Over the last few weeks as I attended games and practice sessions for many of our teams, I have gotten the question " What formation should my team be playing?" at least once every weekend.
I gave a presentation at last nights coaches' meeting to explain why the focus on a formation or system of play, especially for the younger soccer players, often proves to do more harm to our players development than we all would like. With a focus on a system of play coaches quickly start putting players in positions, even though we don't want young players to specialize, and they might learn to play a position in a certain system of play. However, they don't gain an understanding of the game of soccer, which will hurt the development of these players.
Young soccer players need to gain an understanding of the basic principles of soccer to be successful in the long run.
1 - When I have the ball in possession I, given my position on the field, have 3 options (dribble, pass or shoot). We need to get our players in situations in practice in which they will learn what decision will serve them (and the team) best. Eventually our players will start to recognize these situations in a game and hopefully in the long run be able to make the right decision on the ball.
2 - If my teammate has the ball I need to know how, when and where I should get open. This is not tied to a position on the field, but a principle of play soccer players need to gain an understanding of in order to be successful. If I'm unable to successfully support the player with ball our team will have a hard time moving the ball passed our opponents. Can I find a pocket of space in an angle so my team mate can pass me the ball?
3 - Very important, and often overlooked, players need to gain an understanding of shape/space. Many teams are able to successfully use the length of the field (North/South), but have a hard time understanding the concept of shape (use the width of the field as well). How can we line up utilizing the entire playing field in possession of the ball? How can we give ourselves enough space to successfully move the ball around and eventually up the field in the direction of the goal we are attacking?
The following link is to an article I worked out that will describe this in more depth. When you have a moment I would recommend you go through this as a summary in an email won't give you all the information. This article will hopefully also answer the question asked earlier in this email.
Article: Understanding the Principles of Play
Also, take a look at this excellent video on the Principles of Play from US Youth Soccer.
If you have any questions in regards to the email and/or article please let me know.
Director of Coaching - Westfield Soccer Association