Stacked soccer formations with 4 "layers"
Why it's more important for Rec teams to control the "Center" than the "Wings" of the soccer field
Tips on Choosing the Best Soccer Formation and Style of Play
Dealing with a long soccer field
6v6 Soccer Formations

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(Below is a letter from a U14 Soccer Coach and my reply.)

Hi SoccerHelp,

I'm the coach of a U10 girls rec soccer team. We play six-a-side. I saw an article about how one coach here at with some weaker players had decided to use a 3-1-1 soccer formation with some success. Well, I tried it today attempting to hide 3 of my weaker players. I rotated the weaker players at RFB and LFB. I used a CFB that I allowed to push up to halfway between the "top" of the circle on our defensive half and the midfield line. I split time between my two most aggressive players at CFB. I told the CFB's that she (they) were to remain between the posts (3 steps out either side) to shut down any crosses. They seemed to get it in practice, but come game time it seemed like none of my FB's knew what to do. I told my RFB and LFB to herd the attacks that came down the sides... to the sidelines. I told them to shoulder charge or toe poke to clear the ball if that's all they could do. I told my outside FB's to play off the posts at the penalty box line. We ended up losing something like 9 or 10 -1.

This soccer formation didn't work out for me at all. The opponents basically just went around my outside FB's. I think the CFB was unsure of what to do because of the "rules" I had given her. I have 3 girls that have never played soccer before. One is fast and sort of gets how to play, but the other two really don't get it. I have another weak player who is big and slow and it seems like she isn't always "in the game." This is her second year. I have tried to make it simple for the entire team for their sake by coming up with 4 rules that everybody on the team must know.

  1. Forwards stay on offensive side of field.

  2. Offense must cross to space when attacking.

  3. Defense must bravely clear ball upfield.

  4. Mark up two steps behind opponent and look for a steal.

I have explained the terms I used, and the majority seem to be picking it up fine.

So, I am thinking of using a 1-1-1-2 soccer formation this coming week with the two slowest girls I mentioned above at Keeper. I am going to use two girls at the one FB position that I trust to do the job and then at Stopper I'm going to play my best all-around player. She will not be allowed to cross midfield, but otherwise she can do what she wants. My plan also involves using the other two weak-but-quick girls at forward. The field is, I would guess, medium to long, about 75 yards or so. I think this formation will free the girls up from over-thinking and they can just play the game.

Basically, I want the girls to 1.) Learn how to play the game. 2.) Have fun. 3.) Not get beaten so badly when we lose.

I guess I should mention that from last year, I lost two of my best players (who happen to be great forwards) to select teams. The replacements were the girls who have never played before. I play my best ball-handler at one of the forward spots and two of my girls that can run all day at MF, when I use a formation like that. I had been using a 2-1-2 until today, but hiding the weaker players at the FB spots. We won a couple of games and lost another. The two games we won weren't because we were better necessarily, I think the teams were pretty evenly matched. I just took advantage of both teams' coaches pushing up their (slow) FB's by leaving one target forward at midfield and scored some breakaway goals. The team we played today is almost like a select team, there was not a slow child on that team and they all knew what to do.

Please help.
Coach Al

My Reply --

Hi Al,

Thanks for being a Premium Member.

I think the situation you faced involves about every tough thing I can think of: playing a select quality team, 6v6 (6v6 is fine for select teams, but only having 5 field players makes it VERY hard to hide players and is NOT good for Rec teams), having lost your 2 best players, and playing on a long field (75 yards is long for U-10 6v6).

I think you are an excellent coach and that your ideas for a 1-1-1-2 are excellent. The formation that works for one team often doesn't work for another. The things any coach needs to consider when choosing a Formation and Style of Play (whether to Push Up, Defend Deep, or something in-between) include:

  • the length of the field (on a long field, a "stacked" formation that has more "layers", like a 1-1-1-2, is best for Rec Teams). Give up the "wings", but control the "Center" between the 2 goals, as Coach Greg says in his reply below. A "4-layer" formation like a 1-1-1-2 or a 2-1-2-2 or a 3-2-3-2 gives you more "multiple layers of defenders" when your opponent has the ball.

  • the strengths and weaknesses of his players (skill, size, speed and aggressiveness)

  • the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent (skill, size, speed and aggressiveness)

  • amount of Practice time available to teach the Formation and Style of Play

  • age of players and their ability to successfully implement the Formation and Style of Play

The only good thing I see about your loss with the 3-1-1 is that it has helped you think thru which formation, positioning, Style of Play, etc. is best for your team.

If you had been playing a normal Rec team, you might not have lost, but I still think a 1-1-1-2 is better for you. When a Rec team (or any team for that matter) sees that they are playing against a better, faster team, they often lose their composure -- this even happens with college teams.

I like your objectives -- they are realistic:

1.) Learn how to play the game. 2.) Have fun. 3.) Not get beaten so badly when we lose.

I think your ideas for the 1-1-1-2 are on target and don't have any specific recommendations -- I think your plan will work.

Here are some other tips that will help your team:

  1. Teach Coaching Rule No. 3 -- it's worth 2 or 3 goals per game. Seriously -- teach this! It's easy to teach and will make a HUGE difference. You can even teach it before the game in about 15 minutes.

  2. If you haven't tried our motivational patches, try them. They make a difference -- read the Testimonials for what coaches say. They will motivate your players. You need everyone to come to practice and games -- the patches will help, are a lot of fun, create great memories, and kids will want to be on your team. Give patches for effort, bravery, defense, doing the things that can lead to goals such as being in position for rebounds, for listening to the coach, and for coming to practice AND to games (you need ALL your players to come to your games). I would also use the V for Victory patches to teach your kids the desire to win.

  3. Play "Dribble Across a Square" as a warm-up to start EVERY practice.

  4. Play "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" a LOT and use it to teach "Aggressive Receiving". Here's what Coach Greg said: "We played Dribble Across a Square and Dribble Around the Cone and Pass Relay Race at every practice, and the results were phenomenal."

  5. Play "Win the 50/50 Ball or be the First Defender 1v1 Attacking and Defending" quite a bit. Corey, a U-12 coach, said: "The girls loved this game. This was one of their two favorites (the other is Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race) and I found this game brought out their competitive side more than any other"

  6. Play the "Shoulder Tackle & Strength on the Ball" game at the next few practices as a Warm Up.

  7. Whenever a goal is scored, have all the players come together in the Center Circle to do a "Team Work Scores Goals" or "Team Work" cheer. This is very important because it helps build team work and stops players from all wanting to be Forwards (everyone gets to see that all positions are important and that everyone has contributed when a goal is scored). I got this idea from the Brazilian National Team.

  8. Read Positioning Rules for "rules" to teach your FBs, ST, MFs and F.

Please let us know how the 1-1-1-2 works.

David at SoccerHelp

(Here's a reply from Coach Greg)

Hey Al,

I don't know if this will help, but choose your formation based on personnel. We play 7v7 in my rec league. I play a 1-2-3. However, if I was 6 vs 6 I would play a 1-1-3 without a doubt. The fullback does not have to be good but just willing to engage and clear the ball. The key is the midfielder. ALWAYS put your strongest player here. I am lucky that I have three players that can play this spot. As the defense clears the ball this player either pops in back in the box, traps it and drives, or passes to the wings. Having your weakest players on the wings may not produce a lot of goals but they can't do much harm out there either.

I focus everything on controlling the center axis (an imaginary line between the 2 goals, as opposed to the "wings").

We won again 5-0 yesterday. Over the last two seasons we have never lost. In fact, we have only given up one goal and that was my fault. I broke my own rule. Again, if your midfielder is weak, you will get hurt. The Center forward is the next position of importance.

If you just have a weak roster, I would play a 1-1-1-2. The fullback never leaves the box. Put a Stopper in the space between the midfield and the fullback – NEVER surrender that space. Too often (in my humble opinion) coaches play two deep fullbacks. That just shortens the field for the attackers. They go unmolested to the box on a breakaway, and it puts a sense of panic in your fullbacks with a kid running at them full speed.

Sometimes, I play a 1-1-4. Again, I have the players to do this. I have three players that would rank 1, 2, and 3 in the league on talent, so I have more flexibility.

I hope this helps.


Thanks to both of you.

I think Greg has helped me settle on a switch at MF. I'll play my best ball handler there, along with another good, brave player. They are both aggressive, with good speed and can help with defense and offense. My best ball handler cannot run all day long, but I'll sub them out every 5 or 6 minutes.

David's comment about "layers" struck something that sounds right. With my 3-1-1, I basically had two layers the entire game since the other team was in my half nearly the entire game.

Thanks for the comments and advice. I'll let you know how next week's game goes.


Hi Al,

I agree that you should put your best "ballhandler" at MF (if you had more that one MF, you would put her at CMF).

At Stopper you don't need your "best" player -- at Stopper you need your fastest, most aggressive, toughest player, even if she is UNSKILLED. One of the best Stoppers I ever played against was a U-14 boy who was very fast, aggressive and tough, but had VERY weak skills -- he couldn't dribble or pass well. All he did was kick away the ball to stop our attacks. If you have a player like that, teach her to kick the ball hard straight ahead so your MF and Forwards know what to expect and can be in position to win those balls. If she can't kick it straight ahead, tell her to kick it out of bounds, even if it's over the endline (at U-10, your opponent won't score on a Corner Kick anyway). If she kicks it straight ahead, sometimes it will be too hard, but tell your Forwards to be alert and get in positions for rebounds or bobbled balls in front of your opponent's goal, and if they get a chance "ONE-TOUCH" shoot it in (tell them to "pass" it into the goal -- don't try for a hard kick, there's too much chance they will mis-kick it).

SO, if you have a fast, aggressive, tough player who is UNSKILLED, Stopper is a great place for her.

By the way, there are a lot of good letters from coaches about what a Stopper should do at . Read letters 1 and 6, where the coaches tried experiments and write about the results in a very analytical way.

Also, I agree with you about playing slow, big players at Goalie -- that is better than playing them in the field. If they are brave and can clear the ball, CFB is also a good spot -- tell them to just stay in front of the goal to "clog" things up and clear balls that come their way.

David at SoccerHelp

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