by Rick Meana – Director of Coaching, NJ Youth Soccer
Formations and “designated positions” are not appropriate for U6-U8 play.
Why, do you ask?
Because children at this age do not understand, do not have the capacity to grasp the concept of “functionality.” They don’t understand that the pieces make up the pie as a whole. They only can understand that pieces exist, but don’t understand how they contribute to the make-up of the whole. In school they learn about basic math, reading, and writing, with an emphasis on fun discovery and development. They are not grouped by accountants, lawyers, or doctors, each having their own curriculum. Everyone receives the same basic curriculum that helps form a foundation for later education and applications.
Before players learn functionality, they need to first experience basic movements. Through spontaneous uninhibited play, children can learn to solve problems, invent, create, and become aware of their physical relationship with their environment. Small-sided game play offers all these factors, and in addition, contributes to skill development. This becomes a foundation for the next levels of play.
Besides, the use of terms such as ‘defenders’, ‘fullbacks,’ ‘midfielders’, and ‘strikers’ are analogous to asking a six-year-old to describe the duties of an accountant or lawyer. Do defenders just defend? Not attack? Does that mean that they need to stay close to their goal? (Usually, these players have been seen standing on the edge of their penalty box 50 yards away from the action – after being instructed by their coach to stay back.) These are literal definitions of positions that are misconceptions of the game of soccer. Usually, these misconceptions derive from other sports where positions literally are constants of what action players’ perform/areas of the field, i.e., baseball. This is not true in the modern game of soccer.
Let’s take a look at the modern “adult” game to gain a perspective. Players who are termed “defenders,” are becoming notorious for scoring goals, while “forwards” who have become famous for their scoring prowess must now be able to defend and chase down assertive back players. Coaches have also had to convert forwards to defenders because of a shortage of attacking defenders. Players today, no matter their position, need to be fluent in all “soccer skills.”
Midfielders, once known for their ability to launch attacks and work at a high rate for 90 minutes are being converted to defenders, and so on. All this goes to show that positions and formations aren’t the answer. Besides, it is not necessarily being in a designated “position” or being a part of a formation that helps the players solve the problem/situations in the game, but rather the ability of the player to read visually the cues, that is the movement of the ball, movement of the teammates and opponents, and quickly execute a movement/decision that will be effective.
Soccer is a game where the players are constantly changing their movement and activity patterns because the game demands – fluidity, interchangeability, unpredictability, quick thought and execution. Adherence to the formations will not aid players in developing the foundation of the game needed to meet these demands.
The activity in “small-sided” games, where players are not inhibited by formations and positions, result in a variety of movement patterns, more contacts with the ball and other players, and is more challenging to a player physically. It also offers many opportunities for players to make decisions and solve problems based on the conditions that are encountered in the game. This is the “learning environment” that is best for the players at this age and maturity level.
Further proof that this environment is best; can be seen in those professional coaches, who in order to economize their practice, efficiently use small-sided games often, to provide a more challenging environment than 11-a-side play. And that is proof- positive that small-sided games, are important for this age group, however, formations and designated positions should not be used by coaches of U6-U8 players.