8v8 Soccer Formations
1-1-3-2 vs. 1-2-3-1 Soccer Formation
Advantages of Passing to Space
Aggressive Soccer Receiving
Keep opponents from stealing soccer passes
Playing a Better, Older, Undefeated Soccer Team
Marking Up and Soccer Coaching Rule No. 3
How to get soccer players to believe they can win

(Following is a letter I received and my reply about how to play a better, older, undefeated team)

Hello SoccerHelp,

I hope you are well and having a fine fall soccer season. I have not spoken with you in a while, but our season is winding down and I wanted to update you, as well as seek some of your valuable advice. You may not remember me, but I am the YMCA coach that contacted you about a year ago that had a struggling team that had been winless, and then after implementing our patch rewards program, finished undefeated the following year. We have been going through them like candy this season, and I am about to place my third order!

Cheetahs update (U10 girls)
When last I contacted you, we were struggling through a rough season, being half of my team was playing up an age group. We decided to play in a U8 girls regional tournament, so we could see how we�d do against kids our own age. We finished second, not losing a game, but getting beaten out on points.

This season, due to the performance in the tourney, we decided to switch from coed to all-girls. I was reluctant to do so, thinking the girls league would be far less competitive, but man was I wrong. We have had a good season thus far, beating the less experienced teams in the league by a couple of goals, but falling short against the older teams. In an early match against the best team in the league, we got crushed 5-1, but found out after the game, that not only had the team we played not lost in 3 seasons, that had not even allowed a goal! So that made my kids very proud of their effort. Our mission since then has been to beat this team in our final game, which is coming up this Sat.

Here is my dilemma (for 8v8)

All season, we have been playing a 1-1-3-2 formation with very fast and aggressive defenders. Sometimes even pushing the keeper up to the midfield circle. We rarely get beat on a counter attack because of our sweeper�s speed, although the last time we played this team, we could not get the ball out of our defensive third. Here is what they were doing: Their 2 stoppers were standing at the center-line, marking up right behind my forwards, and when the pass would come to them, the stoppers would step around them and bang the ball back into our box. We also seemed to be suffering from some sort of psyche-out by this other team, as all of our bad habits had returned from the previous season. The game was over in the first period after 3 goals we scored, even though we played pretty even the rest of the way. Their last 2 goals were very soft, as I had an inexperienced keeper in the net.

My game plan for Sat is to deploy a 1-2-3-1 formation, using our most aggressive players at stopper and try the same mark-up technique on their forwards; and basically deny them the ball. They have two very good, fast forwards, and two very good defenders, but the rest of their team is average for the league. Our team is fast and fearless, and very balanced, so I thought our second period line-up would be able to make some in-roads on the attack. We have one player that has not played before, so that is our weakest link (usually plays defender), but she is fearless and has a pretty good kick, but misses the ball a lot. So the plan is, once the other team tries to clear it up to their forwards, we step around and turn the tables. Our stopper on the ball-side has been instructed to follow the ball (should it clear their mid-field line), and then the sweeper is to come up and mark the now open forward, until the stopper returns to formation. I am intending to use this formation until the fourth period, and then switch to the 1-1-3-2 if we need to. My best goalie has not allowed a goal all season (even to this team), so she should be capable back there, but as it usually goes, she is my best attacker.

We have practiced this for two practices and the girls seem to be getting it. The biggest drawback is, if they have one mental lapse, that could be all the opponent needs to put us away. We have practiced the pass-to-space game, and are hoping to confuse their two forwards with one, very dynamic forward (who was sick the last game), and have her receive a long through-ball and buy some time for the mids to crash the goal and receive her cross. We have practiced the sag-and-shift defense all season, the dribble across a square, and the 1v1 50/50 ball game we call �Battle Ball� (I think we had a long thread about that one last time). If there is anything else you think we can practice that will help, we have two more chances before the big game. Also let me know if you think my tactics might be too conservative. We are a very good fourth 4th team, so my goal is to conserve our energy, keep it close going into the 4th and then unleashing the Cheetahs. This plan worked well last season with the stronger teams. They could not keep up with our speed late into the game.

Anxious to hear your reply and as always, thanks for the great site.

Coach Dan

Ps. All of my girls are already starting to get anxiety about playing this team again (even my world-class keeper said she did not want to play goalie). Can you recommend anything to pump them up and avoid coming out flat, like last time?


Hi Dan,

A few questions and recommendations:

  1. Why not send more "long balls" to back their Stoppers up? (like you say: " we are hoping to confuse their two forwards with one, very dynamic forward (who was sick the last game), and have her receive a long through-ball and buy some time for the mids to crash the goal and receive her cross")

  2. Is the 1-2-3-1 a "Sweeper", 2 FB's (who you call Stoppers), 3 MFs and 1F?

  3. Why do you play 3 MFs? Do you have weak players to hide at RMF and LMF? Or do you need to defend the entire width of the field? Or do you have an extremely strong CMF?

  4. Have you taught Coaching Rule No. 3? That's essentially what your opponent did to you. You should be doing that on your opponent's throw-ins, goal kicks, free kicks and punts -- it's worth 3 goals per game at U-10

  5. Do you play "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" and teach "Aggressive Receiving"? "Aggressive Receiving" will teach your girls to move toward the pass and that will help solve the problem of defenders marking them and stepping in front. ALSO, you're right that "Passing to Space" will help -- if your girls are to get really good, they need to learn Aggressive Receiving and Passing to Space. Teach your young ones Passing to Space too, instead of "Passing to Feet".

  6. Do you get the Newsletter? If not, you should sign up -- it's free and there are lots of tips in it.

  7. Have you played the "Shoulder Tackle and Strength on the Ball" Practice Game? If not, I recommend it for 5 minutes at each next practice.

  8. Tell your girls that they can win -- that your new strategy will make the difference -- all they have to do is believe they can win.