Soccer Formations Experiment

2-3-1 vs 2-1-2-1 vs 1-2-2-1 Soccer Formations

7v7 Soccer Formations

Using a Soccer Sweeper in U9 Indoor Soccer

Soccer Practice Games that Will Train for Indoor Soccer

Putting Slower, Less Skilled Players at Soccer Fullback

Importance of Depth in Youth Soccer Formations

Hi SoccerHelp,

I'm a second year coach of a U9 boys indoor rec. team (I coached the previous outdoor season). We play 7v7 (6 in the field plus a keeper) and I thought I'd share the results of my formation experiments.

I got my team roster one week before the start of the season so I didn't have a chance to calibrate my team before our first game. I played a 2-3-1 formation based on success with a similar formation (3-3-2) from the outdoor season and placed the kids based on where they told me they played in the outdoor season. We got killed. Indoor moves much faster than the turf game and our fullbacks were generally too slow to catch attackers on a break and many of our mid-fielders and forwards turned out to be weaker players. I suspect the outdoor coaches did as I did and 'hid' their weaker players on the forward and mid-field wings. I tried the 2-3-1 for a couple more games hoping that things would improve after some practices and focussed coaching. After two more embarrassing loss' I decided to go for more depth as opposed to width.

I then moved to a 2-1-2-1 formation and instructed the fullbacks to play no farther up than the top of the area and no further than a few steps outside the posts. The stopper was told they could roam our defensive third and play as far up as the top of the neutral third if they could get back in time. We did much better defensively (halving the size of our next few losses) but couldn't generate any offense since our attacks were 2-on-3, 1-on-3, or 3-on-5 if we didn't transition quickly enough.

To counter that I moved to a 1-2-2-1 formation with a Sweeper between the keeper and the fullbacks. I put some of my fastest, most athletic players at the sweeper position and let the fullbacks push up as far as they are comfortable on the attack (generally to the top of our defensive third or just shy of mid-field). This seems to be working well. The fullbacks are now in a position to break up emerging attacks and to quickly initiate the counter-attack; effectively giving us a 5-on-5, or 5-on-6 on the attack. The sweeper is generally able to break up or delay any attacks that the fullbacks miss (typically fast breaks after long balls). While it doesn't have us on a winning streak this has made our team a lot more competitive (we now lose by 1 or 2).

I've also found that my slower and less-skilled players do well at the fullback position in this formation. I believe this is due to the fact that they are close enough to the ball that they feel engaged in the game, are comfortable that they are not the last line of defense, and can generally contribute by simply shifting with the ball and delaying or breaking up attacks.

My only concerns with this formation are that it relies on the Sweeper to carry the defensive load and doesn't offer a lot of support for mid-field passing. It also requires that the backs and mid-fielders effectively shift back and forth to cover the center when the ball is over to one side but that has been easy to teach.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Coach C, Canada


Hi Coach C,

I think your analysis is excellent. The 1-2-2-1 seems to be best for your team. I don't see an alternative that is better. If you can score a few more goals, you will win some games. Keep your best athlete at Sweeper (not necessarily your most skilled player, but a fast, tough, aggressive athlete who can stop attacks).

I'm impressed with your observations and think you're an excellent coach. You're doing a great job of teaching your players basic support and coverage by teaching them how to shift -- that simple training will help them for as long as they play.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Read all the Indoor Tips on Premium.
  2. In the 1-2-2-1 formation and at U9, the most important player is the Sweeper and the 2nd most important is the Keeper. Remember that your Keeper needs fast hands, to be willing to get on the floor and not afraid of hard shots. I recommend buying knee and elbow pads and gloves.
  3. Your experiment confirms the importance of "Depth". There is a very interesting article in the last Soccer Journal magazine that makes the same point -- you MUST control the Center (between the 2 goals) or you will lose. If you can also control the wings, GREAT!!! But if you have to choose, be strong in the Center and force the opponent wide, that will give your defenders time to recover and prevent quick counterattacking goals -- you can't let your opponent attack straight to goal.
  4. At practice, play "Dribble Across a Square" to warm up. That game will improve your player's control dribbling skills AND their recognition of open space and their acceleration into open space (play 2 games with a 10x10 square) and 2 with a 14x14 square).
  5. At practice, play "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" a lot and use it to teach Aggressive Receiving . This will help a lot.
  6. At practice, play "Shoulder Tackle & Strength on the Ball Game" to warm up. It will toughen and strengthen your players and teach them how to Shoulder Tackle and how to NOT get pushed off the ball by a shoulder tackle.
  7. At practice play "Win the 50/50 Ball or be the First Defender 1v1 Attacking and Defending". This will help your players learn 1v1 Attacking and Defending AND that if they can't win the ball they MUST immediately become the First Defender to slow the attack. This is very important in Indoor since there are so many transitions and goals can be scored so quickly.

    This is very important in Indoor since there are so many transitions and goals can be scored so quickly.

  8. Your results start to confirm a theory I have which is that if you put slow, unskilled or timid Fullbacks in front of your goal, the opposing forwards can use them as screens to block your Goalie's view of the shot and they may do more harm than good.
  9. Thanks for sharing the results of your formation experiments. Your letter is very insightful and helpful.

    Please let us know how it goes and share any other good ideas.

    David at SoccerHelp