenge. I constantly talk about that role (as a “link” a “door” a “gate”). I over-correct it with the admonition to “check to the ball” always (so that they don’t run forward as soon as your team gets it). You will have to remind the wide players that they are not forwards (again, an over-correction to correct their forward tendencies). I used to make them say “i am a midfielder who occasionally gets to play forward”). I would wait to use a 340 until your inside players have more tactical awareness. We play 8v8 here until u13. I love it as a U12 formation. At u11 or younger, unless the team is very advanced, i would go with something like 331 or 322.

      1. Hi Clint. Great stuff. I currently play 3-3-1 with U-11 boys. It’s a pretty experienced group who have played competitive travel soccer for a couple of years. I am intrigued by the idea of a 3-4-0 but am concerned about the lack of depth without a striker, both defensively (without high pressure) and offensively (in particular, not having a high target for quick counter attacks). Can you please address these issues? How can you create high pressure in the 3-4-0? And how do you counter attack with a “flat 4” in the midfield and no striker? Many thanks. ~Mark in NH

        1. Mark: It has happened to us. We had moments using the formation where we were too “flat” or too compressed on the attack. Here are a couple of thoughts:

          1. By U12, we stopped moving players around as much (we still required multiple positions), but were starting to identify certain skill and elements that would transition to the 11v11 season. A couple of our boys were fantastic from the outside, so we focused our attack through the wings as opposed to the middle. I guess you could say, in a lot of ways, the formation changed to a 3-2-2 on attack with the forwards being the outside players, not the inside.

          2. We did not play with a target forward. If you are, I would think the formation would be a poor fit. Since we opted to attack from the wings, we used the middle to transfer the ball outside. Our most advanced player like to attack from the left (he is right footed) and he would drift in anyway. We knew that so running the 3-4-0 with him on the left gave us a forward presence inside or out. Most important – put your kids in a formation that helps you teach things you need to teach and that works for your kids and their abilities, tendencies, etc.

          3. BTW, our right winger tended to hug the line – we knew that too. So the teaching moment for him and his sub was always to get into a scoring position when the ball is on the other flank rather than sit wide.

          4. Big issue in our area – and I will write another post on it — is field size. In Houston where we play, there are tons of teams that play competitive soccer. The complex we are at has three different 8v8 fields — all different sizes. One is an old 6v6 field, two are a few steps longer, and then there is one that is huge. Unfortunately, the schedulers (and even a lot of coaches) do not appreciate the difference in field size and the effect of the game. I have learned playing 8v8 that the first thing I do is look at the field. It may be so small that a 232 makes sense. It may be so big that it does not. I think you have to factor that in. Down here, once you get to 11v11, the field sizes are more consistent — at 8v8 though, you could be playing on a tiny 6v6 field.

  8. Great stuff – I’ve got a very similar philosophy and made a similar switch at 8v8 and really like a 3-4-0 or 3-121(diamond)-0. I have been using it as my base formation for 2 years of 8v8 in both rec and travel/club leagues. I used to call the top of the diamond a striker, but changed to a “no forwards” approach when a rec parent complained that their kid wasn’t playing enough forward. They couldn’t grasp the concept of player development, the need to rotate players among positions, and team attacking/defending, because their “little Johnny” was big and fast. I now consider it a false-9 or attacking-mid, and get much more defending by that position, while allowing the AM freedom to roam/create. I use a DMF whose instruction is mostly “check-in/show for the ball.” The L/R mids provide width and can function in tandem with the DMF (centrally, as a triangle) or transition to wingers, though I usually ask them to play more central and encourage them to disregard L/R.

    What it forms is something critical for this age. A central “spine” I call it to my team (AM-DMF-CB-GK), which allows players to switch the field anywhere on the pitch (we do a lot of work on switching fields in practice, so having a central spine helps with that in games). I used to Asst a head coach who insisted on a 3-2-2, which transitioned into “jungle ball” (most athletic wins the ball) in the midfield and had few central players (think of a giant horseshoe, with no central attacking players, everyone remaining wide. The mids would stay wide (where the space was) and were regularly 25-30 yards apart. The only way to switch field was to drop it back of bomb it over the top, otherwise = turnover. I modified it to 3-1-1-2, which worked much better to retain possession and opens the outer channels for your FBs but, like you, got little defending out of the forwards. So, now that I’m back to running the show we are dominating possession with a 3-4-0, have buy-in from parents and kids, and regularly have coaches (even when we lose) asking how I get the kids to play “like that.”

  9. what about a 1-3-2-1. ie a sweeper, 3 fullbacks, 2 mids, 1 striker. Wing fulls overlap on attack as opportunity arises.

  10. For my youth teams, we label the outside mids as left and right “Everywheres.” This let’s them know that their responsibility is to play all the way up on offense and all the way back on defense. We can rotate more players through these positions because they are expected to work up and back so much that they get tired sooner. They help provide backdoor support on defense and many backside scoring opportunities. The only challenge is teaching them to stay mostly on their own side of the field “except for emergencies” as I like to say.

    1. love it .. awesome. i used to make the outside mids repeat this statement: “i am a midfielder who occasionally gets to move forward” if they were the type of player who never tracked back. i even like my outside attackers in the 433 to track back a bit so this is important to me at least.

  11. I come from a very similar place Clint, student of the game rather than a former player- though I think playing as an adult has helped me become a much better coach/trainer..

    My first year with a u8 team, we started out playing a 3-2-2. I instructed my back line to trap the ball and dribble forward to create space, then pass and return to their back line. Worked extremely well. Other teams were ‘booting’ the ball to us all game long and we would control, create space and chances. Only problem I didn’t like was the lack of width. The defenders did a great job holding their shape but the midfield and forwards were a mess. But hey, you have to start somewhere and building from the back is the key to any successful team.

    About half way through the season we switched to a 2-3-2, where I put a big focus on the outside midfielders getting wide when we have the ball. The defenders are instructed to swing the ball and play it outside. It has worked great, we stretch teams and create space with ease. It took a few games but the midfielders are much more disciplined now in their positioning. I’m still having trouble with the CM showing for the ball when the outside isn’t an option but that’s more of a personnel issue and the fact that these girls are only 7/8yo.. Really great site, keep at it.

  12. Has anyone tried a 2-4-1? or maybe more specific 2-1-3-1.
    My experience thus far with 8v8 is with girls. I have decent athletes but I have always felt that asking a young player to cover that middle all by themselves is a very difficult task. They must defend that area and connect run the show so to speak in possession.

    I have found that when in possession I split my two CM’s which allows the strong side CM to be closer to the ball in the wide area but also able to switch the attack by having the other CM closer. All the passes are much closer. This also allows one of the CM’s to push forward in some situations and become a second Central forward.
    When we don’t have the ball, we go into more of a diamond with a “6” Holding mid who sits in that hole. They drop in between my two backs if needed.
    This shape also forces the wide players to defend some and also act like wingers getting into attack. So the shape becomes more of a 2-2-3 in possession. It doesn’t require a lot of work from those wide players to work endline to endline.

    I like how it shortens the field for younger smaller players. Passing distance fits much more within their range of vision. It also gives us a numerical advantage in the middle which comes in handy on both sides of the ball.

  13. I really enjoyed this write up. I’m coaching U11 girls and have been coaching roughly this age group for 5 years.

    I was struggling to balance attack and defense last fall and finally arrived at 3-3-1 at the end of the season. I pushed the forward into the hole (the arch at the top of the penalty box) and told her she couldn’t shoot, she had to give the leading pass to one of the outside mids on an overlap. Then the forward and the other outside mid had to provide support after the shot. This worked well, but we still struggle to recover after losing possession.

    I like the idea of 3-4-0, and I think it will fit my team’s general skill level. I view the 2 central mids as a potential weakness because of the lack of spacial awareness at 10 years old. I hate to limit who can play a position, so I’ll have to give this a lot of thought as we get into our Spring season.

    Of course, once we get a successful 8v8 format I’ll have to figure out how to transition it next fall to the new USSF 7v7!

  14. Coaching a 8v8 I have now switched to a 3-1-3. Three forwards are required to apply a lot of defensive pressure on the ball when it’s still in our attack looking to force bad passes and turnovers. Midfield needs to be a strong player that can run a lot and look to intercept those bad passes.

    I guess the overall point is keeping the ball in our attack as much as possible and creating favorable numbers in our attack. Also players are less fatigued because we don’t have as many playing midfielder.

  15. I really enjoyed this blog post. I have coached both U12 boys and girls travel in my town since 2011. Currently girls . We were playing a team last night that had already beat us 4-0 earlier in the season. My team is in its last season of U12 before making the step up to “the show” . We have had great success with the 2-4-1 . Last night given our opponent and after reading this post we decided to try the 3-4. It did not have the success I would have hoped , but there was some . We lost 3-0 this time (and to be honest one was a misplayed redirected shot resulting in an own goal so I do not really count it since it was a gimme) so discounting that goal we effectively held a team that played competitively in Div 1 in the fall and was for some reason dropped down into our div 2 ( which we are playing in for the very first time ) to 50% of their offensive output of our first meeting.

  16. Great article! I love how you explain and reflect upon your journey through several formations. I too have been working with players in 6v6 to 8v8 since about 2006. While I started with a 3-3-1 and shifted to 2-3-2 in my early days, I have since moved away from teaching any formation based tactics. Sounds odd to say and might raise a few eyebrows to read but I am being sincere. All of our training in the past 5 years has shifted to principles based play, recognizing the 4 moments of the games and emphasizes using numbers up in support both in and out of possession. In this manner we look for support in key areas of the pitch (2 options close, a central, 2 options wide, and a high outlet) all in sight of the player and the ball. We quickly try to establish players defensively as 1st, 2nd and 3rd defenders where ever we are on the pitch. In order to establish this in training we play a lot of 6 v 6 and 5v5. I do not assign positions but expect my players to sort out areas of need. When it is appropriate for a player who is playing an a central defender role to penetrate with a dribble we see someone else slip in to support from behind the ball and other players rotate and shift around the field to ensure good angles and distance of support while maintaining our key areas of support. Upon losing the ball the closest players press as first and second defenders the others organize to be compact and balanced in numbers up behind the ball, leaving remaining players free to act as outlets and targets should we win it back. When we set up for a star of game it looks like a 2-1-4 (2 D- holding Mid – 2 wings – 2 strikers). But never stays that way! If the other team has fast attackers my girls shift of their own accord to have faster defenders. If they have 1 strikers we sit in 2 defenders, if they have 2 strikers we organize 3 defending players. It works:) and I have really smart players by the time we get to 11 a side they can fit into any formation or system in pretty much any position. Hence why I abondond formation based tactics and preferred instead to develop players who fully understood the principles of the game, recognized their changing roles based upon the 4 moments of the game and could apply them all over the field. We are flexible and responsive and seek to solve soccer problems. Hope it helps.

  17. This is my first season coaching U10 8v8 soccer. I spent way too much time trying to figure out what formation works, but I needed to look at what I had for talent. I have 11 kids. 1 kid who can use either foot very well and creates space when there isn’t much space. I have 2 other good athletes, but with less foot skill and 4 kids that seem to understand the game. The other 4 are, to put nicely, participants.

    Last spring I coached U8 and went with 3-4-0 and had decent success but struggled at times to score goals. I found a good article on using 2-1-3-1. Your 2 LBs split the field down the middle. We don’t allow them to go all the way to the corner and they only stay on the first 1/4th of the field. I start my games with 2 of my kids that understand the game because I like to set the pace early on defense. All kids eventually play these spots and all spots I want to mention. My next guy is typically my best athlete and one of my better players. We call this our stopper. They are basically a center backer. They have the middle of the field and is the goalie’s best friend. They need to help get the stop and then quickly advance the ball. We tell them to stay on their side of the field, but if we need to attack, we allow them to come forward. For my 3 midfielders I put 2 participant style players on the outside to start. I tell them they can run the field on Offense and Defense, but just have to stay on their third. These kids have really enjoyed this spot. I will rotate my LBs with these spots too. My CMF is my other good athlete. I rotate this person with our stopper, so both kids play Defense and Forward. My CMF is typically someone that is able to put themselves in front of the goal for rebounds or quick shots from the wing. Lastly is my striker. I start my most skilled offensive player here. We want to try and get on the scoreboard early so having this person that can create on their own is huge. Once we have established a goal or two they get rotated back to LB and I give other players the chance to play upfront. If we need a goal, he goes back up to this spot. Our Striker is only allowed to come back to the center circle on the defensive side. We want them available for break away opportunities.

    I have really liked this formation because we keep our strongest players in the middle of the field and we limit our mistakes. Every kid has seemed to enjoy this formation and we have gotten kids equal time on Defense and at Forward.

      1. i think it is always developmentally better to play with 2 in the middle – it will be harder in the short term, but the kids will learn to combine and play through the middle more. a 331 is typically a results-oriented formation.

          1. if it is for adults, it is whatever works – i tend to focus more on youth development. too many coaches play the 331 in youth soccer because it is easy (decision-making easy).

          2. Indoor soccer is very different from playing outdoors. There are also many variables for me. We get no practice time, many kids have never played and they want to be somewhat competitive. There is only so much I can do given the circumstances. Thanks for your input.

    1. This year I’ve started to use 2-1-3-1 too with my U12 team.

      Before talking more about the system, I have to say: individual game results mean very little to me. To me, most important is to see kids have fun together and stay away from trouble. And to see the smiles they have after a good game or a good dribble or a nice goal. But the results mean alot to the kids. Winning feeds self-esteem and courage, and without them developement is harder. So a nice win every now and then is important.

      I find the 2131 easy to learn. It has many pros compared to 331 and 232 I’ve used earlier.

      1. 2 CB:s is the basis of nearly every system, so having kids learn it is important. Building the game from downstairs is also easy with to CB:s and a DMF.

      2. Wings are excellent for a little less skilled players. IMO they’re meaning for the defense and build-up is a bit smaller than in 331 or 232, since there are three players ready at the middle.

      And because basically 5 of the 7 players are in the middle, wings tend to have space when attacking, so the chance for a positive experience is good.

      3. DMF and AMF are good for the more skilled players: they have the chance to use their skills and have alot of ball-touches and 1vs1-situations during the game. And since several modern tactics are built of four lines instead of the three in old-school 4-4-2, this formation teaches little bits of tactics for every player.

      It also adds different roles to players. This formation basically has 5 (+goalie) different roles, so there’s something for everybody. Rotating the players really teaches them alot, since in every role they face different situations.

      4. Last. Triangles. When buildin up a play, passing in a triangle is every coaches dream. Draw the formation on paper and see for yourself: there are triangles everywhere.

      So when teaching how to support the player with the ball, this is THE system, since it’s very easy. And supporting defensively is as easy as forming the triangles, since after losing a 1vs1, the next player is always near.

      And when the tactics are easy, it leaves more time for practising individual skills.

Love to read your thoughts...