8 V 8 Formations, U-11

Dear Soccerhelp,

I coach a boys U-11 team and have played 3-3-1 for the past two seasons and I am considering changing to a 2-3-2 to help generate more scoring opportunities. While we did well in the 3-3-1 formation going 9-2 in our division, I like the 2-3-2 formation in that I can play a diagonal ball through or over midfield. I think this tends to create unbalance for the opposing team, having a left defender switching the field to the right side. At this young age, kids tend to not "stay home" and the thought of catching them cheating to the strong side is very appealing.

Do you have any coaching pointers or "CD's" specifically related to theses two formats? While I feel my boys have a good feel for the 3-3-1 if we decide to stay with it I want to be able to expand on it.

I look forward to hearing from you....



Hi Kevin,

9-2 is a very good record. I suggest thinking about a 2-1-2-2, which some would call a 2-3-2. The "1" is a Stopper and is where you should put your most athletic player. The "Systems of Play" DVD doesn't specifically discuss a 2-3-3, but it is excellent and I highly recommend it. You can read the review to decide. Also, check out "Coaching Set Plays", it's brilliant.

Read #2 at "FAQ's" above ( http://www.soccerhelp.com/Coaches_FAQ.shtml#defending_attacking_killing_time).

I've pasted below some mail we recently received about the 2-1-2-2:

"I coach a U-10 Girls team with a mixed lot of players, using your advice this season we played a 2-1-2-2 with great results. As of this point we are 9-0 scoring 58 goals while giving up 11."

This is another excellent letter we received


First of all, thank you for the great practical information on SoccerHelp and SoccerHelp Premium. The information on "Assigning Positions" and "Formations" has been especially helpful. (Note from SoccerHelp: Here are links to these 2 documents and another we think is very important:

Assigning Positions , Formations , Most Important Things To Teach and Read )

I am a first time Rec league coach for a U-13 Boys team. My soccer playing experience includes about 7 years of youth soccer and 1 year in high school.

Our league tries to evenly distribute players according to ability across 8 teams. We play 8 vs. 8 including goalies (7 on the field plus a goalie).

The team I coach has 11 players, 2 of which really standout. One is an excellent shooter and dribbler. The other has decent technical skills, but is "dominant" from a standpoint of pure athleticism.

For our first game (which was this week), the hardest decision for me to make was who to play as goalkeeper, the athletic superstar or the second option which was a BIG drop-off in ability.

I decided before the game to put the more athletic player in goal for the first half and the second option in goal for the second half. Listed below is what happened. (By the way, we only had 8 players show up--no subs. The other team had 11.)


Strategy: 2-2-1-2 formation with the excellent shooter as the lone midfielder who played like a center forward when we were on offense. The 2 stoppers stayed in our half of the field. The 2 fullbacks stayed in the penalty box. The athletic player was the goalkeeper.

Results: Our team (4 shots on goal, 1 corner kick & 1 great save)
Other team (7 shots on goal & 4 corner kicks)

First Half Score: Our team 1 / Other team 1

Comment: The ball was in our defensive third for most of the first half. Our only goal was on a breakaway by the talented shooter. The other team's goal was an excellent shot on the ground to the far side of the goal.


Strategy: 2-1-2-2 formation with the excellent shooter moved up to forward. The 2 midfielders were permitted to go up on offense, but rarely did. The 2 fullbacks stayed in the penalty box. The athletic player played stopper, and the second option played goalkeeper. The stopper was told he was free to go up on offense, but his first priority was defense.

Results: Our team (12 shots on goal, 3 corner kicks & 1 save)
Other team (2 shots on goal & 0 corner kicks)

Second Half Score: Our team 5 / Other team 1

Comment: The ball was in our middle third and attacking third for most of the second half. Our talented shooter had 7 shots on goal and scored 3. The stopper scored one by dribbling down the sideline from the midfield and shooting from far out. Our other forward scored a goal from persistent rebounding inside the goal box. The 2 shots from the other team resulted in a goal that should have been stopped and a ball that was dropped and then picked up by the goalkeeper (this is the one save listed above).


What a difference it made to have the dominant athlete play Stopper instead of goalkeeper. We were 1-1 at the half, and won 6-2 after changing to a 2-1-2-2 and putting my most athletic player at Stopper.

Goalkeeper is arguably the most important position on the field, but not if you have a field player who can significantly reduce the opponent's shots on goal as well as create more scoring opportunities for your team.

Hope this feedback helps,

Coach Michael, U-13 Boys Rec, AL, USA


Let me suggest this to you (remember, this is coming from a guy who has tried it all): Don't look for a "magic solution". The diagonal balls might work against some teams, but not against others. The problem with emphasizing that is that if your attack is based on that and you run into a guy like me, I'll adjust to stop diagonal balls, and it might throw off your entire attack. Here are ideas I know work for the short term and long term:

  1. Choose the Formation and "Style of Play" (Defending Deep, Pushing Up, etc) that best suits your players speed and ability. DON'T try to make your players fit a Formation or style of play. This is one of the BIGGEST mistakes coaches make.
  2. Focus on the basics, encourage brave, hustling, "win the ball" play, play conservative on defense, and encourage creativity on offense. Kevin, there is no one best attacking plan, although there might be a style of attack that works best for your team given their strengths and weaknesses. For Example: for my Rec teams, I found that a fast-break style of attack based on sending long aerial passes into the Middle and Attacking Thirds worked best. The reason was that it got the ball out of the Defensive Third and I taught my MF's and Forwards to shift with the ball so they were in position to win it (I taught the FB's to clear it straight ahead, so the MF's and Forwards would know where the cleared balls would go, so they could be in position to win them) and that they hustle and MUST fight to win those cleared balls or we would lose the game. Now, all I focused on was that and going aggressively to goal, getting in position to score, fighting for rebounds and fighting HARD to score. You want to encourage creativity in your attack, and this "framework" allowed it and was consistent with a conservative defensive philosophy. It also taught that everyone MUST hustle, fight for the ball and want to win. Once we developed a desire to win, we started winning games that we otherwise might have lost, simply because my players hustled more and wanted to win more. These attitudes are fundamental and necessary for successful players. The reason a controlled, short-passing style of attack couldn't work is that we simply didn't have the talent or practice time to make it work -- we couldn't put together 7 consecutive passes consistently while under pressure by the opposing defense. I think this is a mistake many Rec coaches make. Trying to force a team into a style of play that cannot be successful will only lead to failure, unhappiness and frustration.
  3. Play Dribble Across A Square 3 times to start every practice, have a bal for every player and make your practices efficient. If you do, you can achieve 2 hours of practice in one hour, and your players will improve twice as fast. Try the Dribble Around A Cone and Pass Relay Race, it's really a great game and teaches a lot.
  4. Regarding the Stopper, put your best athlete there and let him play defense AND come into the attack too. As you can see from the letter I sent, that one change made a 4 goal difference.
  5. Regarding Defensive responsibilities in the Defensive Third: It depends on how fast your Fullbacks are and how quickly they can recover if they get pulled out to the side. The safest approach is this: Give the opponent the "wings" and encourage them to attack that down the wings. DON'T give them the center. If you control the center (between the 2 goals), you will probably win, Also, your team will run a lot less and has less chance of getting beat on a breakaway. The opponent can' score from the wings. If you force them to the wings, they will run more, and your team will run less if you stick to the center. So, here are your choices:
    1. Give the opponent the "wings", even in your Defensive Third (on the sides, defend to the edge of the Penalty Box, but not farther).
    2. Have the Midfielders drop back to help defend to the Penalty Box, but tell them to stay out of the Penalty Box except in an emergence. If your goal is under attack, the closest MF to the ball should be shifted toward the ball and the one farthest from the ball should be in the Penalty Box Arc to defend against a ball crossed to the center in that area, because that is SO dangerous.
    3. If you want to be safe, tell your FB's to stay near the goal front (say within 10 steps from the Near Post) and have the Stopper put pressure on the ball. The 2nd Defender on that side can be the MF closest to the ball. Your Stopper is your best athlete and is probably a lot faster than your FB's. The advantage of this conservative approach is that it's simple, clear cut and easy to explain, and you should not give up goals because your FB's get pulled way out of position (which is how most goals are scored at U-11). Think about it: Isn't it REALLY tough to score when the FB's are in position to defend the goal? The reason to pressure the ballhandler on the wings in the Defensive Third at higher levels is because at high levels you worry about crosses and headers, which you probably don't have to worry about much. In Rec soccer, from U-14 to U-18 (I figured out this approach when I had a U-14 team), I would put players at RFB and LFB who were tough but slow and not very good dribblers. I MADE them stay close to the goal and just clear the ball HARD (They could NOT go out of the Penalty Box to the front or more than about 10 steps past the Near Post to the side. I told them to NOT dribble or pass in the Defensive Third, because a turnover was too risky). We won 90% of our games using this approach, and as I recall, we were the top team most seasons, and this was with teams assigned by the league to balance the teams. When my FB's got pulled out of position, we would give up goals. When they stayed home, we never gave up more than 2 goals per game.

I hope there are some ideas here that help. Please let me know if any of them work for you. Feedback is how we continue to improve and share ideas with coaches.

Good luck,