How to Select or Choose a Soccer Formation
Tips for Assigning Soccer Positions
Best Positions for Timid, Weak & Slow Soccer Players

This article discusses how to select a soccer formation and tips for assigning soccer positions and the best positions for timid, weak or slow soccer players. It starts with some questions to help you analyze your player's strengths and weaknesses and your typical opponent. Some of the tips, such as number 7 about clearing the ball, are only for Rec teams who have unskilled Fullbacks.

Also see Soccer Formation Basics, How to Choose a Soccer Formation, Soccer Formations Overview and Diagrams of Soccer Positions & Soccer Formations.

The way to evaluate and choose a formation and Style of Play is to analyze your players strengths and weaknesses AND to consider your opponent's strengths and weaknesses, and the length of the field.

Also, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can you defend the entire field? (If the answer is No, then you must decide which part of the field is most important to defend)
  2. What is the most important part of the field to defend and where can your opponents score from? (Obviously, most important is your Goal Front, and then the Center of the Field, between the 2 Goals, as opposed to the Wings. Most young teams can't score from the Corner or on headers off crossed balls, so the Corners aren't as important to defend as the Goal Front)
  3. Are your Fullbacks as fast as the opposing Forwards? If not, they will get beat and give up goals if you Push Up your Fullbacks when you attack.
  4. Do you have weak players you need to hide? If so, you can't put them at FB, Stopper or Forward... the best place is at LMF and RMF. A weak field player can sometimes be a decent Keeper if they have good hands.

  1. Choose a formation, assign positions and position players so you are strong down the Center (the "Center" is the part of the field between the 2 goals where the Center Fullback, Stopper and Center Mid usually play). Put your best, most athletic players in the Center. Unless you have a great team, when on defense, give up the "wings" (the sidelines). In fact, encourage your opponent to take the ball down the wings, Just DON'T let your opponent take the ball down the Center. If the opponent moves the ball down the wings, the opposing players will be running a lot farther than your players, and your players will have time to "recover" by funneling back toward your goal. As an example of what this means, if you play 7v7 and a 2-2-2, on defense DON"T try to cover the entire width of the field. You can't and it isn't necessary. Defend the important parts of the field: the "Center" so the opponent can't make fast attacks before your players can "Recover" to get in defensive positions, and the "Danger Zone" in front of your goal (the area from which the opponent has the best chance of scoring). Example: tell your 2 midfielders to work as a team and to stay about a short pass (10 to 15 steps) apart and to stay toward the Center of the field. Tell them to NEVER go past the Center of the field unless it is to win a loose ball - this will ensure that you don't end up with both midfielders on one sideline trying to steal the ball and no one defending the Center to prevent the opponent from "Switching Fields" by passing the ball to the center or the opposite side of the field (this will ensure you always have a player defending the Center, which is the most important to defend.)

  2. Don't put timid players at Fullback in front of your goal. Fullbacks don't have to be skillful, but they MUST be brave, not afraid of contact or of getting hit by the ball, and able to clear the ball. A player who is afraid of contact won't win 50/50 balls and won't confront attackers or use her body to block shots. If you must put a timid player at Fullback, put him at the left or right, not in the Center. I did fine with players who were not fast or skillful, but were brave and tough. I had my slow Fullbacks "Defend Deep" so they wouldn't get beaten by fast Forwards on breakaways and praised them for tough, brave play and gave them "Blood Patches" (the red iron-on patches we sell) when they made a brave play - they coveted these patches and were motivated by them. I would praise my Fullbacks in front of the entire team and parents. Some of my favorite Fullbacks were small, slow and unskillful - the players other coaches didn't want. These players couldn't be successful as Midfielders or Forwards, because they couldn't dribble or pass well. But they were inspirational as Fullbacks when we Defended Deep. By Defending Deep they didn't run much so I didn't have to sub them much (I might rotate 4 players at the 3 Fullback positions). This allowed me to have more players to sub at Midfield, where the players were running all the time.
  3. Put your most dominant player at Stopper and let her come into the attack if she can still "Recover" to play defense in the event of a turnover. In Recreational soccer, Stopper is the most important position. Play one of your most dominant players at Stopper - this dominant player often isn't the most skillful player or your best scorer - it's a player who is brave, tough, fast, aggressive, and can win the ball and stop the attack. You can put a not-so-great athlete in goal and he will do okay if he has good hands. The shots on goal will be much less if you have a good Stopper. Ideally, you don't want to put your best scorer at Stopper. Read Stopper Importance.
  4. Put your weak or timid players in "wing" positions and keep them away from the front of your goal. Put them at left or right midfield positions or even at Forward, or if you play 11v11, you can play a 3-1-1-3-2 and put weak players at the 2 outside Mid positions and in the middle of the field, where she can hopefully slow down the opponent's attack.
  5. Whatever formation you play, teach "First Defender/Second Defender" and "Shift and Sag". See "Quick Team Improvement Program", no. 3 and 4 for how to teach First Defender/Second Defender and Shift & Sag.
  6. Remember that most goals are scored from directly in front of the goal. In Rec soccer, you don't have to worry much about the opponent scoring off a header from a crossed ball, almost all goals will be from within the Penalty Box and from in front of the goal. So, tell your Fullbacks to stay in front of the goal and to NOT get pulled way out to the sides. Make your opponent earn goals.
  7. In your Defensive Third, tell your Fullbacks to just CLEAR the ball, don't dribble it. And tell your Stoppers and Midfielders that they MUST be in position to win cleared balls and fight to win them, or your team will lose. A simple strategy is to tell your Fullbacks to clear the ball straight ahead, and tell your Stoppers and Mids to be shifting with the ball, so they are always in position to win cleared balls. NOTE: This advice about telling Fullbacks to Clear the ball applies to unskilled Fullbacks on a Rec team. If you have a Select team, you probably want to teach your Fullbacks to control the ball to the extent possible.
  8. The simplest, easiest thing you can do that can make a big difference is to change to a "Formation" and "Style of Play" that gives your team the best chance of being successful. Many coaches make the mistake of choosing a Formation and Style of Play that doesn't suit their team, and then trying to make their team fit that Formation and Style of Play. Instead, you should choose a Formation and Style of Play that will give your team the best chance of being successful given your team's ability, speed, endurance, the length of the field and the number of substitutes you have. For Rec teams, this is usually a Formation that is strong down the center (i.e., strong between the 2 goals), and a Style of Play that doesn't give up breakaways and allows you to have slow FB's who lack stamina. This allows you to move your faster, more skillful players to attacking positions). If your team plays 11 on the field, consider a 3-2-2-3 or a 3-2-3-2 and "Defend Deep". Use a 3-2-3-2 if you have 2 good forwards and believe it will work better for you to have a CMF ("Center Midfielder") than a third Forward. Especially consider a 3-2-3-2 if you have a player you can play at CMF who is a strong dribbler, and have him dribble to pull the Defenders and then pass off to your Forwards, or if you have a strong player who can play CMF and dominate the center midfield area. If you need to "hide" weak or timid players, consider a 3-1-4-2 or a 3-2-4-1, and put the weak players at the left and right outside Midfield positions and your better players down the Center. How to make these Formations work is described at "Formations" & "Attacking Plan" in SoccerHelp Premium. If your team plays 8 on the field, try a 2-2-1-2 or a 2-1-2-2. This gives you more "layers" of players & strength in the center of the field (between the goals) your players won't get as tired & you won't give up goals on breakaways. Coach Scott, a Tester in TX, had only won 1 game of the past 20 but switched to a 3-2-2-3 formation and "defended deep" & went 6-2-2 (6 wins with basically the same team) & finished in second place in the Boys U-13 Division. And Coach Lisa's Girls U-11 team switched to a 3-2-2-3 and doubled their goal production from an average of 2 to 4 per game. The same principles that apply to the 3-2-2-3 as described at "Formations" also apply to the 3-2-3-2, 3-1-4-2, 3-2-4-1, 2-2-1-2 or the 2-1-2-2. If you play a 2-1-2-2, be sure to put a tough, fast player at "Stopper" (the "1" position in front of the FB's) because he will be playing like a "Front Sweeper" and MUST drop back to help defend; in the 2-1-2-2 formation the Stopper is the most important position on your team. (The "Stopper" is actually a single "Defensive Midfielder", but most Coaches find that players can grasp the concept easier by calling the position a Stopper than if they call it a Defensive Midfielder). The Stopper will run a lot, so he either must be in great shape or be subbed a lot. If you have a player who can be a great "Sweeper" and feel you need to "Push Up" your FB's to support your attack so you can score more goals, try a 1-2-2-2 formation, with a "Sweeper" behind the FB's to kick away "through balls" and stop Breakaways. (See "Formations Index", "Formations", and "Attacking Plan" in SoccerHelp Premium, and "Sweeper" in the Dictionary).

  9. Where to "Hide" weak or timid players

    1. Sometimes a player without good skills can be a good defender if she is brave (but never put a timid player in front of the goal). Keep your instructions simple and tell her to just clear the ball and NOT dribble it. If she's playing LFB or RFB, tell her to NOT go past the Center of the goal, this way you always have a fullback protecting the goal front. And tell your Stoppers and Midfielders that they MUST shift with the ball and be in position to win cleared balls and fight to win them, or your team will lose. A simple strategy is to tell your Fullbacks to clear the ball straight ahead, and tell your Stoppers and Mids to be shifting with the ball, so they are always in position to win cleared balls.
    2. If you "Defend Deep" you can play slow players at Fullback (whereas, if you "Push Up" there is a chance they get beaten on fastbreaks and they might become discouraged).
    3. Avoid playing a timid player at Fullback. Fullbacks don't have to be skillful or fast (if you Defend Deep), but they MUST be brave, not afraid of contact or of getting hit by the ball, and able to clear the ball. A player who is afraid of contact won't win 50/50 balls and won't confront attackers or use her body to block shots. If you must put a timid player at Fullback, put him at the left or right, not in the Center.
    4. Put weak or timid players at the left and right midfield positions, NOT in a Center position, unless you put them on the Halfway line. If you play 11v11, use a formation like a 3-2-4-1 or a 3-1-4-2, a 3-2-3-2, a 3-1-1-3-2 or a 3-1-1-4-1.
    5. Another possibility is to put them on the Halfway Line. If you play 11v11, a 3-1-1-3-2 or 3-1-1-4-1 formation allows you to do this. Tell the player to stay near the Halfway Line and to shift from side-to-side with the ball, and hope he's in position to slow down the opponent's attack. If you play smaller numbers, it becomes more difficult to hide players. If you play 7v7, consider a 2-1-1-2 and put your most dominant player at the Stopper position and a weak or timid player at the Midfield position, or at one of the Forward positions. or possibly at one of the Fullback positions.
    6. You can play a timid, skillful player at Forward. Sometimes you will have a skillful player with good speed and dribbling skill who is afraid of contact or of being hit by the ball. This player can be good at a Forward position, but NOT at Fullback or Stopper, and is not a good Center Midfielder, since he won't win many 50/50 balls.

Read Assigning Soccer Positions for more tips on assigning positions.

Read Positions Basics & Kick-Offs.

Read Quick Team Improvement Program for 10 tips that will have quick results.

Soccer Formations Overview - Soccer Formations Overview

Soccer Formations Basics - Soccer Formations Basics

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