Tips for a Coach with a Very Weak Soccer Team
8v8 Soccer Formations
Defending Deep Soccer Style of Play
How to Select a Stopper, Fullbacks, Forward and Midfielders
Where to Play Weak, Unskilled, Timid Soccer Players
An Approach that is Better than Scrimmaging
Soccer Practice Games I Recommend
Soccer Coaching Rule No. 3

Hello Soccerhelp,

I have a weak team this season. 1 strong aggressive player (younger) 1 strong aggressive older, 1 older that is medium in skills and aggressive play.

The rest play like they are in a U8 program. They do not know how to dribble, pass or kick.

At soccer practice I am playing "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race", "Dribble Across a Square" and the "Win the 50/50 Ball and 1v1 Attacking Defending" SoccerHelp Premium practice games.

Any other games you suggest?

Also, do you recommend a 2-1-3-1 soccer formation or a 2-1-2-2 soccer formation ?

I have two good players and one okay. The rest not so good.

So do I play my best players at forward and Stopper? Or at mid and forward?

I am leaning towards stopper/forward.

I never had such a beginner team before :( scary....

Any help will be appreciated.


Karl, U-10 Girls Rec coach


Hi Karl,

I understand your feelings -- you want to do the best you can to help your team, and you don't want them to be embarrassed or humiliated.

Regarding the Practice Games, just keep playing the same ones and those mentioned below. You will see results after 3 practices. Playing a lot of different games isn't more productive -- it's less productive because it's harder to measure improvement and there is a time loss in learning a new game.

Teach "Passing to Space" (which is MUCH easier and better than teaching Passing to Feet), and "Aggressive Receiving". Here's what Coach Corey said about Passing to Space:

"I tried hard to emphasize passing to space rather than to feet. The girls weren't good enough at passing and trapping to pass to feet. I felt this taught them to anticipate a pass to space and take a shot quick after getting a pass into space from a teammate. I wanted to reduce the amount of time before taking a shot because the defense tended to close in quick if shots weren't quick."

How to teach Passing to Space is explained on Premium.

Play the Premium "Pass To Space, Run With Ball and Shoot Game" to teach Passing to Space and running onto a "through ball" and shooting while running.

Use the Premium "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" to teach Aggressive Receiving.

Teach "Shifting and Sagging" with the ball. Read "Shifting -Importance Of" on Premium. Here's what Coach Corey said:

"I would say that a team that is effective at shifting and sagging, and a defense that properly positions itself depending on where the ball is, has an even greater advantage than a team that has faster and stronger players in the Rec league."

How to teach Shifting and Sagging is explained on Premium.

Use the Premium "Win the 50/50 Ball or Be the First Defender, 1v1 Attacking and Defending" practice game to see who is aggressive, to teach how to Win the Ball, and to teach 1v1 attacking and defending.

Play "Dribble Across a Square" as a Warm-Up to start each soccer practice. Play it twice with the square 10 steps wide and then twice with the square 14 steps wide. It's VERY important to follow the instructions for how to coach this game and the other games. For example, be sure the first player to reach "10" yells "Done" and raises her hand so everyone will stop. Then go around and ask each player her score. Congratulate the players with high scores (8 or better -- say "Good job" or similar). If a player got a low score, ask "Why?" It's almost always because they lost the ball on the turn or their ball was accidentally kicked away because they didn't keep the ball close to their feet ("Like a puppy on a leash", as Coach Doug says). Let them turn in the way that works best for them (a Pullback or a "Hook Turn" are usually the best). If they don't know how to turn, show them a Pullback and a "Hook Turn" using both the inside and the outside of the foot. Give them "Tips" that will help them improve. Ask: "Who wants to get a better score?" and then say: "Okay, I'm going to give you some Tips." Here are some tips: 1. You MUST keep control of the ball -- one bad turn and you will lose. 2. When you're in traffic, keep the ball close to your feet. 3. When you see "Open Space", you can kick the ball forward and run to it so you can go faster, BUT you can't kick it too hard or you will miss your turn. The no. 3 tip especially applies when you make the Square 14 steps wide. To win the Game when the Square is 14 steps wide, the player MUST see the Open Space, kick the ball forward and run onto the ball, while still keeping control to be able to make the turn. The 14 Step Wide Square can be used to teach recognition of Open Space and acceleration into open space -- these 2 skills allow players to "breakaway", teach how to see and use Open Space, and teach Speed Dribbling.

Also play the Premium "Shoulder Tackle & Strength on the Ball" game as a warm-up to start each soccer practice. This is VERY important -- it will teach your kids how to avoid getting pushed off the ball.

Give your players "Tips" on how they can improve their scores in the games -- that approach works better than lecturing. Here is an example: Let�s say you�re playing "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race". Play it once and ask "Who wants to win this game?" Tell them you will give them a tip that will help them win. Here's an example of a tip: Tell them that the player who starts with the ball can kick the ball in front and run to it as a way to go faster. Tell them they will just have to be sure to not kick it too hard. (Demonstrate or have a player demonstrate). Another tip: Pass the ball as soon as you can after you have rounded the cone. There are 4 more Tips for this game at the Premium version of this game.

I would try a 2-1-3-1 formation.

I would put my most dominant players at Stopper and Center MF, and not sub them unless you have to.

You need a player with some dribbling and passing skill at CMF, because this player needs to be able to score and to help the Forward score.

At Stopper you can put an unskilled player who is tough, aggressive and fast, or a player with average speed who is alert and positions herself well to stop attacks -- just tell her to kick the ball straight ahead to get it off your half of the field -- don't try to teach her to "pass it", she won't have time to think about that. Your MFs and Forward should have shifted with the ball, and they will know the Stopper is going to kick it straight ahead and that their job is to be there to Win the Ball. This Stopper will be your most important defensive player and her job is to stop every attack and keep the ball off your half of the field, even if she must kick the ball out of bounds to do so. One of the best Stoppers I ever faced in Rec was a tall, skinny kid who had no skills, but was very alert, brave, fast, aggressive and would break up every attack we launched. He couldn't dribble -- he would just kick the ball back onto our half (the Half his team was attacking) or out of bounds. We lost to his team -- our only loss of that season. He was everywhere and was the difference in the game, even though he couldn't dribble the ball or "pass to feet".

Teach each player to do her job and congratulate her if she does it. For example, if the Stopper or a Fullback kicks the ball straight ahead and no one is there to win it, it isn't the fault of the player who kicked it, it's the fault of the MF or Forward who didn't shift to be in position to win the ball. In that case, congratulate the player who did here job and tell the other player that she must do her job. This stops the finger-pointing blame game. What you are teaching is teamwork and playing the ball "To Space". You are breaking the bad habit of expecting "Passes to Feet" and blaming the passer if the receiver doesn't Win the Ball.

Your Goalie just needs good hands and to be able to punt, but doesn't really need to have experience. See Premium "Goalkeeping" for what to teach.

Have a foot race and try to find a fast player to put at Forward and tell this player to stay Pushed Up AS FAR AS POSSIBLE ALL THE TIME and to SHIFT with the ball. This will keep at least 2 of the opposing defenders off your side of the field. Teach your FBs and MFs to kick the ball straight ahead (your Forward should have shifted with the ball so she is in position to win a ball that is kicked straight ahead). If the opposing FBs are Pushed Up and the kick goes into the open space behind them, your Forward might be able to get a breakaway.

This Forward and your other players will learn how to shoot while running by playing the "Pass To Space, Run With Ball and Shoot Game" and "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" Practice Games.

You can put slow, unskilled players at FB as long as they are brave, you teach them to clear the ball and you "Defend Deep" (don't push them up). You CAN'T put timid or scared players at FB -- if they are afraid of getting hit by a shot or of a Forward running into them, you will get killed because they will block the view of your Goalkeeper and then move aside at the last second -- you're better off to not have a FB than to have a scared FB. Tell your FB's to stay out of the Goal Box unless it's an emergency.

Teach your MFs to stay out of your Penalty Box unless it's an emergency -- that way they will be in position to win cleared balls.

When you are attacking in your Attacking Third (near your opponent's Penalty Box), let your CMF go into the opponent's Penalty Box to help with the attack. Tell your LMF and RMF to ONLY go into the opposing Penalty Box IF they are "onball" -- otherwise have them come to the Center just outside the Penalty Box so they are in position to win cleared balls or balls that bounce out. Have your Stopper move up to the inside of the Center Circle so she can win any balls that are cleared long.

Put your weakest players at RMF and LMF -- these are the players who can't play any other positions because they are timid, slow and lack skills or won't hustle.

4 very important things:

1. Don't "Push Up" your FBs or you will get killed.

2. Play the Practice Games I recommend. Don't waste time on other games or drills -- you don't have time to waste.

3. DON'T scrimmage at practice -- you don't have the time to waste and scrimmaging will NOT benefit your team. Instead, do a "walk thru" to simulate the parts of a game that you need to work on. Here is how Coach Corey handled that (this is at "Shifting -Importance Of" on Premium:

"I held two practices before our first tournament game, the second practice of which we held on the game field. By this time I was able to play the two weak and large girls as outside FB's because they had learned to kick balls and weren't afraid of them. So we went over defensive assignments again and really dialed that in, then I had my 3 starting forwards and 2 starting midfielders go against our 3 starting fullbacks and 2 starting stoppers, basically our starting offense against our starting defense. I rotated players some during this too, but the focus was on defensive assignments and aggressive attacking. We played this for about 45 minutes during the practice on the game field and had a lot of fun and really dialed it in. From this point on we didn't lose a game. In fact, we weren't even scored on. We won the whole tournament, going 3-0 and scoring 11 goals to 0 scored against us!" "I think the girls need to actually experience proper positioning to know what it means. For example, the Center Fullback does not quite know what it feels like to be off the near post during a game without actually being shown what it is like to be there in a practice game with a coach blowing the whistle and showing her exactly where to be (and her seeing where the ball and other teammates are relative to where she should be). Same goes for the Far Fullback (who I had position herself at the top of the Goal Box, centered on goal). Once they got it though, they got it."

4. Teach Coaching Rule No. 3 -- it's worth 2 goals per game.

Try what I recommend thru your first 3 games. Stick with it. It's your best chance. I've helped hundreds of coaches and know what works and what doesn't.

I hope this helps. Please let me know.

David at SoccerHelp