Giving up Too Many Soccer Goals?
7 Ways to Improve your Soccer Defense
Stopping Soccer Breakaways
Qualities Needed for Different Soccer Positions
8v8 Soccer Formations, 2-1-2-2 and 2-1-3-1

I coach a U12 rec team that is coed. We play 8v8. I have three good very good soccer players and one good player. We have played 3 games and lost all three. We have not scored less than 4 goals in any game but cannot seem to stop giving goals up. I have tried 3-2-2, 2-1-2-2, and in the last game 2-1-3-1. I need help.

Coach PR


Hi Coach PR,

This one should be easy to fix - it is usually much easier to improve defense than offense.

Ideally, you want to keep on scoring 4 goals but only give up 1 or 2.

It is VERY encouraging that you are still able to score 4 goals using 2-1-2-2 and 2-1-3-1 formations.

Below are ideas to consider:

To know what you need to do, you must first answer the question: "Why is my team giving up goals?" The usual answers are one or more of the following:

  1. Not enough brave players in position to defend the goal: If this is the case I'm guessing it is because your Fullbacks are Pushing Up too far OR because your Stopper (the "1" in a 2-1-2-2 or 2-1-3-1) isn't getting back to help defend OR both. If either of these is the problem, the way to fix it is to give your Fullback and Stopper some SPECIFIC RULES to follow. For example, tell your Fullbacks to stop at the Penalty Box Line (or somewhat farther if they are fast enough to stop breakaways) and to stay in front of your goal � tell them DO NOT go to the corners to pursue the ball � your opponents won't score from the corner � tell your Stopper to pressure balls in the corner. Tell your Stopper to STOP at the inside of the Center Circle on your side of the field and to SHIFT from side to side with the ball so he is in position to break up the opponent's attack. Praise and reward your players with our patches or some other reward IF they follow these rules and if tell them that they MUST do their job and let their teammates do their jobs and that if they won't you will have to take them out of the game for a while to show you are serious. Since your Fullbacks won't be running as much, let them play the entire game as a reward, and if you get ahead by 3 goals, let them play Forward if they want (my great Rec Fullbacks never wanted to play Forward, only Fullback because they were very successful at Fullback and proud of it). If you leave your Fullbacks Deep, they don't need to be fast or skilled, but they MUST be brave � they can't be timid or afraid of the ball or you will get killed. Tell your Fullbacks to just kick the ball hard straight ahead and tell your Stopper and Midfielders that they MUST be in position to win those cleared balls. If a FB kicks the ball straight ahead and the MFs and Forwards aren't in position to win the ball, then it is the MFs and Fs fault and NOT the FBs � in that case, praise and reward the FBs and tell them to keep on clearing it straight ahead and tell the MFs and Fs that it is their fault the ball was lost and that the FBs are going to continue to kick it straight ahead and the MFs and Forwards better get back in position to win those cleared balls. After the ball is lost 3 or 4 times because the MFs and Fs didn't get back to win the ball, the MFs and Fs will start getting back to win the ball. Tell your Midfielders that when your goal is under attack, they MUST come back to within a PASS of the ball and to shift from side to side with the ball. AND tell your Forwards that when your goal is under attack, they MUST come back to within a LONG KICK of the ball and to shift from side to side with the ball. That way you will have 2 lines of players in position to win those cleared balls. When your goal is under attack, if your MFs and Forwards don't come back to win the cleared balls, you won't be able to get the ball off your Defensive Third and will give up a lot of goals.

  2. Goalie errors: This one is so obvious that I doubt it is your problem. If you are giving up a lot of goals because your Goalie isn't able to clear the ball on punts, then you might have to change Goalies. A big, slow player can be a good Rec goalie if he or she has good hands and can catch and punt the ball.

  3. Breakaways: The changes recommended in # 1 should stop goals on breakaways.

  4. Not clearing the ball off of your Defensive Third: This means you can't get the ball away from your Goal. The changes recommended in # 1 should fix this problem. THIS IS CRITICAL.

  5. Timid Fullbacks who are afraid of the ball and of contact: The changes recommended in # 1 should fix this problem.

  6. Are your players playing their positions and doing their job? If not, you MUST make them do so (see # 1 above). By U10, soccer is very much a TEAM game and a good TEAM can usually beat a group of superior players who play as individuals and don't play as a team.

  7. Put your players in positions where they can make the most impact: You are fortunate to have 3 very good players and 1 "good" player. What I don't know is how you are defining "good". Think about the "Critical" qualities that are needed to be successful in the different positions. Ideas about this are below.

In a 2-1-3-1, the positions where you need your "strongest" players are Stopper, CMF and Forward. I like this formation because it allows you to put timid or weak players at RMF or LMF and you can make your RMF and LMF responsible for covering balls to the Corner of your Defensive Third while your Stopper goes to the Penalty Box Arc to defend against attacks to the Center (he is in position to defend your Goal Front). Also, with a 2-1-3-1 you are very strong in the Center of the Field. In this formation, you need:

- Your best scorer at Forward

- A skilled, aggressive, brave player at CMF (doesn't have to be the fastest)

- A fast, aggressive, brave, athletic player at Stopper, BUT this player does NOT have to be skilled if you tell them to just kick the ball toward your Forward or to kick it out of bounds (if they become good enough to control the ball, then let them control it, but don't try to make them do something during a game that they can't do)

Use this Format to evaluate your players:

The 4 main factors to consider are:

  1. Bravery

  2. Speed/Hustle

  3. Skill

  4. Experienced and success in a particular position (example: has she been a successful scorer or a good Goalie)

Start by separating them into Groups according to whether they are Brave or Timid, then Speed and Hustle, then Skill (Skill can't overcome being timid or not hustling):

  1. Best (Can play any where -- brave, good speed, hustle and skill):

  2. Brave, good athlete, speed, and hustles, but not great skill (this type of player is great for Stopper as long as you tell them to kick the ball forward and don't try to teach them to make passes until they develop the skill to do so):

  3. Brave, hustles, average speed and has skill (this type of player can play about anywhere except Stopper or Sweeper - can make a good Forward, MF or FB):

  4. Brave and hustles, average speed, lacks skill:

  5. Doesn't hustle or not a team player.

  6. Timid but hustles or has some skill (you can't play a timid player at Fullback or at Stopper or Center Mid - they can play at RMF, LMF or Forward is if they have skill):

  7. Timid and doesn't hustle or lacks skills (this player can play the fewest positions - try them at Goalie or you need to "hide" them at RMF or LMF until they become brave)

Here are some general guidelines for which positions players can best play:

  1. You need your fast, brave players on the field � try to find a slow or timid player who is a good Goalie. Read the article titled "Stopper Importance" where a coach describes an experiment he did about this during a game. For how to test who can be a good Goalie and the basics of training a Goalie quickly, see "Goalie Selection & Training" on Premium

  2. You can put an unskilled athletic player at Stopper or Sweeper as long as they are fast, aggressive and brave and you tell them to just kick the ball straight ahead or out of bounds and don't expect them to try to control the ball (they don't have the skill to do that).

  3. Try to find a slow or timid player who is good at Goalie -- try to keep your fastest, best players on the field.

  4. You can put slow players at Fullback if they are brave and if you Defend Deep (have them stop at the Penalty Box Line or not Push Up farther than they safely can without risking giving up goals on Breakaways), or you can have them "Push Up" if you have a great Sweeper backing them up to stop breakaways. Don't put a timid player at Fullback or you will give up a lot of goals.

  5. If a timid player has skill and a shot, he or she can play at Forward.

  6. If a timid player lacks skill, and can't play Goalie, the best place for them is RMF or LMF (this assumes you have 3 MFs, including a good CMF � for example, a 2-1-3-1, 2-1-3-2, 3-1-3-1 or a 3-2-3-2). If you play 5v5 or 6v6, and don't have enough players to have 3 MFs, the best place is probably at Forward. (For example, in 6v6, a 1-1-1-2 soccer formation).

  7. Put a skilled, brave player at CMF - this player doesn't have to have great speed, but it will help if they are a smart player - they must be brave and have good dribbling and passing skills.

  8. It will help if you have at least one very fast Forward who you leave "Pushed Up" all the time as a "Target Forward". If you send some "long balls" into the open space between this Forward and the opposing Goalie, the opposing FBs will be scared of giving up breakaways and will stay off your half of the field - this will keep the opposing FBs from pushing up so far to support their attack.

David at SoccerHelp