Soccer Formations for 8v8, 7v7 and 6v6
Target Forward and Stopper
What to Do if All Your Players Want to Score?
How to Make Every Soccer Position Important
How to Teach Teamwork Instead of "Me First"
2-1-3-1 vs. 2-1-2-2 Soccer Formation

Note From David. Below is a letter from a coach and my reply about 8v8 soccer formations and positions. Another important subject is what to do if all your players want to play Forward? It is important to teach players that all positions are important and that teamwork is the key to being successful - that is an important life-lesson. If it is "all about me and everyone for himself", then you won't have teamwork.


Hi SoccerHelp,

I am a Premium Member and coach a rec team with eight 11 year olds. Your website is very informative. At our practice last night we did the Dribble Across a Square, Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay, Coaching Rule No. 3 demonstration, First Defender/Second Defender demonstration, and discussed all 8 positions with a 2-1-2-2 soccer formation. We have another practice before our next game and I would like a recommendation on a formation. We will have 8 of or 10 players. I only have one player who wants to play goal.

I am fortunate to have a lot of good players. What do you do if no one is thrilled about playing goal and many don't want to play goal?

I was going to use a 2-1-2-2 and rotate my top four players at Left FB, stopper, Right Mid, and Left Forward and fill in the rest of the positions according to their skills and hide the least talented players at LM or RF. Do you have any recommendations regarding the formation and player assignment?


Fred, Premium Member


Hi Fred,

Thanks for being a Member.

Let me give you an idea to think about -- a 2-1-3-1 soccer formation.

That way you could have:

  1. A dedicated "Target Forward" who stays Pushed Up all the time (that would help in that it would keep opposing Fullbacks from pushing into your half of the field and give you a breakaway threat for fast counterattacks).
  2. A very strong player at CMF and a very strong player at Stopper, which would let you control the Center of the Field, which is critical
  3. You could put your weakest players at RMF and LMF, and would have some width there to slow attacks.
  4. If you have strong players at Stopper, CMF and Forward you should be hard to beat.

My other suggestions are:

  1. You MUST have brave players at Fullback. You can play a slow and unskilled player at FB as long as she is brave and can clear the ball and you don't Push Up your FBs past the Penalty Box line. If you Push Up your FBs to the Halfway Line they need to be fast.

  2. Who to play in goal involves trade-offs - In Rec soccer it usually is better to play a great athlete or field player in the field than at Goalie (Coaches have tested this and found that a great athlete makes much more of a difference at Stopper than at Goalie - a great Stopper can make a 2 or 3 goal difference). I wouldn't make anyone play Goalie who doesn't want to do it because there is too much chance they will resent it or be bored and not do a good job. If you don't have enough players who want to play Goalie, try to find a way to motivate players to want to play there. I see nothing wrong with one player playing Goalie, but you will need a back-up. Here are 2 ideas for encouraging players to want to play Goalkeeper -- 1. After every game thank the Goalie(s) in front of the team and parents and praise them. Most goals are not the Goalie's fault - if defenders did a good job the ball would never get to the Goalie. 2. Designate a special "Goalie" patch as an incentive.

  3. Use the Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race to teach One-Touch play and Aggressive Receiving.

  4. Play the "Shoulder Tackle & Strength on the Ball game at your next few practices, it makes a difference and is fast and easy. It will teach your players how to shoulder tackle and how to withstand a shoulder tackle.

  5. It sounds as if you are teaching Coaching Rule No. 3 - that is worth one or 2 goals per game

  6. Play the "Win the 50/50 Ball or be the First Defender One v One Attacking & Defending" game.

  7. Play Dribble Across a Square" at the first of every practice as a warm-up, twice with a square 10 steps wide (to teach Control Dribbling) and twice with the square 17 steps wide to teach recognition of Open Space and acceleration into Open Space.

  8. There is a section in Premium that tells how to teach your Goalies the basics in about 15 minutes before or after practice. The Link name is "Goalkeeping (how to teach soccer goalkeeping)".

You are lucky to have good players but you don't have many subs. It will be important to motivate your players to all show up for games.

I think you will do well. Please let me know how you do and what works best.

David at SoccerHelp


Hi David,

I thought about your 2-1-3-1 recommendation and had some comments and a few questions.

My main comment is that I like the formation, but since this is a rec league, I don't know if the parents would be pleased if we only had 3 or 4 players allowed to score goals as a Target Forward..

  1. When you say" Target Forward" do I tell the TF to stay pushed up in the middle of the field and wait for the MFs to kick the ball up to the center? What happens when the ball is on the opponent's wing portion of the field near the goal? Even a strong athletic TF would get exhausted running from side to side of the field. Does the TF just concede the wings and rely on the MFs to get the ball to the TF in the center portion of the field?

  2. If the ball is on the opponent's side of the half-line, how far up should the MFs play? Can the LMF or RMF move up to take a ball on their side in for a goal with the CMF covering while they attempt a goal? We would have some fast weaker players at LMF and RMF that could score or at least dribble the ball to the center of the goal and then retreat back to the LMF or RMF area of the field.. Should the CMF always stay back near the half line?

  3. Since we can only play 7 or 6 if either team only has 7 or 6, do you have formation recommendations for 7 and 6 players?

Thanks again,



Hi Fred,

  1. About parents judging their kids "success" by whether they score a goal. I rarely hear this comment about U12 Rec - when I hear it is usually from U6 or U8 Rec. By U12, I find that players are more comfortable when they have a position that they understand how to play and where they can be successful. At U12, I think the idea of playing players at a lot of positions is a bad idea - they don't have time to learn to play any position that way - it is like trying to be all things to all people, it just doesn't work, especially for Rec where there is limited practice time. Any player can potentially score in a 2-1-3-1, and the Midfield Players can certainly score. However, it is very important to dispel the notion that scoring a goal is more important than playing good defense or making an assist. If the attitude is "Me first" you won't have teamwork and your team will never achieve its potential. Even in Rec soccer, soccer is a team sport and if everyone thinks the only position worth playing is Forward, then you won't have a good team because no one will be happy unless they are playing Forward, and you will never have teamwork. What I've found is that players AND parents are happy when the team plays well and wins games and unhappy when they don't. At U12 the parents should understand that you as a coach have an obligation to the team and to every player to play kids in positions where the team will do best. At Forward you must have players who can score or you will lose. My recommendation is to send out an email that you are going to play players in positions where you think they can best help the team and that your decision will be based on their skill, bravery, speed, and who you think can best help the team at each position. ALSO, I would do 3 other things:

    -- Teach the Brazilian Team Goal Scoring Celebration and Make Your Team Do It. Stress that scoring goals is a team effort AND teach your players that when a goal is scored that the ENTIRE team (including any players on the sideline) should come together at the Center Circle, form a circle with their arms on each other's shoulders, and do a team cheer. This is what the Brazilian National team does.

    -- Do NOT allow hot-dogging or grandstanding by the scorer such as running around to say "look at me". Unfortunately, you see that in professional matches and on some national teams and it gives the wrong impression to young players. Tell your players that you will NOT allow that because goals are a team effort and that you will bench anyone who does it. Goals often start with a play by the Goalie. The USA's winning goal vs. Algeria was an example - the play started with the Goalie throwing the ball to Landon Donovan.

    -- Use Iron On Soccer Patches to Motivate the Behavior You Want. When I coached I used patches to reward players for things such as great defense, hustle, teamwork, for playing their positions and for listening to the coach. I never gave patches for goals scored because the scorers got plenty of positive feedback and you don't want to encourage everyone to think Forward is the most important position.

  2. About a Target Forward. Your Target Forward should stay a LONG KICK from the ball and be shifting from side to side with the ball when your goal is under attack. Most of the time the ball will be toward the Center so there isn't as much running as you think, but you will need to play 2 or 3 players at this position. It is critical that your Forward shift with the ball. Tell your Defenders to clear the ball by kicking it hard STRAIGHT AHEAD - that way your Forward will be in position to win those cleared balls. Your Forward MUST win at least half of those balls - if she doesn't, replace her with a more aggressive player. This strategy will result in breakaway opportunities, so you want a target Forward who is fast. This Forward doesn't have to be able to "shoot" but needs to be able to pass the ball while running. that is why the "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" game is good. Tell your Defenders that their job is to clear the ball by kicking it hard STRAIGHT AHEAD and that if they do that, they have done their job - the Forward's job is to win 50% of those. Tell your Forward that she will NOT win all of those cleared balls but should win 50% of those that get to her or past her. Your Forward MUST stay a LONG KICK from the ball and shift with it - if she doesn't do that, replace her because if she doesn't do that she can't win the cleared balls. If she comes to close to your goal, she will allow the opposing defenders to Push Up and won't be in position to win cleared balls.
  3. About Your MF's Attacking and Also Playing Defense. Since you will have a GREAT Stopper, your MF's can come into your attack. As soon as you lose the ball, your MF's should run back to defensive positions. I would have my Stopper come to the Halfway Line and stay toward the Center Circle so she is always in position to stop breakaways (if she shifts and is far on one side and the ball comes back to the Center, then there is a danger of a fast counterattack). The Danger in Rec soccer is the CENTER (between the 2 goals - not the wings). Tell Your MF's to STAY OUT OF your Penalty Box and to stay a pass (about 15 steps) away from the ball when your goal is under attack, and to shift from side-to-side with the ball so they are in position to win short cleared balls. If you think you need more help in the Penalty Box, you could let your CMF go into it a little, but NOT the RMF or LMF.
  4. Formations for 7v7 or 6v6. I would create variations that are similar to what I use for 8v8. For example, if you play a 2-1-3-1 or a 2-1-2-2., then for 6v6, I would leave 2 Fullbacks, a Stopper and 2 Forwards (2-1-2 or 2-1-1-1 if I was on a long field). For 7v7 I would play 2-1-2-1. That way you are making the fewest changes.
  5. Hope this helps. Please let me know.

    David at SoccerHelp