Formations for Youth Soccer
may never end…
By Coach V
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
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.
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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
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.
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.
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
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
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
“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
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
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.