Letter from U-8 Coach and my Reply
Formations and Styles of Play

'Rules' for Forwards and Fullbacks
Defending Balls in the Corner
Coaching Rule No. 3
Youth Soccer Should be Fun
More about Practice Games

Note From David.

Occasionally I get a letter that from someone who thinks I should be telling coaches to teach a possession-style of play for the entire field. If you've read much on SoccerHelp, you know that I believe youth soccer should be fun. If it's not fun, it isn't good and kids won't keep playing. In addition, I think it's good to teach skills (which you can easily do by playing our Practice Games at practice) and to build self-esteem. It isn't good to force kids to play a style of soccer that they can't possibly do successfully no matter how hard they try ' that isn't fun and doesn't build self-esteem ' it will just lead to frustration, unhappiness and kids quitting soccer. What your team can successfully do will depend upon their abilities, your practice time and the number of 'weak links' you have. If you're realistic about it and play a formation and style of play that allows your team to be successful, your team will have more fun, play better and keep playing soccer. One thing I'm 100% sure of is that Practice Games are a better way to practice than drills. A lot of my motivation came from Anson Dorrance, who is one of the greatest coaches ever. He said: 'Competition is key to developing players. The only practice environment in which you truly develop a player is a competitive arena." Coach Dorrance's views are described in our Detailed Review of his excellent DVD set 'Training Championship Players and Teams'. He uses Practice Games as much as possible during his practices (read the Detailed Review and you will see). This is the reason why Practice Games are better than drills. The problem is that it's very difficult to develop Practice Games that are effective, efficient and don't involve elimination. Our Practice Games meet 15 standards. Read an article from the Soccer Journal about how SoccerHelp Practice Games are developed and are better than drills. If you haven't tried Practice Games, try the free versions of them on SoccerHelp. There are games there for all ages. If your team s U-8 or older, try 'Dribble Across a Square' and 'Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race'. You will see noticeable results within 2 practices.

I hope you have a great week! David at SoccerHelp.

SoccerHelp Tips

Hi SoccerHelp,

SoccerHelp Premium has been very helpful for me. I have an all-girl U8 rec team. Do you have any suggestions for formation (i.e. 1-2-1 or 1-1-2) and style of play? I am still struggling with how to best organize our girls. We play 4 on 4 and use a "sweeper"/goalie who cannot use their hands (no real Goalie). So, I guess that's equivalent to what you're calling a Fullback? I'm leaning toward a 1-1-2 formation and defending deep and playing a long ball game (instead of 1-2-1). I think I can teach my girls that the midfielder is the "Stopper" which will protect the center of the field. Too often last fall, the opposition's attack would get behind all 3 of my field players leaving a 1 on 1 breakaway against my sweeper. I do need to hide some players. And, I have 8 girls that have to play equal amounts (so I have 2 4-girl teams). I have 2 good goal scorers who are my best athletes, but I'm going to have to play them up to get some scoring. I have a few pretty tough girls that I think I can rotate up to the mf/stopper spot. Then, play 2 forwards up (at least 1 of which is always my good scorer/athlete). Thoughts?

Coach C


Hi Coach C,

I think you have the right idea -- leave the Fullback deep and play a long ball game getting the ball out of your Defensive Third. At U-8 Rec it's unrealistic to try to pass out of the back, and you don't have enough good players or enough practice time to even try it.

I suggest playing one strong player and one weak one at Forward.

I suggest your best athlete at Stopper and tell the Stopper to not come past the halfway line unless she is "onball", and if she is and loses the ball, to drop back to the half line and shift with the ball to be in position to stop cleared balls. This will stop most breakaways, improve your retention of the ball (you will keep it in the Attacking Half more, and off your half) and even if the ball gets past the Stopper, she will be able to get back quickly to help the Fullback defend your goal.

Teach your players to clear the ball straight ahead -- that way their teammates will know where to be to win it.

Teach your FB to stay in front of your goal -- the danger is that she gets pulled out to the side (I suggest calling that player a Fullback instead of a "Sweeper" so she doesn't get confused about what her job is - her job is to defend the goal and not give up goals. She will have to be brave to do that. Think about buying some of the "D" patches to give for tough defense, not just by her, but by all your players. You need to encourage aggressive play, winning the ball and tough defense all over the field. The red soccer ball "Blood Patch" is good for that too.)

So, that means the Stopper must drop back to help defend balls in the Corner, and if a ball is in the corner, your Forwards must shift to that side and stay a kick away so the Stopper can kick the ball straight ahead and they will be there to win it (teach your players to clear the ball straight ahead -- that way their teammates will know where to be to win it. And if it's in the corner, you don't want to kick it back toward the Center because that would let the opponent attack straight toward your goal).

Be sure to read the Tactics for Weak Teams article. Here is part of it, and some "rules" to teach your Forwards and FB (Make the Forwards stay Pushed Up as Forwards so they can win the balls that are cleared):

'Rules" to teach your Forwards:

* To NOT come closer to your goal than a kick from the ball (and shift with the ball to be in position to win a ball cleared straight ahead).THIS IS CRITICAL or they won't be able to win the cleared balls and get them off your half of the field. Your Forwards will get impatient and want to come closer, but you MUST make them stay a kick away from the ball when it is in your Defensive Third (near your goal).

* You are fortunate to have a Forward with enough skill to "take on" and penetrate the opposing defense. Let him do that. In fact, encourage it. He will score some. Encourage the other Forward to trail the play and watch for rebounds. I would rather have one great dribbler who can "take on" the defense than 2 average players.

Teach Your Fullback these "Rules":

1. Clear the ball STRAIGHT AHEAD. That way your Stopper and Forwards can shift with the ball and know that it will be cleared straight ahead. Play the "Dribble Across a Square" Premium Practice Game twice at each practice with the square 8 adult steps wide to teach control dribbling and then twice at 14 steps wide to teach speeding up into open space (speed dribbling and breakaways). Play "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" a lot and use it to teach "Aggressive Receiving". These 2 games will help your team HUGELY, and Aggressive Receiving will help hugely. Your players will quickly become MUCH better if you play these Practice Games.

Teach Coaching Rule No. 3 -- it's worth 2 or 3 goals per game at that age.

Please let me know how you do and what works.