Soccer Formations & Systems

Inexperienced coaches often ask what “the best formation” is. There isn’t one. A formation is supposed to make optimal use of your player’s abilities. Since these abilities vary from one squad to another, the “best formation” is the one which most suits your available players.

This is a very popular and versatile formation whose variations permit the use of a sweeper or wingers. Many teams today use their own version of this system. The main strength of 4-4-2 is the defense-midfield interaction. The weakness is the two lone forwards who have to be constantly supported by the midfield.


4-4-2 is a bit more complicated in terms of off-the-ball movement compared to systems with three forwards such as 4-3-3 or 3-4-3. As mentioned above, one of the main offensive issues with 4-4-2 is that there are only two attackers playing upfront. In most cases, that is not enough to stretch apart an enemy defensive line of usually 4 opponents or more. To accommodate, you need to get your outside midfielders running up to the forward line. Whenever your team is building up an attack on one wing, the midfielder on the opposite side has to run up towards the enemy’s far post (their blind spot)

This formation is commonly used by Dutch and youth squads. It allows the use of a sweeper and designates one player as a striker. 4-3-3 is easier for younger players to follow as opposed to 4-4-2. With 4-3-3, you need to have your outside forwards dropping back and helping with the build-up. It’s very important to keep these guys near the sideline. Younger players tend to force the ball through the middle of the field. They need to learn to build up attacks by playing the ball outside and forward (not directly through the middle of the pitch)

3-4-3 is a classic formation, considered offensive by today’s standards. In this system, one striker must consistently stay on the tip of the attack. He therefore should be able to hold his ground. In defense, the three fullbacks must work together as a unit. At least one midfielder needs to drop back and play in front of the defensive line. His job is to constantly pressure the ball so that the defense is never caught in a compromising position.

This formation crowds nearly all parts of midfield slowing down enemy attacks. From an offensive point of view, the system relies on wing attacks supported by the midfield. The downside is that the lone striker is left on his own up front and may become isolated.

Relatively modern formation that developed in response to the popular 4-4-2. It utilizes more efficiently the fourth fullback who frequently has little to do when defending against only two attackers.

How can I teach my young players to stretch correctly before practice and games?

Unfortunately, most players under eight years old usually don’t understand the mechanisms of stretching very well. In most instances, the players end up bending over and “counting” instead of really stretching. Furthermore, any drill or warm-up exercise in which young players are forced to stand around and wait while a coach “counts” at them can be counterproductive—any time children of this age are standing still, there is a near-certainty that their minds (and maybe their feet) will start to wander.

A good way to get your players to stretch while staying mentally alert and active is to play games that also incorporate stretching. Ronald Quinn and Tom Fleck, authors of The Baffled Parent’s Guide to Great Soccer Drills, advocate an activity called “ball stretching.” Ball stretching is stretching with the ball. For example, at the beginning of practice, have your players stand with their legs apart with the ball on the ground in between their legs. Have them bend over from the waist and roll their balls with their hands in a figure eight in and out of their legs. (You should demonstrate this for them first). Then, have your players straighten up and place one foot in front of the other so that the space in between the legs forms a triangle. Then, have your players roll the ball around the front foot ten times, and then switch feet. Next, have your players sit down on the ground with their legs extended in front of them, and have them roll the ball beside one leg towards and around their feet and return along the other side of the leg and behind their own backs. Finally, have the players sit with their legs in a V on the ground and have them move the ball in an outline around their bodies, including around their backs.

This activity, “ball stretching,” causes young players to stretch without realizing it; players at this age tend not to even realize what a stretch should “feel” like. Incorporating a game into your stretching regimen with the team ensures that some muscle warm-up is inevitable as the players must bend and move to put the ball in certain positions in relation to their bodies. Activities like this not only warm up players’ muscles, but they keep them occupied—for at least five minutes!

For seven-year olds:

  • Warm up should be fun – light activities like tag or knockout.
  • Get a ball to each player as soon as possible.
  •  Stretching is not important at this age and there is no need to introduce it as “something for the future.” Perhaps some “body parts” for balance and coordination, but no formal stretching.
  • Cooling down is important. This brings kids down from their ‘heightened state’ and gives everyone a chance to help collect gear, review and talk – parents are more likely to listen now. A good time for a little parent educatiom by the coach. The cooling down period is also time to give homework.

For ten-year olds:

  • With slightly older kids the warm up sets the tone and pace of training; mental challenges can be introduced too.
  • Starting in pairs is a good idea for kids at this age – for balance, teamwork and communication. The players ‘start as a team.’
  • Coaches can bring brief, simple coaching points into warm up; the implicit message is that this is a learning environment, an instructional activity – as well as pure fun.
  • Playing various forms of keep away in the beginning of practice is a good, consistent way to begin. It puts together the fouir elements of soccer right away.
  • Cooling down is short; review, look ahead, praise them, go home.

For thirteen-year olds:

  • Warm up is very important now to set tone, rhythm and climate at training sessions. Coaches should pay close attention to body language, attitude, alertness, posture and getting the heads up.
  • Fun is still really important, but coaches can adopt an instructional approach from the beginning: easy tactical ideas(like body shape, footwork, changes of direction), isolated technical activities or keep away. As an example of a way to put together the technical and tactical early on, in the warm up play keep away with constant reminder: don’t stop the ball. This is now physical and mental preparation.
  • These are adolescents, growing fast with changing bodies, so stretching is important. Rhythmic, integrated stretching is good – interjected into warm-up activities – individually or in pairs, as opposed to bringing everyone together or getting into a circle, etc. Stretching is quiet time, no group chants or anything like that.
  • Cooling down for these players is easy movements and light running, some talk and more stretching. At the very end it could be lying down, breathing deeply, relaxing – that’s also time for a coach, with a lowered voice, to ask about injuries, talk tactics, give homework and reflect on the training session.
  • This cooling down period is also time to reinforce habits such as drinking plenty of water. The players should be encouraged to drink water before, during and after training sessions, so while they are cooling down they should be replenishing water.

Soccer gives bigger health kick than jogging, study says

Afrim Nezah of Colonie has lost count of the number of times he’s been involved in a pickup soccer game and a runner has come sauntering over, asking to play.

“After a few minutes, they always put their hands on their hips and say ‘I never thought soccer was this hard,'” said Nezah. “And these are guys who run for five or 10 miles at a time.”

Soccer Buffs have for years professed that soccer makes you, well, buff. A new study suggests it’s true.

The study, presented last week at the 2007 British Association of Sport and Excercise Sciences Annual Conference, shows that couch potatoes who took up soccer for three hours per week for three months made significantly better health gains than those who took up jogging.

Nezah said he wasn’t surprised by the study’s results.

Soccer tends to be a lot of stop and go, changing directions,” said Nezah. “You would tend to use a lot more muscle than you would just running.”

The study hypothesizes that soccer requires heart-racing excerises akin to interval training.

“We jump a lot and do one-legged jumps called props,” Nezah said. “Also, you bring your knees to your chest and do that running forward for about 15 yards.”

Accordingly to the study led by Peter Krustrup, an associate professor in exercise physiology at the University of Copenhagen, and colleagues at the Copenhagen University Hospital, these are the results for 37 men, age 20 to 40:

* After 12 weeks, the soccer players lost 7.3 pounds of fat, compared with 4 pounds among joggers. Soccer players also gained 3.7 pounds in muscle; joggers made no measurable gains.

* Both soccer players and joggers improved insulin sensitivity and lowered their heart rates. But the soccer group significantly reduced “bad” LDL cholesterol, while the joggers’ cholesterol was unchanged.

* Soccer players’ sprint times improved; the joggers’ scores were unchanged.

* The intense physical movement required by soccer–such as quick stops and starts, sprinting and kicks–use more muscle fibers while working the heart at a near-maximum capacity.

(Article written by Danielle Furfaro – Times Union Life/Health 09/25/07)

How can i make the best use of practice time?

When talking to soccer people (ex-players) about their youth soccer experiences, many can’t recall specific drills or games that their coaches used during practice. Rather, what most players remember are the good times they had with their teammates and friends, and how much they enjoyed going to practice and games because of the camaraderie and fun of it all. Above all, the key to a good practice is making it enjoyable, so the kids want to come back.

Keep practice varied, i.e., mix up the drills so players don’t get bored. Avoid lines. Keep everyone active during practice—small-sided games are always more effective than one big drill when everyone is watching two or three players go for the ball. When players aren’t moving, their minds start to wander.

Use drills that are game oriented. Add a ‘scoring’ component to the drills, i.e. a good trap or touch on the ball equals a ‘point.’ Have the kids keep track of the points so they keep their minds on the game. Always praise effort and hustle to reinforce that working hard is its own reward even if the drill didn’t go so well. Get everyone involved through cheering their teammates on.

A good set-up for an hour-long practice is to begin with a quick jog around the perimeter of the field (join the kids—run with them and joke or sing with them to keep everyone’s spirits up), stretch for 5-10 minutes (while stretching, go over any items such as changes in schedule or location, or anything you want to review about the last game or the coming game. With very young players, make everyone feel included through small talk, jokes, etc.), and then begin drills or games for approximately 15-20 minutes, followed by scrimmages to end practice. Again, arrange your drills so everyone is always doing something.

A good idea with drills is to incorporate ‘stations’ into the set-up. Have 3-4 different ‘drills’ set up (shooting on goal, practicing one-touch, juggling station, etc.) and switch groups to different stations every 5-10 minutes or so depending on time frame.

To end practice, hold a full field or several small-field scrimmages (depending on age of players). This helps to stimulate game-time situations. Give a score before they even begin playing (i.e. ‘The score is 2-0 and there are 10 minutes left, go!’) to increase interest in the outcome of the game.

To wrap up practice, have everyone gather for water and cool-down (can also include more stretches), review the day and what you’ve learned, and turn everyone loose. Overall, don’t try to be too regimented during practice—the kids get enough of this at school. Keep the games fun, keep everyone active but don’t too anything too strenuous, and results will happen. A good experience coupled with an average season record is better than a winning season and a stressed-out group of kids. Make them learn without realizing that they’re learning.

What makes a good soccer player?

According to Frank Parr of the Oklahoma Soccer Association, it takes more than speed, endurance, toughness, agility, skill and courage to make a good player. A good player also:

Puts the needs of a team before their own needs.

Loves the sport totally. This love for the game helps the player get beyond his bruises and personal disappointments, the skill and talent of opponents, and bad weather, bad breaks or bad calls.

Takes chances. Risks do not always pay off- but good players take them, along with the responsibility for assuming them.

Gives 100 percent all the time.

Shares – not just the ball, but the experience of soccer. Shares tips with old teammates, and advice with new ones.

Has integrity and reliability. Is there long before game time, long after it is over, and keeps thier temper when everything conspires against them. Does not blame teammates for losing the ball, or losses on referees, coaches or anyone else.

Is poised and positive. Learns from losses, and passes that knowledge on to the entire team.

Shows imagination, flexibility, resourcefulness and good sportsmanship.

Commits themselves to the team. Knows what it means to prepare, physically and mentally, for a match, and does it- despite the many temptations to do other things.

Shares praise. Knows that soccer is a team sport, and though they might have scored a goal or prevented one, all their teammates share the credit.

Soccer Etiquette

Rule #1: Thou Shalt Not Praise Thy Own Daughter.
It is the late in the second half of a vital game and the score is tied against the arch-villain traditional enemies. Your daughter performs a full speed sliding tackle to strip the ball from an attacker who eluded the keeper 3 feet in front of the goal. She does a “pop-up” slide and comes to her feet without ever losing the ball. Juking and faking, she takes a run up the touchline, leaving opponents sprawling in her wake and then, sensing that the whistle is about to blow, hits an off-foot shot from 35 yards that starts out 20 yards wide and hooks back just into the upper “V” to win the game. Your reaction? A pleased smile. A little leap no more than 4 inches off the ground. No cries of “Where is Anson Dorrance when we really need him?” No matter your intent, shoveling plaudits on your own kid is seen as basically self-promotion, selfish, and destructive of team unity. Other parents will mutter darkly and cast jealous glances at you.

Rule #2: Thou Shalt Praise Other Parents’ Daughter.
The reason that you don’t have to praise your own daughter is that it is the sworn duty of the other parents to do it for you. In situation #1 they will give you high-fives, hug you, and generally declare that the spirit of Pele (or Mia Hamm) is being channeled by your child. When someone else’s little girl does anything ranging from mediocre to spectacular you will run up to them with similar comments, assuring them that international stardom is only a short time away, and that this is proof that the gene pool runs true. When another girl does something appallingly awful you are duty-bound to rush to the grieving parent to assure them that it wasn’t that bad, and that she’s been having such a good game she can be forgiven one little goof.

Rule #3: Thou Shalt Never Criticize Players in Public.
The coach has done it again. Starting at striker is a girl who is slower than America OnLine, completely clueless about the tactical niceties of her position, and to whom “airhead” would have to be considered a compliment. You see the opposing team laughing and pointing. You groan in what you think is a quiet voice “How can he even keep that dolt on the team”. Your feet leave the ground as you discover that the hulking behemoth behind you is her Uncle/Brother whom you had never met. You can generally take as a given that the players are trying as hard as they can with differing amounts of skill. Desirable as a “skillectomy” might be, the ability to trap a line drive and drop it on the shooting foot cannot be grafted on or surgically attached. Secondly, players are quite aware when they have made a bonehead play. You will rarely hear a player shout “Thanks guys, I didn’t realize that whiffing was a bad thing!” Thirdly, even at the U-18 level these are still our kids – not professionals – and even the pros make mistakes. The pros are paid to be able to take criticism as aimed at their play rather than themselves as persons. Your daughters aren’t.

Rule #4: When Commenting about the Field Action, Silence is Golden.
At times you may feel like commenting upon the quality of play, the quality of officiating, and the coaches’ decisions. Due to your years of observing from the sidelines and the fact that you coached the “Sunflowers” in the U-8 rec league you may have the belief that your opinions are (1) accurate, (2) incisive; and (3) worthy of communicating loudly so everyone else can hear them. You are wrong. Neither the players, the referees, nor the coach are going to make any changes in response to your bellows from the sideline. They are, however, going to be mad at you – joining a group including your spouse, your friends, and anyone standing close to you. Kids goof, refs goof, coaches goof. Before you shout, picture your next day at work as you are working on a project and in the doorway to your office are a crowd of players, coaches and refs booing you and demanding that you be fired.

Rule #5: Silence Can Be Deadly.
The usual response to your sideline comments is a tug on your shirt from your spouse, a glare, rolling of eyes by your neighbors, and a silent promise by your daughter to change her name and become an orphan. However, there are those times when your comments result in a sudden pall of silence and your becoming the center of attention from the sidelines and the field. Sort of like in 4th grade when you fell asleep in class and made a funny sound when you startled awake. This means you have Crossed The Line from being an obnoxious parent/fan to another status entirely – such as the Unknown Brother at a U-16 Regionals game making anatomically uncomfortable suggestions about where a referee’s un-blown whistle should reside. When silence falls and you are the focus of everyone’s attention it may be time to announce that you are overdue at the hospital to perform a lifesaving operation and to slink away at top speed.

Rule #6: This Is Still a Game.
Despite the fact that each player’s family has invested a great deal of time and money in soccer at this level, and they are hoping that soccer will help pay the college bills, it is still a game and if your daughter doesn’t enjoy it she will not play well – and maybe not at all. Ask yourself if what you do at games and practices and tournaments helps your daughter have fun and enjoy the game or adds pressure and worry. Ask yourself after the game if watching two teams of beautiful, talented, fit, and eager young ladies was fun for you? If it wasn’t – if you found yourself criticizing, carping, upset, and unhappy – remember that there is enough pressure and stress involved with making a living and guiding your family through the challenges of modern life. Forget the calls, forget the score, forget the standings. Give your daughter a hug, tell her you love her, and be thankful for every day you have to share with her because they don’t stay kids very long.

PARENTAL SUPPORT – The Key to Peak Performance

The role that parents play in the life of a soccer player has a tremendous impact on their experience. With this in mind, we have taken some time to write down some helpful reminders for all of us as we approach the upcoming season. If you should have any questions about these thoughts, please feel free to discuss it with us, the coaches.

  1. Let the coaches coach: Leave the coaching to the coaches. This includes motivating, psyching your child for practice, after game critiquing, setting goals, requiring additional training, etc. You have entrusted the care of your player to these coaches and they need to be free to do their job. If a player has too many coaches, it is confusing for him and his performance usually declines.
  2. Support the program: Get involved. Volunteer. Help out with fundraisers, car-pool; anything to support the program.
  3. Be you child’s best fan: Support your child unconditionally. Do not withdraw love when your child performs poorly. Your child should never have to perform to win your love.
  4. Support and root for all players on the team: Foster teamwork. Your child’s teammates are not the enemy. When they are playing better than your child, your child now has a wonderful opportunity to learn.
  5. Do not bribe or offer incentives: Your job is not to motivate. Leave this to the coaching staff. Bribes will distract your child from properly concentrating in practice and game situations.
  6. Encourage your child to talk with the coaches: If your child is having difficulties in practice or games, or can’t make a practice, etc., encourage them to speak directly to the coaches. This “responsibility taking” is a big part of becoming a big-time player. By handling the off-field tasks, your child is claiming ownership of all aspects of the game – preparation for as well as playing the game.
  7. Understand and display appropriate game behavior: Remember, your child’s self esteem and game performance is at stake. Be supportive, cheer, and be appropriate. To perform to the best of his abilities, a player needs to focus on the parts of the game that they can control (his fitness, positioning, decision making, skill, aggressiveness, what the game is presenting them). If he starts focusing on what he can not control (the condition of the field, the referee, the weather, the opponent, even the outcome of the game at times), he will not play up to his ability. If he hears a lot of people telling him what to do, or yelling at the referee, it diverts his attention away from the task at hand.
  8. Monitor your child’s stress level at home: Keep an eye on the player to make sure that they are handling stress effectively from the various activities in his life.
  9. Monitor eating and sleeping habits: Be sure your child is eating the proper foods and getting adequate rest.
  10. Help your child keep his priorities straight: Help your child maintain a focus on schoolwork, relationships and the other things in life beside soccer. Also, if your child has made a commitment to soccer, help him fulfill his obligation to the team.
  11. Reality test: If your child has come off the field when his team has lost, but he has played his best, help him to see this as a “win”. Remind him that he is to focus on “process” and not “results”. His fun and satisfaction should be derived from “striving to win”. Conversely, he should be as satisfied from success that occurs despite inadequate preparation and performance.
  12. Keep soccer in its proper perspective: Soccer should not be larger than life for you. If your child’s performance produces strong emotions in you, suppress them. Remember your relationship will continue with your children long after their competitive soccer days are over. Keep your goals and needs separate from your child’s experience.
  13. Have fun: That is what we will be trying to do! We will try to challenge your child to reach past their “comfort level” and improve themselves as a player, and thus, a person. We will attempt to do this in environments that are fun, yet challenging. We look forward to this process. We hope you do to!

Guidelines to Parenthood

  1. Provide necessary transportation for the player(s) to all practices, games, tournaments, and other events.
  2. Provide player fees and traveling expense when required.
  3. Plan vacations, camps, etc. to avoid conflict with scheduled team events. Inform coaches in advance of all absences.
  4. Help with fund raising or other events of the team or club.
  5. Provide positive encouragement to players; such as attendance at practices, games, and tournaments, as well as appropriate comments and cheering.
  6. Let the coach coach and the players play.
  7. Inform the coaches of any special needs a player may have (allergies, injuries, etc).
  8. Provide appropriate feedback to coaches or the club when requested, or as appropriate.
  9. Show respect to all players, opponents, referees and coaches.
  10. Pick up and deliver your son or daughter to practices and games on time.
  11. Say only positive things on the sideline.
  12. Communicate with the coach, but not during the game.
  13. Win gracefully, not boastfully. Lose without being negative.
  14. Too much competition, too soon, can slow down a child’s progress in skill development.
  15. Make fun and technique development your first priority. Focus on effort – not winning.
  16. Your child’s coach will need all the support and help you can offer. Please make yourself available to volunteer all the time you can spare.
  17. Disagreements with the coach or officials do not belong on the public soccer field. Questions, input and positive suggestions should be voiced to the coach and/or Club in an adult atmosphere (youth players not present).
  18. The overall purpose is to enjoy the game and the opportunity to be with your son or daughter on the field of play.
  19. Support the entire team, not just your child.