Teaching positions to young soccer players

Warm-up: Full Field – 16 players

1. In 2’s with 1 ball:
a) pass and move
b) Pass to other players and move
2. In 3’s: pass and move plus “trail” (Pass Back)
3. In 4’s: Pass and move, Trail and “Switch”

Training: 4v4 (60 x 40 field) – 2 fields
1. 4v4 game – 4 teams – Rotate teams

2.Teach “how-to” techniques on passing, trailing and switching (body position, feel of the pass, where to strike the football)

Technical: Full Field — Walk-through
1. Teach positions on the field with dry-erase boards to explain the different positions, and use cones to show where the positions are on the field.

2. The coach directs movement of the team while standing on the opposite field. Under the direction of the coach, the team moves forward and backward. They learn to shift from side to side. The team moves as a “whole unit” including the keeper.

3. The coach teaches the team to position themselves defensively and offensively according to the ball, which he is holding as he moves around the field.

Game Condition:  Shadow Play – 7v7 + GK – 2 Teams
1. The goalkeeper starts the drill. Players move the ball diagonally toward the forward line finishing with a shot on goal (switch teams).

2. Introduce “It’s Closed” As the ball is moving forward the coach yells “it’s closed” thus creating a chance for the forwards or midfielders to “trail” the ball back to the supporting player which reverses the field through the center players (midfielder, sweeper, stopper and keeper) and to the other side and finishing with a shot on goal. You can yell “it’s closed” a couple of times during the drill or as needed.

3. Introduce defensive players, one per zone, and add accordingly. Defenders are passive at first.

4. Shadow play with 2 full teams. One team defends passively. Switch teams. Offensive team has success.

Game Related: 7v7 + GK
1. Full field, no restrictions.

Shadow attack

Shadow attack

Shadow attack

The Game

The keeper starts with the ball. Have players line up in their basic formation. In this example we are assuming team is playing 8 aside. Players attack the opposite goal, trying to score. After the attempt at goal, repeat in the opposite direction. If you have enough players, organize another group to attack in the opposite direction. The two teams play through one another, no defence.

Coaching Points

  • Activity leader should encourage wide players to stay wide, but make sure they get the ball.
  • Demand that the players go to goal as in a real game. This should look like a real game.
  • Demand players go to goal at speed.
  • Watch the way the players attack: Do they pass most? Do they dribble most?
  • Which players seem to control the attack.

Try These Variations

  1. Get to goal in 15 seconds.
  2. All players must touch the ball before final strike at goal.
  3. Players only have 3 touch, 2 touch ,then 1 touch.
  4. Get to goal in as few passes as possible.
  5. Get to goal using to passes.
  6. Activity leader gives each player a number. At the start of each attack, the leader calls a number, and the team must organize so that player takes the final shot on goal.

 

Second attacker support

This is a possession, speed of play soccer drill that builds vision, decision making and communication by all players.

The person in control of the ball is, as we know, designated the first attacker. She obviously has a lot of responsibility when it comes to ball possession and establishing an effective passing game. But the second attackers, those in direct support of the first attacker, probably have equal, or perhaps even greater, responsibility for maintaining possession.

Why? Because the second attacker must make herself available to the passer. She does this through movement to space or by a check back towards the ball. Communication is key, whether verbal, or non-verbal. Even when they are not good passing options, second attackers can affect the possession and passing game by clearing the area and perhaps opening it up for a teammate to make a supporting run into the vacated space.

Second Attacker Support Set Up

Set up a 20 x 20 area with three (3) teams. Each team has either 3 or 4 players and each team MUST wear a different colour bib. One team is on defence and the other 2 teams possess the ball. When the defensive team gains possession of the ball, they switch to offence and the team that lost possession switches to defence. Therefore you always have 6 v 3 or 8 v 4.

Second Attacker Support Play

Restrict players to two (2) touches on the ball. Restrict players to pass to players wearing the opposite colour jersey. That is if you have red and green playing offence, the red players may pass only to green and the green players only to red.

The coach should be stressing the need for the second attacker to be communicating via voice and movement to the first attacker. Ideally this should be done prior to the first attacker receiving the ball.

What you should see with this exercise is the players tending to talk more, sometimes it’s to argue who is on defence. Reinforce the importance of communication as much as possible and the role of the second attacker.

Absolutely avoid the tendency to jump in and correct play at the beginning. Every coach that I have shown this to sees CHAOS at the beginning and says, “They are not getting it.”

Wrong! Give them time and the chaos will work itself out. Remember we are trying to teach communication. We don’t want robots who listen only to our voice. We want creative thinkers.

This exercise makes the ball carrier look up and find his second attackers.

This exercise makes the players in the same colour jersey as the first attacker move to open positions to get not the next pass, but the pass after that.

Progression of the Second Attacker Support — Match Related

A simple progression of the second attacker support is to add a few 3 yard goals randomly within the playing area. The attacking team scores a point every time they complete a pass, between the cones, to a teammate wearing the opposite colour jersey. Each of the two attacking teams gets a point.

Mini soccer

Mini soccer

Mini soccer

Soccer objectives: Tactics, Passing, Shooting

Review: Good small sided game that teaches small group tactics.

Setup: A 30 yard long soccer field with two 5-yard goals at each end. There is really no need to mark a width boundary but if you want to make it 20-25 yards.

Procedure: Regular soccer rules apply except for the following:

1. The team on defence must always have one player in goal and the goalkeeper is not allowed to come off the line. Therefore, if a team loses possession a designated player must immediately retreat to the goal.
2. When the defending team wins possession they must pass back to the goalkeeper before attacking.
3. Goals are scored by shooting the football through the goal below the goalkeeper’s shoulders.

This scrimmage teaches just about everything about soccer just by playing – spacing, runs, pressure, transition, etc…

Tips: Have extra balls available to expedite play. Encourage possession of the ball and quick low shots. Spread the attack and use the extra man advantage wisely. Alternate the designated goalkeeper after each goal. Play with uneven teams (5v4 etc).

Inswinging corners

Inswinging corners

Inswinging corners1. Stand one step inside the six yard box just in front of the near post. Hold your hands up and motion a square with your hands. Say “Try to target the football here, four yards off the goal line and somewhere in this box here”.

Coaching point

The steeper the angle you come at the ball, the more bend you try to put on the ball and the less chance you have of getting it in the target area.

2. Position one player at the near post. It doesn’t have to be the best header of the ball. I want the biggest nuisance possible-who has a great chance of flick on’s and who can stop the defenders from getting to the ball. They might not be the most mobile person in the world but they are going to be a handful and very awkward. She might get a flick on, she may even get a strike on goal but the important thing is to get in the flight of the ball.

3.inswinging corners practice Now add two defenders. One in front and one behind the ‘flicker’. Tell the ‘flicker’ not to just stand at the near post but to try to cause the two defenders a problem. The corner taker and the ‘flicker’ work together. The ‘flicker’ starts at the near post and runs to the edge of the 6-yard box to split the defenders, when the ‘flicker’ moves forward that’s the corner takers cue to take the corner. The ‘flicker’ then moves back half turned to the near post area. Opposite movement. It is harder to defend when you are back tracking/peddling. So draw the defenders and put the ball where he has come from.

“If the defender gets a touch he might just do the job for us. Open the space to make bigger target. If both defenders go with him then we can get a runner in here. So when he gets to the 6 yard line you deliver it, ‘flicker’ get yourself sideways on. If you aim to miss the first defender you will give your self the perfect target.”

4. Now add a ‘sniffer’ and the keeper ! The ‘sniffer’ should stand in front of the keeper. As soon as the ‘flicker’ hits the edge of the 6 yard box, the ‘sniffer’ steps away from the keeper out to the edge of the six yard line and in front of the back post. This locks off the back post.

5. Now add two defending full backs and three attackers. Put the two full backs on the post and three attackers on the edge of the area. It is important to give the three attackers responsibilities. One attacker hits the inside of the near post, one goes for the penalty spot and one for the far post.

6. Add your right back and left back to lock off the outside of the penalty box. They should stand 5 yards outside the penalty box, mid way between the edge of the box and the middle of the penalty area (the “D”) The opposite back player works in the back half of the area. Add three defenders. The job of the penalty taker is not finished yet. He must come in and lock up the edge of the box to the goal line. If the ball is under hit the players on the edge of the area must be alert because it is probably coming back to you. If it is over hit you will need to step in. I don’t want one ball beating all, so the attacker hitting the back post should delay their run until they have assessed the flight of the ball.

7. Now let them play for a bit. 11 v 11 or small sided game.

8. Variation. Short ball. Devise a signal, 1 hand up. When the ‘flicker’ hits the 6 yard line, the ‘sniffer’ sprints forward to receive the short corner. He can either cross himself or play it back to the corner taker. Aim to shoot just inside the far stick.

The corner kick game

The game is played on a half field with 2 goals and goalkeepers. Two teams of 8 divide up into groups of four. A large number of footballs are split up to the four corners. The game is 4v4 with the remaining 4 players from each team positioned at the corners of their team’s attacking goal. Each game lasts 4 minutes and the “corner” players exchange positions with the field players.

Every time the ball goes out of play, the team that just gained possession is awarded a corner kick at their attacking goal. That means they must sprint to their penalty area and try to execute a quick corner-kick before the defending team reacts. If the GK gets the ball, he is to distribute as quick as possible, hoping to find a breakaway situation.

There is no off-side. We started play with a GK distribution. After a score, we transitioned to the other goal for a corner-kick. Another option would be for the beaten GK to distribute to his teammate to restart play.

Coaching Points:

  • encourage high work rate (sprinting)
  • emphasis on quick, but accurate corner kicks
  • look to recognize first player who opens space for himself
  • make defenders sprint back to their goal after losing the ball out of bounds
  • emphasis on aggression in the box
  • emphasis on quick transitions from defence to offence and offence to defence

Corner kick game

This is a good transition game. I stole it from the 1994 Vol. 2, #12 issue of Soccer Coaching. The article was by Roby Stahl.

The game is played on a half field with 2 goals and goalkeepers. Two teams of 8 divide up into groups of four. A large number of balls are split up to the four corners. The game is 4v4 with the remaining 4 players from each team positioned at the corners of their team’s attacking goal. Each game lasts 4 minutes and the “corner” players exchange positions with the field players.

Every time the ball goes out of play, the team that just gained possession is awarded a corner kick at their attacking goal. That means they must sprint to their penalty area and try to execute a quick corner-kick before the defending team reacts. If the GK gets the ball, he is to distribute as quick as possible, hoping to find a breakaway situation.

There is no off-side. We started play with a GK distribution. After a score, we transitioned to the other goal for a corner-kick. Another option would be for the beaten GK to distribute to his teammate to restart play.

Coaching Points:

  • encourage high work rate (sprinting)
  • emphasis on quick, but accurate corner kicks
  • look to recognize first player who opens space for himself
  • make defenders sprint back to their goal after losing the ball out of bounds
  • emphasis on aggression in the box
  • emphasis on quick transitions from defence to offence and offence to defence

Throw ins

Everyone in your team must be able to throw the ball in. Don’t opt for dedicated throwers.

In youth football (soccer) nearly 70 per cent of throw-ins are foul throws and the ball is lost to the other team. It seems young teams might be better off kicking the ball out of bounds and stealing the ensuing throw-in.

To reverse these odds, every player on your team must be prepared to execute a proper throw-in and get the ball into play almost immediately. A sudden restart can catch the defence off-balance and greatly increases the odds of keeping possession, and offers a chance to get behind the defence and make a run on goal.

The basic technique:

1. Hold the ball behind your head. Your hands should be behind the ball and the fingers spread so that your hands look like the letter ‘W’.

2. Stand a few inches behind the sideline with your feet together and about a shoulder width apart – I advise against taking a run up or having one foot behind the other. If your players do this they will almost certainly lift their back foot off the ground. If that happens the ref will call a foul and give the throw to the opposition.

3. Scan the field – where are your players? If you throw the ball to them will they have time to control it before an opposing team player closes them down?

4. If you need to throw the ball a long way it helps if you bend your back as the ball is released.

5. A throw in is a pass the same as any other – so be accurate and don’t throw it too hard.

6. Immediately look to support the receiving player.

7. Be decisive. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to find someone to throw to. Try to throw the ball back into play as quickly you can.

If you want your team to take quick, effective throw-ins you have to practise them. They won’t happen otherwise!

The easiest way to do this is to demonstrate the right technique, then play a small-sided match. Every time the ball goes out (even for goal kicks and corners) the game is restarted with a throw-in.

Make sure there’s a lot of movement from the players on the pitch and the throw is taken as quickly as possible; if the throw isn’t taken in X number of seconds give it to the opposition.

Take advantage of opponents

While teaching players to get the ball back into play quickly hardly seems like rocket science, simple things done correctly at the U-10 level and below are extremely effective. Marking off the ball is one of the weakest areas of youth football, and a quick-thinking player can take advantage of opponents not only during the run of play, but on restarts as well.

Don’t go for designated throwers

Some coaches rely on one or two players to take all throw-ins. We’ll call them designated throwers. The designated thrower is the most exhausted player on the field. The designated thrower is required to sprint up and down the sideline, or even across the field, to take a simple throw in. Most adults would soon collapse under such a pace, but it is routinely required of U-10s with shorter legs and smaller lungs.

Let them all throw it

All too often, when a ball is knocked out of bounds upfield, a quick-thinking forward prepares to toss it back in play, only to be halted by her coach. “Why can’t I take the throw?” protests the confused forward. “Because you’re not a midfielder,” yells the coach. “Only the midfielders take throws.”

Five tips for quick throw-ins

Quick throw-ins increase the chances of your team scoring goals.
Make sure every player on your team knows how to take a throw-in.
Don’t slow the game down by calling for a designated thrower.
Throw the ball towards the opposition goal “down the line”.
Don’t stop players who are first to the ball from taking quick throw-ins.

In touch with the ball

While a quick throw may lead to a great scoring chance or two, the impact of this tactic goes far beyond the win-loss column. In age groups where games may last only 50 or 60 minutes, too much time is wasted just putting the ball back into play. Young players must touch the ball as much as possible.

Teaching tactical awareness

Coaches who emphasize quick throws also play an important role in teaching tactical awareness to their opponents. Teams defending against a designated thrower usually have at least 20 or 30 seconds to drop back behind the ball. Casual defending against sudden restarts will not work.

Take time and teach skills

Since skills, experience and endurance are limited at the lower age groups, young players should never be asked to do the impossible. Coaches who truly care about preparing young players for a higher level of play should take time to teach every beginner how to execute a proper throw-in.

Once that is accomplished, throw the ball back on the field and let the kids play.

Position or team shape?

How many times have you heard a coach or parent call out “John, remember your position!” or “John, you’re supposed to be playing fullback!” during a game? How many times have you done it yourself? I’ll plead guilty right away. Sometimes it seems like coaches (and some parents) are obsessed with getting the kids to play position. Is this ok or are we making unreasonable demands on the kids and as a result spoiling their enjoyment of the game? Remember, in AYSO, the game is for the players, not the coaches or parents. The short answer is that there is no short answer, but in this note I will try to cast some light on the matter, and perhaps help you see the issue of playing position from a different perspective, that of “team shape”.

First, the answer depends a great deal on the age of the kids. I would expect that by 12-14, most players understand why positional play is important and what the field positions are, but I would not expect everybody to succeed in translating that into actual game play until 14-16. In contrast, at age 5, I would expect no understanding and no interest at all in playing position. Obviously sometime between ages 5 and14, coaches are expected to teach positional play and (we hope) that the players will catch on. The key question is when and why? My belief, based on many years of coaching this age group, is that we generally try to do this too early, and that this is the root cause of a lot of the sideline shouting on the subject. Sadly it sometimes also leads coaches to teach bad habits that become a liability in later years.

Anyone who has watched 11-a-side (or even 7-a-side) at the 6-8 age is familiar with the “swarm” – everybody chasing the ball and nobody playing position. In contrast, you may also have seen players standing in fixed positions on the field, especially defenders standing on the edge of the penalty area. Which mode of play is more fun? Since the kids will chase the ball if given the chance I think the answer is the swarm. It is obvious which is better exercise. You might be surprised that I also believe that the swarm is better at developing soccer ability. But isn’t it important that the kids learn to play position? Certainly, but not until it is necessary, and definitely not at the expense of developing the basic instincts that a soccer player needs. If I had to pick the most important characteristic of a good soccer player, it would be “hustle” – the desire to win the ball, get open for passes and deny opponents space to play or receive the ball. These abilities can go a long way to make up for pure soccer skills. Every coach loves a player with hustle! Yet it’s hard to teach, especially if the formative years are spent standing around playing position!

Playing position only matters once the skill level and mental development of the kids has risen to the point where it makes sense to them and is also actually useful in the game. This happens rather later then most people think, not usually before the age of nine in average kids. Defensively, the need to play position arises once the opposition can kick the ball a long distance or can dribble or pass out of the swarm and break away. In either case it becomes more important for the defensive team to cover the strategic areas of the field. As defensive abilities improve, the offensive team has to pass the ball to find open space and try to isolate defenders one-on-one. This requires that the players spread out and stretch the defence. Once players mature enough to loft the ball thirty yards or more, as happens between age eleven and fourteen on average, good positional organization becomes very important, both offensively and defensively. But playing position away from the ball requires mental maturity, putting team before self, something that also only develops in the early teen years. Fortunately the game moves much faster at this level and frequent changes of direction and location of play occur, so that participation is ensured for everyone, even when playing position. This is simply not the case in the younger age groups and playing position often literally means no touches of the ball for long periods. This can’t be right for young players.

If you watch a top-level game, you will see that the players position themselves so that the team as a whole has a definite “shape”, with the players generally spaced evenly in that shape, so as to cover the whole territory. As the game develops, players are constantly adjusting their positions relative to one another and to the actual play. On defence the shape contracts in an attempt to deny space and put more players near the ball (a kind of swarm!). On offence the team shape expands to try to create space and break the shape of the defence. What you will hardly ever see is a player standing still. Players are constantly in motion, fine-tuning their position, covering for their teammates and compensating for changes in the opponents’ strategy. The offside law plays a key role in encouraging a compact shape on defence. By making it illegal to for an opponent to receive the ball in an offside position behind the defence, the law encourages defences to push towards their opponents’ goal and limit the space for their opponents to play in. This is another reason why teaching defending players to stand on their penalty area is wrong – it allows the opposition to freely use the space between the half-way line and the penalty area without the risk of being offside and develops a bad defensive habit that is hard to break later.

Team shape is what I concentrate on when introducing positional play. More than anything else, I want the players to “stay connected” as a unit and not break into separate groups. I want the whole team involved all of the time, so I am always encouraging my defence to move up the field to at least the half-way line when we are attacking. Sometimes my team will give up goals on breakaways that might have been prevented by having the defence on the penalty area. That’s a small price to pay for teaching the right long-term strategy and having all my team involved in the game.

Many of the difficulties of teaching positional play are made worse by playing too many players on a team, because this increases the “need” to assign them positions in an attempt to avert the swarm. The right answer is to adjust the number of players on the team to the development level of the players! AYSO National is committed to reducing team sizes in the younger age groups and we are in the forefront of this process in the Palo Alto region. In 1998 we introduced the 4-a-side program for the boys Under-7 age group and it has been very successful. It has many benefits, not least that teaching positional play is a non-problem by design. In the 2000 season, 4-a-side was extended to both the Under-8 and Under-7 divisions, and 7-a-side was introduced for the Under-10 and Under-9 divisions. In 2002, the Under-9 divisions switched to 5-a-side, as the jump to 7-a-side was too much for many players. The gradual increase from 4 to 5 to 7 players allows coaches to teach the beginnings of positional play, without becoming overwhelmed by the complexities of 11-a-side.