Soccer Formation Basics

The basics of Soccer Formations are discussed in this article.

Also, soccer formation selection and how to choose a soccer formation that best fits your soccer team.

Soccer formations are discussed for 11v11, 9v9, 8v8, 7v7, 6v6, 5v5, 4v4 and 3v3. Soccer formations are the way teams are organized on the field. For most youth teams, the formation will determine how many players are on offense and how many are on defense. Specifically, how many Fullbacks, Midfielders and Forwards. Below are articles about evaluating players and how to choose the best formation for your team.

The soccer formation you choose can have a huge impact on how well your team plays. One of the easiest ways to quickly improve your team's play is by changing the soccer formation and Style of Play. You should choose the formation that gives your team the best chance for success and not make them play a formation that dooms them to failure.

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Related Topics: See Below For Soccer Formations Basics

Soccer Formations Overview Explains soccer formations and links to soccer formations articles

Diagrams of Soccer Positions & Soccer Formations

How to Choose a Soccer Formation 22 questions to help you choose the best soccer formation

How to Select a Soccer Formation and Assign Positions - Tips for selecting a formation and assigning positions

11v11 Soccer Formations (SoccerHelp Premium has 20 articles about 11v11 soccer formations)

8v8 Soccer Formations (SoccerHelp Premium has 41 articles about 8v8 soccer formations)

7v7 Soccer Formations (SoccerHelp Premium has 12 articles about 7v7 soccer formations)

9v9 Soccer Formations (SoccerHelp Premium has 7 articles about 9v9 soccer formations)

6v6 Soccer Formations (SoccerHelp Premium has 12 articles about 6v6 soccer formations, 2 about 5v5, and 6 about 4v4 and 3v3)

Soccer Positions Overview

Soccer Positions Basics & Soccer Kick-Offs

How to Evaluate Players and Assign Soccer Positions

How to Teach, Coach & Assign Youth Soccer Positions

Does your team give up goals on breakaways, have trouble playing good offense or defense in the midfield, or not score enough goals? The problem may be that you are trying to make your team fit a formation and style of play instead of using a formation and style of play that fits your team. The formations that work for Select or Travel teams usually don't work well for Rec teams. Rec coaches usually don't have the time to teach complex systems of play, and complex formations and styles of play can cause players to become hesitant and frustrated. The easiest thing you can do to cause a huge improvement in your team's play is to change to a simplified, easy-to-teach formation and style of play that gives your team the best chance of being successful. SoccerHelp Premium explains how to choose and teach simplified Formations that are easy to teach and really work for Recreational teams. The formations and style of play explained in "Attacking Plan", "Scoring More Goals", "Quick Team Improvement Program" and "Formations" on Soccerhelp Premium will not only result in your Rec team winning more games, but your team will play better, have more fun, and players and coaches will gain a better understanding of the game. For example, Coach Scott, a Texas USA U-13 Boys coach, had only won 1 game of the past 20, but switched to a 3-2-2-3 formation and style of play as explained in Premium and went 6-2-2 (6 wins with basically the same team) and finished in second place. And Coach Lisa's U-11 Girls team (also of Texas USA) switched to a 3-2-2-3, and doubled their goal production (from an average of 2 to 4 per game). The great thing about both these cases is that it only took a few practices to see the results. (NOTE: For most Rec teams playing 11v11 a 3-2-3-2 formation will be better than a 3-2-2-3 because the 3-2-3-2 allows you to hide weak players at LMF or RMF while keeping a strong CMF to help control the Center of the Field).

If your team is younger than 10, you don't need to worry much about formations, but for ages 10 and older the formation you use can have a great deal to do with your team's success. Your "formation" determines how many players you have at FB (Fullback), MF (Midfielder) and F (Forward). The purpose of having a "formation" is to ensure "support", "depth", "width" & field coverage on both offense & defense. Players are assigned a position & with it comes responsibilities. For example, a right side player (whether a RF, RMF or RFB) should not be way over on the left side of the field. (Right and left are as you face the other team's goal). If he is, then he has left a hole that is not covered. Each player must do his job and trust his teammates to do theirs; that is what makes a good "team". There are many different formations, but in all (unless you are playing 3 vs 3 or 4 vs 4) you will have F's, MF's, FB's & a goalkeeper. You may hear about a 4-4-2, a 4-3-3, or a 1-3-3-3 formation. These numbers never include the goalkeeper but always start with the player closest to the goalkeeper. Thus, a 4-4-2 would be 4 FB's, 4 MF's & 2 F's, a 1-3-3-3 would be a "Sweeper", 3 FB's, 3 MF's & 3 F's, and a 3-1-3-3 would be 3 FB's, a "Stopper", 3 MF's and 3 F's. (These assume 11 players on the team. For smaller sized teams adjust accordingly).

The formation you choose should be based on:

  1. The ability of your players.
  2. Your players speed and endurance.
  3. The number of substitutes you have.
  4. The length of the field.
  5. The other team's strengths and weaknesses.

(If you play fewer than 11 on the field, the same principles still apply, but you will need to reduce the numbers accordingly).

You should use a formation that gives your players the best chance of being successful. For example, if you have a great goalkeeper, a fast, tough and skillful player who can play Sweeper, and either Fullbacks with lots of endurance or lots of subs, or play on a short field, you can play a 1-3-3-3 and push your Fullbacks up to the halfway line when you attack. (See "Push Up" for details). However, if you play on a long field, don't have many subs, and have Fullbacks who aren't fast and who lack stamina, your players can't be successful if you ask them to push up to the halfway line on your attack and you will be better off to use a 3-2-2-3 formation (3 FB's, 2 Defensive Midfielders, 2 Offensive MF's & 3 Forwards). This formation allows you to leave your FB's deep so they won't get tired and won't give up goals on fastbreaks. (This is called "Defending Deep"). It gives you 3 Forwards who can stay pushed up so you can get fastbreaks and it gives you strength in the center of the field. In a 3-2-2-3, the FB's primary job is to slow down the attack until the 2 Defensive Midfielders can drop back to help on defense, which will give you 5 defenders plus the goalkeeper, with 2 Offensive Midfielders to still be a link back to the Forwards. When the other team is attacking your goal, the Offensive MF's should stay a long pass out from your Penalty Box (where your FB's and Defensive MF's are defending your goal) and the Forwards should stay at the halfway line or a long pass from the Offensive MF's. Running is reduced because you have 4 layers of players instead of 3. The Defensive MF's can participate in the attack if they have the speed and endurance to recover, but generally they should stop at the top of the circle on the other teams side of the field. In this formation it is important to have tough and skillful players with endurance at the 2 Defensive Midfielder positions. You can build a good recreational team around two good Defensive MF's and a good Center Forward. You should sub the Mid-Fielders the most, if possible. I have used this formation for the past 2 seasons with 2 different teams and our record was 15-1 with an average score of 6-2. In our league the players are assigned to try to balance the teams (i.e., coaches don't select the players) and I believe this formation (and the attacking plan described at "Attacking Plan") had a great deal to do with our success. Because all the other teams pushed their FB's up when they attacked, we scored many goals on fastbreak counterattacks and in the second half my FB's weren't tired and I didn't have to substitute them, which gave me more subs for MF and Forwards. If you play this formation, tell your Fullbacks to give up the outside and avoid getting drawn away from the center. The greatest danger is getting pulled away from the goal front. (The other team won't score from the sidelines; 90% of the goals will be scored from the center). A variation is to play a 3-2-2-2-1 for even more depth. The main difference here is that you leave only one Forward (your fastest) pushed up all the time for breakaways. In this formation you give up width in the attack to gain more depth. (NOTE: For most Rec teams playing 11v11 a 3-2-3-2 formation will be better than a 3-2-2-3 because the 3-2-3-2 allows you to hide weak players at LMF or RMF while keeping a strong CMF to help control the Center of the Field ).

Keep in mind that in any formation your players will need to shift with the ball, sag when on defense and push forward some on the attack. I find it helpful to give my players some clear rules to follow so they understand their responsibilities. For example, in a 3-2-2-3 formation:

  1. The left MF's and the right MF's should not cross the center of the field (i.e., an imaginary line between the 2 goals).
  2. The FB's should stay toward the center and should not go wider than about 15 steps past the near post. The Far FB (i.e., the one farthest from the ball) should never go past the center of the goal. FB's should stay outside the Goal Box so they aren't in the goalkeepers way and must do what the goalkeeper says.
  3. If your LF or RF is driving down the sideline with the ball, the CF should run toward the "near post" and the Far Forward toward the "far post" and anticipate a cross to the center.
  4. When attacking, the Far Forward should play off the far post (actually, about 5 steps outside the post) so he can stop balls from coming out the back. By staying in this position the Forwards will get 3 to 5 good scoring chances per game.
  5. On the attack, the Defensive MF's should stop at the top of the center circle (on the opponent's side) unless one of them has the ball, in which case he can "release" to penetrate and become part of the attack.
  6. This is a direct, fastbreak counterattacking style of play. There are 2 keys to making it work: (1) When your goal is under attack, you must be sure that one or two of your forwards stay out toward the halfway line (or even farther if the other team's FB's are deep) and shift with the ball. (Another advantage of this is it will force the other team's FB's to stay back, otherwise, they might push up closer toward your goal). (2) Your FB's or MF's must quickly kick the ball deep (ideally a "chip" down the sideline) onto your opponent's half of the field so your forwards can win the ball and fastbreak. (On Premium,See "Attacking Plan" and the Section titled "Scoring More Goals").

If you want to learn more, read Styles of Play, Zone Defense, Push Up, Defend Deep, Attacking Plan and follow the links. There are over 100 articles on Soccer Help Premium about soccer formations, positions and styles of play.

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