Youth Soccer Positions - How to Teach, Coach & Assign
How to coach, teach, select and assign youth soccer positions. 20 tips for where to play slow, fast, aggressive, brave and timid soccer players. Tips for forwards, midfielders, fullbacks, stopper and goalkeeper.
The tips below mainly apply to Rec teams that have a mixture of players and don't have much practice time. If you have a great team of fast athletes and can practice 2 or 3 times a week, you will want play a more controlled attack that maintains possession. However, some of the tips such as not putting timid players in front of your goal apply to all teams.
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You SHOULD NOT put timid players in front of the goal. If you do, you will give up a lot of goals. However, you can put slow brave players at Fullback if you don't Push them Up so far that they can't recover in time to defend.
Keep your best players in the "Center" positions (Center Fullback, Stopper, Center Midfield, Center Forward). The team that controls the Center usually wins. Let your opponent have the "wings" (sidelines), in fact, encourage it. They can't score from there and your team will always have time to "recover" and the opponents will run a lot more.
Put your fastest, toughest athlete at "Stopper". This doesn't have to be a skillful player -- just one who can definitely stop the opponent's attack. I once had a player who was fast and incredibly brave, but lacked skill. He was a great Stopper. He couldn't dribble well or pass, so I just told him to stop the attack and kick the ball back downfield where our MF's and Forwards were waiting.
Keep in mind that you shouldn't put your best player at Goalie, in fact, try to find a player who has good hands but isn't a good field player. Read "Stopper Importance" for a coaches' comments about this. I often put a heavier player at Goalie, especially a tall, heavy player.
The Center FB should NEVER go past the Goal Posts except in an emergency.
The Left and Right FB's should NOT Push Up farther than the Penalty Box line (the top of the Penalty Box) unless they are fast enough to recover and stop breakaways. How far they can safely Push Up depends on how fast they are and how fast the opposing Forwards are..
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The Center FB should NOT Push Up farther than the top of the Penalty Box Arc unless he is really fast and can recover; if he is fast, good and can recover, then you can let him push halfway to the center circle. (If your players are really fast and alert and can quickly "recover" so they don't give up breakaways, then you can allow the CFB or even all the FBs to come to the Halfway Line, and even participate in the attack).
Clear the ball STRAIGHT AHEAD. That way your Stopper, MF's and Forwards can shift with the ball and know that it will be cleared straight ahead - they will know what to expect and can be in position to win the ball. The MFs should stay a pass away from the ball (10 to 15 of their steps) and the Fs should stay a long kick away from the ball (25 to 30 their steps). The MFs should stay a short pass apart from each other (about 10 steps) and the Forwards should stay a short pass from each other so they don't "bunch up". This will give you good spacing and field coverage of the area where the ball will be cleared - it will also give you good support to launch a fast counterattack if you win the ball, and if the ball is cleared straight ahead and you don't win it you have numbers of players in position to defend so your opponent can't easily attack your goal (i.e., you can quickly bring pressure on the ball because you have players in the area, and you will have "multiple layers of defenders" between the ball and your goal, which gives you defensive "depth" and make it difficult for your opponent to score). To teach your FBs how to clear the ball, you can play the Chips/Lofted Passes Game.
Tell the RFB and LFB not to go past the Center of your goal except in an emergency -- show them where the Center is.
DON'T go inside the Goal Box except in an emergency (this way they will stay out of the Goalies way). DON'T go more than a pass past the "Near Post" (show them what this means - about 10 steps). This will keep the Near FB (the FB nearest to the ball) from getting pulled far away from the Goal Front. When the ball is toward the corner, the Near FB should have shifted toward it and the Far FB (the FB farthest from the ball) should have shifted to the Center of your Goal, the Stopper should be the First Defender of the ball in the corner and the CMF should have come to the Penalty Box Arc to protect against crosses to that area.
You MUST Control the "Center of the Field" (the area between the 2 goals). You MUST stay strong in the "Center of the Field" (between the 2 goals) or you will probably lose; let your opponent have the "wings". In fact, encourage your opponent to attack down the wings (aka the sidelines or "touch lines"), they will run twice as much as your players, your players will have plenty of time to "recover" by dropping back into a defensive position, and most opponents can't score from there; just DON'T give up the "Center of the Field" and allow easy goals). If you need to "hide" some timid, unskilled players think about a 2-1-3-1 or 3-2-3-2 formation and put the weak players at RMF or LMF, and strong players at CFB, Stopper and CMF.
How To Keep Good Defensive Coverage and Strength in The Center, and How To Keep Your Players From Getting Totally Out of Position. Teach your "Right" and "Left" side Fullbacks, Midfielders and Stoppers (if you have 2), to NOT go past the Center of the Field (an imaginary line between the 2 goals) -- that way you will always have strength in the Center (don't teach your Forwards this, they need to work closely together to attack and should go where they can best attack). Let your opponent attack down the sidelines, and encourage it. You just can't let them attack down the Center. They can't score from the sideline, and your team will have time to "sag" back to defend.
How To Select and Train Fullbacks.
You CAN'T put timid or scared players at Fullback - if a timid player is a good dribbler he can play Midfield, if not and you need to "Hide" players, put them at the Right MF or Left MF spots.
You CAN put slow players who are brave and lack skills at FB if you "Defend Deep" and teach them the 3 "jobs" listed below. It's okay if they are big or small and unskilled, but it is CRITICAL that they MUST do 3 things: stay in position, not be afraid of contact with attackers or being hit by the ball (use our red iron-on "bravery patches" to encourage this), and able to clear the ball (do NOT go past the Penalty Box line if they are slow). Two of my favorite players ever were not skillful (they couldn't pass or dribble) and were slow, but they were brave and would never back down. See the Premium articles Defending Deep Basics and Should You Push Up When You Attack?.
If your Fullbacks are slow and "Defend Deep", teach them that they only have 3 "jobs":
- Stay in position and don't go past the Penalty Box line- You can allow your CFB to go to the top of the Penalty Box Circle -- but only allow this if you're sure he can "recover" if needed.
- Slow down the attack by playing First Defender/Second Defender and staying between the ball and the goal, and try to "toe poke" away the ball. DO NOT jump at the attacker or rush the attacker -- they MUST not get beaten and MUST stay between the ball and the goal, and MUST play "First Defender/Second Defender". For how to teach First Defender/Second Defender see the Premium article "Quick Team Improvement Program" at First Defender/Second Defender - How To Teach. Use our red iron-on bravery patches to encourage tough, brave play.
- Clear the ball -- don't try to dribble or pass, just kick it hard STRAIGHT AHEAD. Play the "Chips/Lofted Passes Game" to teach your players how to Clear the ball. Tell your Stopper, MF's and Forwards to expect the ball to be kicked hard straight ahead and to SHIFT with the ball so they are in position to win it. The Stopper should be a short pass away (say 10 steps, in case it's mis-kicked -- if it's a hard kick, the Stopper should let the ball go by and follow it), the MF's should be a long pass away (say 20 steps), and the Forwards should be long kick away (say 30 steps). It's okay and good if the ST, MF's and Forwards are kicked over; being kicked over won't allow the opponent to score, but if they are too far away from the ball and the ball never reaches them and the opponent wins it, then your ST, MF's and F's aren't in position to help stop the attack, and that can be disastrous. On the other hand, your ST, MF's and Forwards MUST be far enough out to have a chance to win the cleared balls or your opponent will always win them and eventually score. After a few games they will get the hang of this and start to position themselves correctly, but you may have to remind them by coaching from the sideline. This will give you good field coverage in the area that the ball should be cleared to; make adjustments to this if necessary (for example, if your FB's can't kick it far, your MF's will need to stay closer to the ball so they can win it when the FB's clear it). Teaching this style of attack teaches players to: "pass the ball to space" (which is much more effective than just "passing to feet"; it may seem like the Fullbacks are just "booming" the ball, but they aren't, they are really passing it to a space where they know their MF's and Forwards will be waiting; this is very different from just kicking the ball to the opponent; even some national teams play a similar style of clearing the ball from the Defensive Third), the concept of a simple "attacking plan" and how to implement it, to "shift and sag" with the ball so they are in position to win it, the importance of keeping a proper amount of space between MF's and Forwards, that every player must do his job and trust his teammates to do theirs (for example: Forwards must NOT come back too close to the Fullbacks or no one will be there to win the cleared balls), and that MF's and Forwards MUST fight to win the ball or their team will almost certainly lose the game. See Attacking Navigation Page and Attacking Plan (for Rec teams) for more about attacking.
When the ball is in our Defensive Third, how far back should the Midfielders come into the defense to help out? Your midfielders should not go into the Penalty Box except in an emergency. When the ball is on the far side of the field, tell the MF who is farthest from the ball to come to the Penalty Box Arc and stay there to protect against crosses to the center, and the closest MF can help pressure the ball as the First Defender or Second Defender (either the Stopper or the closest MF should be First Defender and the other one should be Second Defender).
When the opponent has the ball in the corner, who should be the First Defender? If you play 2 Stoppers, the Closest Stopper should be the First Defender and the Far Stopper should go to the Penalty Box Arc to stop crosses to the Center. If you play one Stopper and 3 MF's, the Stopper should be First Defender, the Far Midfielder should drop back to the Penalty Box Arc, and the CMF and close MF should stay a pass apart and shift with the ball to be in position to win it if the Stopper can win it and clear it. If you use 2 Midfielders and a Stopper, the Stopper should be the First Defender, the MF farthest from the ball should go into the Penalty Box Arc, and the MF closest to the ball should shift with the ball to be in position to win it if the Stopper can win it and clear it. IT IS CRITICAL FOR SOMEONE TO COVER THE PENALTY BOX ARC TO PREVENT THE BALL FROM BEING CROSSED TO THE CENTER, AND IT'S ALSO CRITICAL FOR SOMEONE TO SHIFT WITH THE BALL TO BE IN POSITION TO WIN IT IF THE STOPPER CAN WIN IT AND CLEAR IT. How the FB's should move and position when the ball is in the corner: When the ball is toward the far sideline, the FB farthest away (Left or Right) should NEVER go past the center of the goal (except in an emergency) and the Closest FB (Left or Right) should not go farther than a short pass (about 10 steps if you have 3 FB's or 5 steps if you only have 2 FB's) past the Post (he is a "Second Defender", but shouldn't get pulled far away from goal). This will keep your FB's compact and near the Goal Front.
More Rules For Fullbacks If You Defend Deep:
The Center FB should NEVER go past the posts except in an emergency.
The Left and Right should NOT Push Up farther than the Penalty Box line.
The Center FB should NOT Push Up farther than the top of the Penalty Box Arc unless he is really fast and can recover; if he is fast, good and can recover, then you can let him push halfway to the center circle.
Clear the ball STRAIGHT AHEAD. That way your Stopper, MF's and Forward can shift with the ball and know that it will be cleared straight ahead.
Tell the RFB and LFB to not go past the Center of the goal except in an emergency -- show them where the Center is.
DON'T go inside the Goal Box except in an emergency (this way they will stay out of the Goalies way).
DON'T go more than a pass past the "Near Post" (show them what this means - about 10 steps). This will keep the Near FB from getting pulled far away from the Goal Front. When the ball is toward the corner, the Near FB should have shifted toward it and the Far FB should have shifted to the Center of the Goal, the Stopper should be the First Defender of the ball in the corner and the CMF should have come to the Penalty Box Arc to protect against crosses to that area.
How far should I have the forwards drop back when the opponent is attacking our goal? Your Forwards should NEVER come closer than a long kick from the ball -- otherwise, you won't be able to clear the ball from your Defensive Third. They should stay a short pass apart (so they can work as a pair) and be constantly shifting with the ball so they are in position to win a ball that is cleared straight ahead.
When your Midfielders have the ball and are trying to move it thru the Middle Third, should the Forwards stay "Pushed Up" with the "Last Defenders" or should they be helping to work ball down field? This depends on the "style" you play and your Forward's speed. If your Forwards come back toward the ball, they might bring the defenders with them. By staying Pushed Up, they should create space for the MF's to attack. I taught my MF's to "Pass To Space" where the ball could be won by the Forwards (instead of "passing to Feet"). If you have your MF's kick the ball into open space behind the opposing Fullbacks, then you should leave one or both of your Forwards pushed up as far as possible and tell the Fullbacks and MF's to kick the ball to the open space. This style works if one of your Forwards is very fast and aggressive about winning the ball and finishing -- it won't work if the opposing Fullbacks are faster. To a large degree, the "style" you choose should be based on the speed and skill of your players -- choose the style that gives them the best chance of success. If your players are all really good and can play a "combination passing" attack where the MF's can attack by working with the Forwards and using "give and go's", then you have more choices than if your team is like most and can't complete 7 passes in a row when being defended.
When we are attacking and trying to finish, how far up do you recommend I push the Stopper and Fullbacks? My Stopper is fast, can dribble, and can kick the ball accurately and far. My fullbacks are tough with average speed." Since your FB's only have average speed, I would "Defend Deep" when attacking and have my left and right Fullbacks stop at the top of the Penalty Box or the Penalty Box Arc, and tell them both to stay toward the center, about a short pass apart (roughly, one off each post). If you have CFB who has some speed, you can have him push up to the top of the Penalty Box Arc or halfway to the Center Circle. If you get behind and need to push one up, leave the best defender back and let the other go to the inside of the Center Circle on your side of the field (tell her she can go farther if she's "onball" or to kick back a loose ball, but to run back to the Halfway line as soon as she doesn't have the ball. If your Stopper is fast, you can let her come up to the Halfway Line to support your attack -- she will have the speed to really help and to slow down ("Stop") the attack if your opponent gets the ball. Your Fullbacks lack speed, so they will be less helpful in attacking, less likely to slow down the attack if you lose the ball, and less likely to be able to "recover" on defense. That's why it makes more sense to leave them "Deep" and let the Stopper come up into the attack.
The Diagram below is for a 2-1-3-1 soccer formation and shows a team Attacking with 2 Fullbacks Defending Deep, One Stopper, 3 Midfielders, One Forward. The ball is in the opponent's Penalty Box. This formation and Style of Play is good for a Rec team that has some slow and timid players.