With this article I want to orient players, parents and coaches on game tactics.
It is very important to 9 years old players start learning soccer tactics. It is a turning point on their natural evolution as players. Younger players have a hard time to understand tactics but are much more acceptable to develop coordination and ball control. Consequently, it is natural for younger players’ coaches to focus their training on these skills, making practices more effective. For older player, 12 years old and up, it is easier to teach tactics than basic fundaments as ball control and passing. So, we are on the intermediary step, where we still have lot of margin to improve individual skills but at same time we have the opportunity of teaching some game tactics to our players.
The first thing to understand about soccer tactics is that soccer is an extremely dynamic sport. The game change constantly and so does a player function in the game. A player need to know that is not because he is playing on defense he never should cross the center line. In some situations it is expected a defender to go forward and create a passing option and even try to score. The same is true for offense players that are expected to cover on defense.
Soccer tactics intend to keep a basic organization of the team during the game but players can exchange their position at any given play. That is why it is so important for them to play all positions in the field, even more on young age. Professional soccer players constantly scrimmage during practices playing completely different positions from the ones they play during a game.
Because of it, I would suggest you to instruct your younger player in all the field positions and their functions.
Soccer basic player positions
Goal Keeper – Even if it is hard to point in a soccer team the most important position, there is a saying in soccer – “A good team starts with a good keeper”. Most of young players don’t like to play this position. They don’t realize how important it is for the team until they have a good reliable keeper. The problem with this position is that doesn’t matter how well you did during the whole game, if you fail once usually the blame comes on you. A good keeper needs be prepared to eventual failures and get up and keep playing at his best. The parents support is very important on this moment to raise the confidence.
A good goal keeper needs great deal of attention in the game, good reflex, agility, positioning, courage and self-confidence during the game.
Defender – A defender can play on left, right or centered depending on the formation his team is playing. Most people have the wrong idea that the main function of a defender is to steal the ball from the other team. Actually, forwards and midfielders steal much more balls than defenders. A defender primary function is prevent the other team chances to score, protecting the net, avoiding clear shots on goal and delaying attack plays from the other team, given the chance for midfielders and forwards come back and still the ball. Other very important function of defender is to start the plays. Usually, at least one defender will control the ball in an attack play and he will be responsible to decide what side of the field his team we attack. In small games as 6v6 defenders need to shade the offense in attack plays and take long shots on goal when the opportunity comes. So, as it can be new for some of you. Defenders also can score!
Defense players need to have good pass, positioning, shielding technique, decision making and read and anticipate plays.
Midfielders – As defenders they cam play centered, or in the sides of the field. Their may function is to prepare the attack plays, protect the ball when his team have it and protect the defense when the opposite team has possession. Midfielders are a mix of defense and offense players. They need be comfortable playing both functions. As we talked before, frequently they will be changing positions either with defense players, playing on coverage or offense players in over laps. Making fast decisions is the main function of the midfielders on both sides o the ball.
Midfielders need to have good pass, ball control, positioning, decision making skills, finishing and awareness of the game.
Forward – Usually play in on a side of the field, closing to the center field on goal scoring opportunities or over lapping the midfielder. Over lap is a very dangerous play and a forward need to excel on it.. When exchanging positions they confuse the defense and open space to receive a pass in scoring position or to a team mate to approach the goal. In small games as 6v6, the forward need to help on defense plays, usually pressuring the player with the ball. When a forward is capable to still a ball from an adversary it commonly becomes a very danger turn over and a great opportunity to score.
Forward needs to have great ball control, ball stealing, speed, dynamic positioning and finishing skills.
Striker – As the name says this is the finisher for a team, the guy who will score. But it is not so simple. The striker needs to pressure every play the opposite team starts to still the ball. He will overlap the forward in the side of the field to open space on the center for midfielders and forwards have a chance to score. Other odd fact about strikers is that they have to learn play most of the game with their back towards to the adversary goal, making a “pivot” play for his team mates.
Strikers need great speed and fast decision making, good finishing skills, positioning, ball control and ball stealing skills.
Now that we know the basic positions and their primary function and requirements we will approach tactics schemes and what they mean.
2-3 (2 defender, 3 forward) – It is the most common scheme for 6v6 teams. It is simple and most of the players understand this scheme naturally. The 3 forward need to protect the defense as midfielders would do and cover a defender when he shift to a side during a play, closing the center of the box.
During attack plays, the 3 forward can working overlapping each other and one of the defenders can approach the attack to take long shots on goal.
The problems this scheme can present is that the team can lose profundity for playing in two lines. The center forward need be aware of it and play a little behind the side forwards, forming a W in the field.
1-3-1 (1 defender, 3 midfielders, 1 striker) – This is a very offensive formation and can be used during the game when the team needs a score. The midfielders need drop fast on defense when losing possession and overlap when on attack, open space and creating scoring opportunities. It demands extra running from midfielders but corrects the lack of profundity of the previous scheme.
2-2-1 (2 defenders, 2 midfielders, 1 striker) – This bring more defense protection but risks losing the midfield battle against a 2-3 team. It would require great dynamic between all 3 lines and keep the ball moving but it is strong offensively with the striker on the top..
We will use mostly the 2-3 formation this season and the 1-3-1 formation when needed. Eventually we can try the 2-2-1 formation. In a small game the formation is not so important as players’ individual skills and understanding of the game, but it is needed a minimal of organization on the field to help the flow of the game.
This is a very cautious scheme where we load the defense and midfield to block the opponent team. It is very effective when playing a stronger team where we notice that our defense is overload. The two side midfielders retreat to block crossing from the flank and the 3 defenders protect the area. The center midfielder plays in front of the area connecting with the striker.
This formation though puts a lot of stress on the side midfielders that have to run the whole field extension to support attack and defense. The lonely forward will have a hard time if playing against a 3 defender formation.
Here we have a withdraw forward and a target forward. The target forward moves side to side high up with the last opposing defender and the withdraw forward in the center of the field closing it when the other team have possession. This formation requires a little more running from midfielders that have to cover more space but it helps the offense.
This formation is very offensive but it can be used if we are confident the defenders can win most of the 1v1 battles and if they know how to play it in zone. The center midfielder needs to cover a defender when he is displaced to the side to avoid a cross, taking that defender position.
I hope everyone understand a little more of soccer positions and tactics but don’t forget it plays only a minor part of the game. Our players and their individual skills is what make a team great. Tactics give some organization but a good player always will find his space to play on the field and recognize a treat that need to be stopped. More than anything we need prepare our young players to think by themselves and make their own decisions on the field.