How to beat a bigger, faster, stronger soccer team
Playing the arrogant soccer team you've never beaten
Importance of teamwork and good soccer coaching
Motivating soccer players to hustle and be aggressive
Can great soccer coaching beat a better team?

PART 1 of 2

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(Have you ever had to play a team you've never beaten who is bigger, faster, stronger and rubs it in when they beat you? Following is Part 1 of correspondence with a U-12 Rec Coach. He wrote asking for suggestions about how to play their arch rival - the bigger, faster, stronger, arrogant team that they had never beaten.

Hi SoccerHelp,

I'm the coach of a Rec league soccer team comprised of 5th grade girls (10 and 11 years old). We've had the majority of the soccer team together for three years and have enjoyed success in our league in the past.

There's another soccer team in our league that's our arch rival. They've never blown us out but we've never beaten them either. Their players tend to be bigger, faster and stronger on average than our players are. The act that they tend to brag and trash talk when they beat us only adds to the problem. We have two soccer games with this team coming up in the next few weeks and I would like to be competitive with them.

Our league plays 6v6 soccer on a field that's 70 yards long. It's a big field for the kids to play on. We typically play a 2-3 formation with the defenders moving up when we're on the attack. It usually works well except when we play our arch rivals.

I've watched a couple of their soccer games this year and they've been playing with a 1-4 formation. They've been relying on the athleticism of their defender to interrupt the attack and feed the ball up to their forwards. Their 4 forwards tend to overwhelm the opposing defense and they've been scoring a lot of goals. I did notice however that their forwards are not good at falling back to assist the lone defender. I'm convinced that if we can go on the attack and stay spread out we can have success against them.

I'd be very interested in your thoughts on how we might approach these games. Are there alternative formations we should try? Any advice you could provide would be appreciated. Thanks. John

Hi John,

First, thanks for being a Premium Member.

You're right, 70 yards is a long field for 6v6 at U-12, but I've seen worse.

At that age, a great, aggressive athlete can make a huge difference in Rec. The opposing coach wouldn't be able to get away with that against a Select team -- he would get killed because they would have the skill to score by getting 2 or 3 vs. his lone Sweeper (it sounds like he is relying on a great player to play as a Sweeper). It sounds like what's happening is that his great Sweeper is sending the ball forward to the 4 Forwards who so outnumber their opponents that they win the ball and are able to overwhelm the opposing defense.

Here is how you can win:

  1. Do you have 2 players who by working together could score against his Sweeper? If so, you have a good chance -- if not, I don't know what to recommend. I'll assume the answer is "Yes".

  2. If the answer is "Yes", then I recommend a 2-1-2 formation. Put your strongest player at the MF position as a "Rover" to play both ends of the field -- put your most dominant player in this position, hopefully one who also has speed and endurance, and let this player "win" the midfield. This will stop the opposing Sweeper from sending the ball to her Forwards (I assume she is able to send it because there are no midfielders). This MF will also give you more "depth" on the field -- you will have 3 rows of players, not just 2, which will allow your players to run less.

Your Forwards MUST win the balls that are cleared by your FB's -- if the opposing Sweeper wins those balls, you will lose. If your Forwards win those balls, you will have 2 attackers vs. one defender, and if your MF comes into the attack, 3 vs. 1.

I would leave one of my defenders "deep" and tell her to NOT come out of the Penalty Box. This will stop breakaways. Your field is so long that the opposing Sweeper won't be able to clear the ball from her Penalty Box to yours, and you will have a MF there to win it anyway, so if your opponent wants to Push Up his Forwards to your Penalty Box, Great! That will leave the entire midfield for your Midfielder to win.

I would let my other FB Push Up when you attack, but only Halfway to the Center Circle (so she can Recover to help Defend your Goal front - this means she won't be more than a pass from the Deep FB), and tell her to stay toward the Center of the Field. The Danger to you is attacks down the Center, not attacks down the wings -- if she gets pulled to the side, she won't be able to recover if the ball is crossed, and your opponent could have a 3 v 1 situation. This "Advanced" FB MUST have discipline and not go to the Halfway Line. Since you will have superior numbers on attack, tell her to NOT try to dribble the ball (don't risk a turnover which would result in a goal) but to just kick it forwards your Forwards can win it (if your Forwards can't win the ball, you will lose anyway). This Advanced FB's job is:

  1. to slow the attack so your MF has time to drop back to help defend.

  2. to kick loose balls forward so your Forwards can win them. Tell her to just kick the ball -- don't try to "pass it". Her job is to kick it straight ahead -- your Forwards job is to be in position to win those cleared balls.

Tell your Forwards what the FB's are going to do (i.e., kick the ball straight ahead) and that the Forwards MUST stay Pushed Up and shift with the ball and DO THEIR JOB and let the FBs do their job. If your FBs kick the ball straight ahead and your Forwards aren't in position to win the ball, then your FBs did their job, but your Forwards didn't do their job - don't let your Forwards complain that it wasn't a "good pass" -- this isn't "passing to feet", it is "passing to space" -- your Forwards MUST be Aggressive Receivers.

If your players play their positions and do their jobs, then you should win this game, ASSUMING your 2 Forwards can win the ball and score against a great Sweeper -- if they can't, you will lose.

You can't give up any easy goals on breakaways, which I think will happen if you Push Up your defenders.

You have a great advantage in that your opponent is arrogant and the opposing Forwards have gotten lazy, because they have been able to be lazy and not help defend. If you can come out and take the lead, it will shake them up.

There are 4 Premium Practice Games you should try at Practice before your big game:

  1. Use the "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" to teach "Aggressive Receiving". -- This is VERY important -- play it at every practice.
  2. Play "Dribble Across a Square" at every practice to warm up -- twice with the square 10 steps wide, then twice with it 14 steps wide -- use the 14 step wide square to teach players to accelerate into open space when they get open space in front of them
  3. Play "Win the 50/50 Ball or Be the First Defender, 1v1 Attacking and Defending". That game will help your players learn to win a 505/50 ball OR that they MUST become the First Defender to slow down the attack.
  4. Play the "Shoulder Tackle and Strength on the Ball" game. It will toughen your players up and give them confidence so they won't get pushed around by a bigger team.

Please let me know what you do and the outcome of the game. It will be a great achievement if you can beat a bigger, faster, stronger opponent.

David at SoccerHelp


Thank you for your very thorough response. I've considered the 2-1-2 soccer formation and feel it might be a good fit here. My challenge is that my most dominant player tends to roam around too much and I'm worried about her endurance. We'll have to see what happens.

We've been using the first two games you suggest in soccer practice. The kids really seem to enjoy them. I'll add the second two starting with our next practice.

Our team has been playing well of late. One pleasant surprise has been the emergence of a goaltender who is very, very consistent with her punting. She can continually put the ball past midfield. I've been telling our forwards to turn and run once the goaltender gets the ball because once she punts it we've been getting a lot of 2 on 1 and 3 on 1 situations. It can be a game changer.

There are ten teams in our league with two teams that are undefeated, ours and our arch rival. The big game is in two weeks. I'll let you know what happens. Thanks again for your help.



Well, we played our arch-rivals last week and unfortunately lost 4-1. We dominated the first half and scored the first goal of the game on a nice long corner kick. That put the other team on their heels as they have not been scored on first all year. We were really playing well with much of the action in their half of the field. I noticed that they quickly abandoned their 1-4 soccer formation in favor of keeping an extra defender back. They scored a goal late in the first half on a ball that first hit the crossbar and went into the goal. It was 1-1 at the half. They scored about 5 minutes into the second half which seemed to deflate our team's attitude. We began to bunch up more and more which killed us in the long run. They scored a couple of easy goals when our defense left one of their forwards uncovered.

While I'm disappointed, I'm encouraged by what I saw in the first half. We play them again this Wednesday night. I'm not quite sure what will happen since both teams will be missing a few kids due to the July 4th holiday. Thanks for your help. I'll let you know what happens on Wednesday.


I think you're looking at it the right way. That's a tough team and you forced them out of their typical formation and were tied at the half.

It sounds as if they have a smart coach too.

If you could have avoided the easy goals it sounds as if it would have been very close.

Please let me know how the next game goes.


(The re-match between Coach John and his team's arrogant arch rival is described in the next newsletter. John made some brilliant adjustments for the next game that exploited his opponents formation and, as you can guess, the outcome was different. The next NL describes the changes John made to win the game, including a Short Corner Set-Play, a simple but effective attacking plan and a new defensive plan).