build or not to build?
Teaching positions to young soccer
players (U-9, U-10, U-11) part 1
Borja, NSCAA National Staff Coach
This is Part 1 in a two-part series. Part 2 is a series of easy to explain drills that
you can use to to practice positional play with U9 to U11 soccer players.
courtesy of Decatursports
When is the
right time to teach younger teams field positions? You might say, arent we
neutralizing a younger player when we ask them to stay in one position? I then
could say, even at such a young age, arent we neglecting the creativity of a player
and his or her ability to think on the field?
I believe there is a happy medium. Continue to teach the kids the basic skills like
trapping and dribbling. Furthermore, spend as much time as needed showing them how a
ball can go forward but how it can also go from side-to-side and sometimes backward. This
is the perfect time to introduce the word build in your practices. To
build means to create. Let me give you a little background!
During my professional playing days in Wichita, Kan., I was asked by a good friend of
mine to attend a try-out for an under-8 boys soccer team. About 25 to 30 kids showed
up, including my son Piri. There was only one coach committed to training
these kids, so one of the parents suggested they find another
coach and create two teams.
Every parent, without missing a beat, turned their heads toward me and waited for an
acknowledgment. I was and still am very critical of my son, so reluctantly I agreed to
coach my sons team. I was still a player mind you, so coaching was not
necessarily something I thought was hard to do. Boy was I wrong. It has taken me the last
few years as an NSCAA National Staff member to realize that.
Well, back to Wichita and the Stars soccer team. We started practicing
trapping, dribbling and passing and yet for the most part, during our games, the kids
never used those skills. During the games, the kids would just kick the ball and run after
it. The kids played what we then called bunch ball. Two bunches of kids, one
from each team, running after the ball as it ricochets from player to player. After a few
minutes, one of the kids managed to kick the ball straight toward the other goal. Another
player was fast enough to beat everybody else and managed to kick the ball hard enough to
score. The goalkeeper, scared to move in either direction, was just standing on the goal
As a former player, I figured out quickly that I needed to put the fastest player
as a forward and keep him there, and have a strong kicker as a defender and keep him
there. My formation was a keeper, a defender, a bunch and a forward; my son.
Hey, I was the coach and he was fast. Well, that formation lasted about a month. Without
prior coaching knowledge about when to teach players the different positions, I took a
chance. During one practice, I started to teach them one by one the different
positions and what each one did on the field. I placed cones at each position and
took the players on a walk-through from goalkeeper to center forward. Yes, the kids were
all 8-years old but I got their attention. We played what I now know to be a form of
shadow play. The players started on each cone and we went forward! The players
had to be mindful to stay together on the left, center, and right sides of the
field. They passed the ball forward from one position to the other until we found the
forward player. We practiced this drill for about 20 minutes each practice.
After about a month, I introduced switching the field. Yes, switching the field! They
would pass the ball forward until I yelled it's closed," which
meant there were imaginary players in front of them and that they needed to stop
and pass the ball backward. The receiving player would then pass the ball across to a
player: the stopper, sweeper or midfielder in the middle, and then to a player on the
other side of the field. We worked on this drill for about 20 to 30 minutes each
practice. Needless to say, after about two months of practicing shadow play, there was a
huge difference in our team and the rest of the league. We went from bunch ball to
switching the field and thus playing a more developed form of soccer. Those were the
days of 11-on-11 games for the younger ages. Now, most of the youth leagues,
depending on the group, play games with fewer players on the field.
I believe, contrary to popular belief, that you should spend
some time teaching younger teams the different positions in soccer. By using small-sided
drills and games, it develops the player faster. You start with a basic 4-player formation
on a small practice field. The players can create triangles between the back player, the
outside players and the forward player, thus creating better understanding of passing and
Teaching positions to young
soccer players, part 2
|A soccer coaches guide to basic formations
and positional training.