2 Stopper Soccer Formation
12 More Ideas to Help a Losing Soccer Team
"Rules" for Rec Soccer Fullbacks
22 Soccer Coaching Rules
Teaching Soccer Terminology

This is a continuation of the correspondence with Coach Tom. He has a U-9 team playing U-10, 8v8, a was playing a 2-1-3-1 soccer formation. He has 3 very weak players. He is a new coach and his assistant wanted him to Push Up and use more Forwards, like a 2-1-4 soccer formation. The bracket he is in combines Rec and All Star teams, which makes it difficult. Having 3 very weak players also makes it difficult.

Hi SoccerHelp,

Thanks for the advice. In answer to some of your questions:

  1. I don't scrimmage, but to help the kids learn their positions I play a game called offense-defense where I have the offense play against the defense. Defense gets one point for clearing it past half field and the offense gets three points for a goal. I start the game by running laterally across the "offense's" back field, to get my forwards and MF to practice shifting with the ball and then I pass the ball up to them and let the play progress. The boys love this game, are very competitive at it and we do it for at least a half hour every practice. I would be interested in whether you think this is taking the edge of their competitiveness. They beg to play this game and I use it as a reward for doing other soccer drills well.

  2. We play both dribble across the square and the dribble and pass relay. These drills have really helped the boys improve their skills, especially some of the new players. Even the parents have remarked that they see the boys improving in their ball handling skills. We also do a couple of heads up dribbling drills as part of warm up. Unfortunately the improved skills are not helping them much in competition at this point.

  3. We have done the strength on the ball drill several times. Some kids get it and some kids don't. In the regular drills, the boys don't have much trouble being physical. Because we are a U9 team playing U10, I have been giving blood patches to the boys who go shoulder to shoulder consistently with their bigger opponents (if it's something they haven't gotten used to doing).

  4. We do rule 3. I've been trying to get the boys to mark up behind and to the goal side of the boy they're marking and have them put a hand on the boy to try and keep him in range. Most of the boys don't like touching the other player but in general they mark the players well enough that they can defend but not steal the ball.

We seem to give up most of our goals by having the defense get out of position. As an example, the left defender gets excited and moves into the corner to help the stopper who's defending against a single attacker, the CMF is not at the top of the box or is over too far to the right, along with the RD, who has not moved over to the middle. One or more of the other team move to the gaping hole, receive a pass and are at worst 1 v 1 against the goalie, if not 2 or 3 v 1.

My assistant coach noticed at our last practice that some of our players don't understand the basic instructions like "down the line", "push up", "move to center" etc. That might explain some of the non-response we get when we try to yell directions to our boys during a game, only to have them do nothing.

Do you have any ideas for teaching positions and terminology. Whiteboard sessions don't seem to keep their attention long enough.




Hi Tom,

Thanks for the detailed reply. That helps me understand.

I went back and read your first letter and remember now that you are playing against teams that have All Stars on them and that are older, and that your assistant coach wants you to Push Up and play a lot of Forwards.

Have you been Pushing Up your FB's? If you do, you will get killed against older, faster teams. The only chance a weaker team has is to play a conservative defense. Your Forwards won't be able to score much against older, better players, but their Forwards will kill your defenders.

**Keep in mind that your team can't play like an All Star team or a travel team - you have too many "weak links". That's why the Pushing Up style of play can work for them but not for you. Don't try to copy the approaches used by select team coaches - in some ways they have an easier time coaching than you do - you have to deal with unmotivated, unaggressive, unathletic players and weak links and they don't.**

My thoughts are:

  1. I like the game you mention as a teaching tool, but not as a reward -- it is a form of scrimmaging and has the same problems and you are playing it far too much. I suspect your players are enjoying themselves so much and getting their competitive need satisfied that it reduces their enthusiasm for their real match. So, I recommend you stop playing it. Also, that game is not efficient -- think about it, for half your practice you only have one ball for 10 players. Use games where there lots of touches and lots of balls.

  2. The improved skills WILL pay off...it's like climbing a ladder... by next season you will notice that they are several steps above the competition.

  3. Keep rewarding and encouraging bravery and aggressive, tough play. Give the rewards in a meeting after the game with the players and parents watching and praise specific acts of bravery -- only reward bravery and aggressiveness when it actually happens. I suggest ONLY giving blood patches for acts during your actual games, not for practices.

  4. Keep working on Coaching Rule # 3: During the game yell "Mark Up!" I had to do this for several seasons, but they will start to learn to do it themselves when they see the results. HERE'S an idea: Designate a special Patch to give for stealing the ball on Goal Kicks, throw ins and punts.

  5. Tell your players that they each MUST do their job and trust their teammates to do their jobs - that's what teamwork is. Reward them for doing THEIR job -- not for trying to do someone else's job.

  6. You're right, your Stopper must cover the corner (see # 7 below)

  7. I want to recommend you try a different formation with 2 FB's and 2 Stoppers and leave those 2 FBs Deep all the time - DO NOT PUSH THEM UP -- a 2-2-2-1 soccer formation. It is easier to teach Defense that way -- assignments are clear and this should solve your defense problem. You leave the FBs in front of the goal and the Near Stopper pressures balls in the corner. It also has the advantage that the 2 Stoppers can Push Up to the Halfway Line to support your attack. Have your FB's stay deep (don't come out of the Penalty Box except to kick away a loose ball) and tell them THEIR JOB IS TO DEFEND THE GOAL FRONT. Here are some simple RULES to teach your 2 FB's:
    1. Don't go past the Penalty Box Line except to kick away a loose ball.
    2. Just kick the ball hard, straight ahead -- don't dribble it.
    3. DON'T go past the Goal Post toward the corner -- that is the Stopper's job. With 2 Stopper's (Left and Right), the closest Stopper should pressure the ball in the corner -- that is THEIR job -- and the Far Stopper MUST go to the Penalty Box Arc to stop crosses and attacks that come back to the Center. When the ball is to one side, the Near FB should move to the Goal Post and the Far FB should shift to the Center of the Goal. The Near Stopper should shift to pressure the ball and the Far Stopper should go to the Penalty Box Arc to protect the Center (don't let your Stopper try to be a FB -- he MUST sat out a little and not get in the FB's way).
    4. Teach them this: "Where will the other team score from?" Answer: "In front of our goal."

  8. If you play a 2-2-2-1 soccer formation, put your fastest best player at Forward and leave him Pushed Up as far as he can go ALL THE TIME -- that will keep at least 2 opposing defenders tied up.

  9. Read "22 Coaching Rules" on Premium.

  10. Yes, you need to teach terminology. The way to do this is on the field by walking around. The same thing with your entire team to teach positions and Shifting and Sagging-- put them on the field and walk around with a ball and watch them shift -- move back, then up, then from side to side and to the corners -- do it in slow motion so they can absorb it -- so do it for the next 2 practices for about 10 minutes per practice. It's okay to have 2 players at one position or let them move to different positions, if they play more than one position. Go slow and watch where they are and move them to the correct spot. Make your FB's stay in front of the goal and make the Stopper stop at the Halfway Line and make them drop back fast when the ball is turned over.

  11. Try to find 2 or 3 good FB's -- teach them how to play that position and let that be what they play.

  12. It will help you greatly if you coach during your games - by that I mean if you give direction to players who are on the field. You can't afford the luxury of just letting them play � you don't have enough practice time to teach everything at practice, so they must learn during their games. Get a parent to help with substituting and water. It will help greatly if you or your assistant coaches the Defense (FBs and Stoppers) while the other one coaches the MFs and Forwards (it's impossible to watch them all at the same time). Here's a tip: When giving directions, call the player by name and keep it simple and specific. Example: "John, mark up" or "John, move up 5 steps" or "John, shift with the ball" or "John, stop at the Halfway Line". Being able to watch your players will let you see what you need to work on. It will be best if you coach the Defense for a half and then coach the Offense the next half � that way you will see where work is needed. It's very important to agree up front with your assistant about whether your FBs are going to Push Up, and if they are, how far, and what are the "rules" you want to teach your Fullbacks, Stoppers, MFs and Forwards. Discuss how you will handle balls to the corner and where the Stoppers should be on those balls, where the Stoppers should stop when you attack, etc. REMEMBER, that all you can expect is for each player to do his job � you must let them stuck to their job � this is how they learn to be responsible and to trust their teammates. This may at first result in a few bad things happening, but they will improve. If you must choose, it's more important for you to coach the Defense (FBs and Stoppers) than it is for you to coach the Offense (MFs and Forwards). You can give your FBs and Stoppers some specific "rules" but there are only a few for the MFs and Forwards � for example: "shift with the ball", "win the ball", tell your Forwards to stay at the Half line when your goal is under attack (or a long kick from the ball), when on your Defensive Half tell MFs to stay a long pass from the ball and to stay out of your Penalty Box except in an emergency. There are more Positioning Rules on Premium. If you use a 2-2-2-1, it's critical that when your goal is under attack that your MFs stay a long pass away from the ball (about 15 to 20 of their steps � longer than a short pass, but not as far as a long kick) and that they shift from side to side with the ball � that way they are in position to win the balls that your FBs and Stoppers clear by kicking straight ahead. The MFs should never go into the Penalty Box unless it is an emergency. These "rules" will give you good field coverage and your MFs and Forwards will be in position to win cleared balls. Hundreds of coaches have successfully used this approach � it works for Rec teams like yours. Your kids are a little young, so keep in mind that they won't be able to learn this as fast as 12 year olds would. (See Coaching During Games for more on this subject.)

Tom, I believe this approach will work better for you than putting more players at Forward -- your problem is defense.

Please let me know how it works and if you have been Pushing Up your FB's -- the more I know about how you have been playing defense, the more I can help. Do you have your Stopper stop at the Halfway Line? If not, you should consider that, or the Stoppers might not be able to "recover" and help the FB's defend. Or, if you play 2 Stoppers and need more scoring, let one Stopper come into the attack and have the other one stop at the Halfway line and shift with the ball.

David at SoccerHelp