Soccer Stopper Importance

Play Your Best Athlete at Stopper

NOTE: SoccerHelp Premium contains over 200 pages about soccer formations and assigning positions.

Following is a letter I received from a Boys Rec U-13 coach who is a Premium subscriber and my reply. There are also parts of 2 letters at the end from coaches about the importance of a Stopper. As used below the term Stopper means a player who plays between the Fullbacks & Midfielders who is good at stopping attacks up the center of the field. The Stopper is like a pushed up Fullback and there can be one or two. Their job is to slow down the attack so Midfielders have time to recover to help defend. The Stopper can simply kick the ball out of bounds if needed to slow down a fast break by the opposing team. The best Stoppers are brave, not afraid of contact and fast - they don't have to have good soccer skills. If you don't have many skilled players, save them for Center Mid and Forwards. A Stopper is a good addition to a formation. For example, instead of playing a 3-3-1. push up the Center Fullback so it is a 2-1-3-1. Below discusses a 2-1-2-2 Soccer Formation, but for most Rec teams, a 2-1-3-1 soccer formation is probably better than a 2-1-2-2 soccer formation because it is a little quicker and easier to teach and it allows you to have your best athlete at Stopper (your bravest, fastest player), your most skilled player at Center Midfielder where he or she can control the Center of the Field and still come into the attack, and you can also hide weak players are Right Midfielder and Left Midfielder.

We get many comments from coaches like these two --

"We won our game today 3-0. It should have been much higher but we could not find the back of the net after the 3rd goal. I am still putting my best players in the critical center midfield and stopper positions to control the center of the field so opponents can't easily attack straight toward our goal. This is critical and it works! Our defense was great. They did not allow a single shot on goal for the game." Mike, TX, U9

"We beat a tough opponent yesterday by moving back to your 2-1-3-1 soccer formation from a 3-2-2. We were a completely different team with more attack and unrelenting shots." John, CA, U12


First of all, thank you for the great practical information on SoccerHelp and SoccerHelp Premium. The information on "Assigning Positions" and "Formations" has been especially helpful. (Note from SoccerHelp: Here are links to these 2 documents and another we think is very important: Assigning Soccer Positions, Soccer Formations, Most Important Things To Teach and Read)

I am a first time Rec league coach for a U-13 Boys team. My soccer playing experience includes about 7 years of youth soccer and 1 year in high school.

Our league tries to evenly distribute players according to ability across 8 teams. We play 8 vs. 8 including goalies (7 on the field plus a goalie).

The team I coach has 11 players, 2 of which really standout. One is an excellent shooter and dribbler. The other has decent technical skills, but is "dominant" from a standpoint of pure athleticism.

For our first game (which was this week), the hardest decision for me to make was who to play as goalkeeper, the athletic superstar or the second option which was a BIG drop-off in ability.

I decided before the game to put the more athletic player in goal for the first half and the second option in goal for the second half. Listed below is what happened. (By the way, we only had 8 players show up--no subs. The other team had 11.)


Strategy: 2-2-1-2 formation with the excellent shooter as the lone midfielder who played like a center forward when we were on offense. The 2 stoppers stayed in our half of the field. The 2 fullbacks stayed in the penalty box. The athletic player was the goalkeeper.

Results: Our team (4 shots on goal, 1 corner kick & 1 great save) Other team (7 shots on goal & 4 corner kicks)

First Half Score: Our team 1 / Other team 1

Comment: The ball was in our Defensive Third for most of the first half. Our only goal was on a Breakaway by the talented shooter. The other team's goal was an excellent shot on the ground to the far side of the goal.


Strategy: 2-1-2-2 formation with the excellent shooter moved up to forward. The 2 midfielders were permitted to go up on offense, but rarely did. The 2 fullbacks stayed in the Penalty Box. The athletic player played Stopper, and the second option played goalkeeper. The stopper was told he was free to go up on offense, but his first priority was defense.

Results: Our team (12 shots on goal, 3 Corner Kicks & 1 save) Other team (2 shots on goal & 0 corner kicks)

Second Half Score: Our team 5 / Other team 1

Comment: The ball was in our Middle Third and Attacking Third for most of the second half. Our talented shooter had 7 shots on goal and scored 3. The stopper scored one by dribbling down the sideline from the midfield and shooting from far out. Our other forward scored a goal from persistent rebounding inside the goal box. The 2 shots from the other team resulted in a goal that should have been stopped and a ball that was dropped and then picked up by the goalkeeper (this is the one save listed above).


What a difference it made to have the dominant athlete play Stopper instead of goalkeeper. We were 1-1 at the half, and won 6-2 after changing to a 2-1-2-2 and putting my most athletic player at Stopper.

Goalkeeper is arguably the most important position on the field, but not if you have a field player who can significantly reduce the opponent's shots on goal as well as create more scoring opportunities for your team.

Hope this feedback helps,

Coach Michael, U-13 Boys Rec, AL, USA

SoccerHelp's Reply:

Hi Michael,

Thanks for this excellent analysis. I think you have an excellent grasp of positions. It's very interesting how much of a difference the Formation change made when combined with putting your best athlete at Stopper. This confirms my thought that in Rec soccer the most important position is "Stopper", and 2nd is to have a strong scorer at Forward.

Send me your address and we will send you 30 free Red Soccer Ball Patches for taking the time to write this. Use these to reward hustle, bravery and winning the ball -- my boys called them "Blood Patches" and they were coveted -- they really make a difference. ONLY give them out for hustle, bravery, winning the ball and defensive toughness -- NOT for goals scored unless it involves bravery, hustle and toughness.

Any other feedback would be very much appreciated. You have an excellent tactical grasp of youth soccer.

Here are some tips:

  1. Play the "Dribble Across A Square" game 3 times to start EVERY practice (use it as a warm-up) and ask each player his score at the end of each game -- trust me, this really works.

  2. Teach Coaching Rule No. 3 (at "Coaching Rules" in Premium) -- it's worth 1 or 2 goals per game.

  3. Play games that involve dribbling and maintaining possession, such as "Double Dare Attack/Defend" and "Dribble Turn and Shoot".

  4. Try the "2 Team Keepaway Game" -- it combines 1v1, team play and teaches fast transitions.

  5. Be sure ALL your players can make a "Lofted Pass" -- this is especially important for your defenders to be able to clear the ball, but also so your Stopper and Midfielder's can send Lofted Passes into the open space toward the opponent's goal. Our "Chips/Lofted Passes Game" is a good way to teach this.

I'll bet you have a great season. The parents and kids will love having a good coach and being successful as a team.



U-14 Boys 11v11 3-1-4-2 Formation Letter:

Hi David...Wanted to follow up as promised with regard to the 3-1-4-2 you recommended and we played this weekend...what a difference! We ended in a shutout, a 0-0 tie, which was a definite victory for us against a bigger and stronger team. The 3 Fullbacks stayed home and were patient throughout the match, shutting down almost flawlessly anything that came their way. The real show-stopper though was putting my strongest player at the single stopper position as you recommended. He played unbelievably and my only worry was when I had to rest him and have another player fill in for awhile. It really pays off to play your dominant player in the Stopper spot.

Letter From U-12 and U-14 Rec Girl's Coach:

I can't tell you enough how playing with a "Stopper" has improved our play and changed our style of play. WOW! Because of adding a stopper (I use 1-2 stoppers for U-12 and 2 stoppers for U-14 girls) our attack is now ACTUALLY AN ATTACK! And our defense is stout, which creates a lot of transitional play and counter attack opportunities.

Through the first 3 games we have out-shot our opponents on average 4 - 1. My U-12 team has won 2 games and tied the other (against a much bigger opponent) by a combined score of 16-5. My U-14 team has won all 3 games by a combined score of 10-1.

Importance of Stopper, Patches and Coaching Rule No. 3; Letter from U-10 Coed Rec Coach Playing 9v9:

Hi SoccerHelp,

We had 1 win and 4 narrow losses until I put into place your tactics for playing a stopper, marking on throw-ins, goal kicks, punts and free kicks (Coaching Rule No. 3) and using patches as incentives to motivate players. The team we played today would have normally beaten us, but we beat them 3-0 !! The number of assists and striking in the goal box was amazing, lots of far post positioning by our team, I changed the Stopper half way thru first half. My first choice at stopper ended up having no real energy, the second choice was amazing - he went like a steam train. I told him the whole field was his, as long as he ran back to position each time the other team went on attack - he did this - and performed incredibly well. Our defenders did see some action but it was more clearing type work.

As you recommended, I played our best goalie in the field because he's a great athlete and our second choice goalie was in goal - I was nervous at commencement of game. But the other team hardly got near our penalty box!!!

Marking improved all thru game, I gave out patches at half time for marking and assists. This really got my team going. Me yelling out to player as he/she went by "you've got a patch for marking Logan".... or "Jack, you're patched for hard attack!" You should have seen the kids faces then watched them react on the field!!

The parents were screaming their heads off - they couldn't believe the change in our team. All the kids came off the field heads held high and smiling. They knew they'd achieved something great.

SoccerHelp - I am raising a glass to you guys this evening - I think the team is starting out on a great path. You've made the difference today mate!

All the best and have a great weekend. The start of ours has been awesome.

--Coach Chris, New Zealand