How to Teach a Fast Break Soccer Counterattack
Avoiding Getting Caught in Transition
Is it better to be strong in the Center, or to defend the entire width of the soccer field?
How to Teach "Shifting and Sagging" so you have good defensive field coverage, support and depth
How to Teach Soccer "First Defender/Second Defender"
How to Increase Soccer Scoring
8v8 2-2-1-2 Soccer Formation
25 Soccer Coaching Rules

See photos of our 29 kinds of iron on Motivational Soccer Patches

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---- Below is the Letter from Coach Glenn ----

Hi SoccerHelp,

Great site. Wish I had found it 3 years ago.

My daughter's competitive U11 soccer team has been a losing team for 3 years now. I coach a U8 rec soccer team for beginners and that has been the sum of my coaching experience since playing soccer in high school.

Their first soccer coach was a "my way or the highway" type. All ego and no knowledge. The parents booted him after the second year. Their second coach was a real nice guy who played soccer a lot, but still didn't seem to be able to do anything with the girls. His plan was pushing the whole team up into the attack and using a sweeper. He constantly put his best players up front and the word "defense" seemed to be missing from his vocabulary. Their new soccer coach wasn't doing much better, but at least he was open to taking some help and advice.

Having no experience with anyone past true beginners, the first thing I set out to do was create a soccer defense. I took the 2 fastest players and made them Fullbacks. and in a knee jerk reaction I loaded up the defense by playing 2 HB's who played back a bit and I let the center HB charge into the penalty box to attack. Basically a 2,2,1,2.

It was tough. After 3 years, they didn't even know to mark up on the goal side even though that should be common sense. Their ball skills were great. But team work and organization were seriously lacking. So I focused on getting the FBs to work together. one charging the ball, one backing the other up between the other FB and the goal.

They took to it like a fish to water.

Then I put the 3 best ball handlers in midfield with the strongest in the center and spent a good two weeks trying to break their "kick it away" habits. The second they received a ball, they booted it away... to anywhere... or anyone... just away. Sometimes they one touched it without even trying to stop it.

It was almost like trying to deal with a group of abused kids. Plenty of ball skills, but zero confidence, zero teamwork skills, and zero organization. I was borderline angry. Not at the kids, but at the coaches. Thankfully, the new coach was very open to help and didn't already know it all like the last two. the more i worked with them, the more I came to understand they didn't even have the basics down like backing each other up, or moving away from the ball when we had possession.

I started out planning on just setting up a soccer defense to stop the 7-0 mercy rule games. That and I was really disturbed listening to the "its ok, they just have more experience than you, you will do better next time" talks after the games with some of the girls in tears when it wasn't their fault at all and no, they were not going to do better next time either. They were so used to loosing, toward the end, it didn't even bother them any more.

Anyway, I think I may have gone overboard with the defense, using a 2,2,1,2 formation. it worked, but I think we could have done better. our shooting is really weak but the forwards are where I hid the weakest players. I really really hated the 7-0 mercy rules and was determined to stop it.

Currently, we have only given up 1 point in the last 4 games with 2 wins and 2 ties. We have only scored 5 times and 3 of those were either penalty kicks or corner kicks. By the way, it is real easy to win when you shut out the other team. Even the worst shooter gets lucky once in a while.

And then I found your site. Great site. I can't tell you how many books I have read recently that were nowhere near as insightful as the information you have here. This site should be required reading for any new, or even as I have seen, not so new coaches. Nice work, and thank you. I would like to bring the site to the attention of the club if you have no objections. The garbage they hand out for the beginning coaches should be illegal. a whole book that says teach basics without really saying what "basics" are, and not to worry about positions or formations, they will get that later on their own. or not as i have seen.

I have a couple questions. Basically some things i am teaching this competitive team before I found this site.

First, the FBs:

Currently, I have them charge anything that gets near the penalty box with the other moving into position behind the charging FB and between the ball and the goal. I do not limit them to staying in the penalty box. On a pass or cross, I teach the back up to charge and the other to run into the back up position. The reason being that I don't want them chasing the ball. I would rather have the back up FB charge from the goal than the attacking FB to chase a pass. They cover the wings too. With a back up, there is always someone in position to charge a pass to the center of the box if it happens before the HBs get back into defensive positions.

You recommend leaving them inside the penalty box to cover the Danger Zone as you call it. I call it something else, but i understand what you are referring to.

I am using the FB's to slow the attack long enough for the HB's to get into defensive positions. Currently I have the HBs fall back into the danger zone. I get good results with it, in fact, the ball rarely stays in the defensive third for more than a few seconds.

But I would like to know is there a weakness with this variation i do not see or would I get better results limiting the FB's to staying in tight and covering the danger zone and letting the HBs deal with the attack?

Second, the HB's:

I started out letting them charge up with the center pushing up for the attack and the outside two staying back a bit from the action to deal with cleared balls or breakaways. Their other job is to run back and protect the danger zone in a counter attack. With the two outside HB's already back a bit I haven't had a problem with them getting back in time to cover the danger zone.

That was just to get them started to provide some basic organization for the beginning of the season.

Now I am teaching them to ignore the whole right side, left side, center position designators. Either moving up in the attack or falling back in defense, I am teaching them to have the closest player to back up the person on the ball, and the other to cover the center of the field. the closest to the ball attacks, but that goes for any position, the second closest falls in behind for the back up position, and the third moves into the center of the field all a short pass away from each other.

They still have to protect the danger zone in an attack too.

This doesn't provide a lot of width to my midfield, but it provides for really strong coverage in the center of the field, and frankly, i want them to push the ball to the wings. They have a decent goalie.

And again, on a pass, I have either the back up or the person covering the center charge the ball and make a point to the person who was on the ball to not chase it and instead move into either the back up position or cover the center. I am trying to instill in them a sense that charging the ball is significantly more effective at slowing an attack than chasing it sideways.

An added advantage is how easy it is to teach. Just tell them if they are not on the ball they should either be backing up the person who is or covering the center and stay within a short pass of each other.

This also puts them into a neat passing triangle by default. Eventually i will work in the forwards. Having the center HB play back up to the attacking forward. Then the same with the FB's. as the HB's fall back, the charging FB will play back up to the HB if the HB is on the ball.

Eventually, there will not be a time when the ball is not covered by either someone attacking with a back up or defending with a back up.

Am I missing something? Should I be more focused on the width of my coverage and go back to a right and left position? Should I have both the back up and the person who was on the ball attack a pass instead of one?

We play a defining game in a couple days. The only other undefeated team in the league currently.

Should I stick with what I have currently until I get the other details worked out so I don't bombard them with too much information or should I try working in a 2,1,2,2 with a stopper now? I really think that is the direction I want to go. Our defense is not lacking and we could use more attacking power.

Thanks, concerned coach.

My Reply --

Hi Coach,

Thanks for joining and for writing. I'm glad you like SoccerHelp, and yes, I would be glad for you to bring SoccerHelp to the attention of your Club, although don't be surprised if they are reluctant to change. The best way to get them to change is for you to become a great coach (you're close) and then they might listen to you, or tell other coaches in other age groups who are losing how SoccerHelp helped you.

You have had to learn a lot the hard way. The good thing about that is that you've been forced to think about what makes good soccer players and a good team -- you have become a "student of the game".

First, I don't think you should change your soccer formation until after your tough game -- it might be confusing if you do.

Second, there are a few things you can do before the game that will help.

  1. Teach Coaching Rules, # 1, 2, and 3. These are rules for marking on Throw-ins, Goal Kicks, Punts and Free Kicks. They can be worth 1 or 2 goals per game. THIS REALLY WORKS. They are at While you're there, check out the other 23 Rules (there are now 25)
  2. Play the "Shoulder Tackle & Strength on the Ball Game" as a warm-up to start every practice until they are good at it. This is quick and easy and will teach your players how to not get pushed off the ball.
  3. Also play "Dribble Across a Square" as a warm-up to start every practice. Play it twice with the square 10 steps wide (10 of your players steps, in your case about 8 adult steps) to teach control dribbling and then make the square 14 steps wide – the larger square will teach acceleration into open space and how to recognize "open space". After each game ask each player her score. You will see improvement within 2 practices. You must have a ball for every player to play this. It's quick to set up.
  4. Play the "Win the Ball or Be the First Defender 1v1 Attacking and Defending Game". It will help your players a lot. You will need 1 cone per player plus 2 extra.
  5. Play "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" at every practice and use it to teach "Aggressive Receiving". This game teaches many important things such as passing the ball while running, speed dribbling, turning and aggressive receiving. This will help your scoring and ball movement. How to teach Aggressive receiving is explained at the game instructions.

Keep in mind that most decisions you make have trade-offs. Here are some questions to ask yourself that will answer your questions:

  1. Do you need to defend the corners? Can the teams you play score on crossed headers? Most youth teams can't score from the corners -- most youth goals are scored in front of the goal. If you can defend both the corner and the Goal Front, great! But you are having to bring your Midfielders (Halfbacks) back into your Penalty Box to defend. That causes 2 potential problems:

    1. When your FBs try to move back into their positions, there is a transition where either the MFs and the FBs are in the same positions, or there is no one in the position. Any time you have a transition you are vulnerable.
    2. The MFs aren't in position to win a cleared ball or to stop a cross to the top of the Penalty Box (the area where the Penalty Box Arc is).

    I think it would be better to have the "Near MF" defend the corner, the Near FB be a "soft back up", your CMF come toward the ball staying a pass away toward the opponent's goal (in position for a pass if his teammate can win the ball, so you can get the ball off your half of the field), and the Far MF go to the Penalty Box Arc. The Far FB should stay in the Center of your Goal, outside the Goal Box (That's # 19 of the 22 Coaching Rules). Put it on paper and you will see the field coverage this gives. This will help your attack, because your MFs are in better position to win cleared balls and to launch a fastbreak "Counterattack".

    Here is Coaching Rule #19: "If you are playing on the left side (LF, LMF, or LFB) or on the right side (RF, RMF or RFB), don't cross the center of the field". (LMF is Left Mid-Fielder, RFB is Right Fullback, etc.).

  2. Do you need to defend the "wings"? Most teams can't defend the entire field. If you try to defend the wings, you will become weaker in the Center, and the Center is more important. Can your opponent hurt you more from the Wings, or from the Center?

By the way, the type of backing up defense you have been teaching is called "First Defender/Second Defender". How to teach it is # 3 of "Quick Team Improvement Program"

The easiest way for you to increase your scoring is by using a Fast Break Counterattack. That will let you still keep a tough defense. You will score by sending "Long Balls" to your Forwards who will score on breakaways. This works best if the opposing FBs are Pushed Up and leaving a lot of open space between them and their Goalie, but if they Defend Deep to stop your Breakaways, that reduces the support for their attack, so you benefit either way.

One way to start this attack is Coaching Rule #25:

"If you are a Fullback, when clearing the ball away from our goal, kick it straight ahead." This is simple for your FBs to remember. Along with this, you need to teach your MFs and Fs to always be shifting from side-to-side with the ball. That way, they are in position to win a ball that is cleared "straight ahead". Teach the MF's and Fs to stay a short pass apart so they have some "width" and aren't bunched to close together. When the ball is in your Defensive Third, teach your MFs to stay a pass away from the ball (say 15 of their "steps") and the Forwards to stay a long kick away from the ball (say 25-30 of their "steps"). That way you will have "depth" and your MF's and Fs will be in good positions to win those cleared balls, and even if the opponent wins the ball, you will have defenders in a good position to stop a counterattack. For Rec teams, clearing the ball "straight ahead" works better than kicking it to the sideline because you will win the ball more, won't kick it out of bounds, there won't be as many mis-kicks, you don't risk unintentionally clearing it to your "weak" side where you don't have defenders in place, and if the opposing FBs are Pushed Up you will get breakaways.

You MUST teach your Forwards that their job is to stay "Pushed Up" so they are in position to win these Long Balls.


  1. Review the "Attacking Navigation Page"
  2. For how to teach "Passing to Space" read

To improve your defensive Field Coverage, depth and Support, Read the "Importance of Shifting" and how to teach "Shift & Sag"

Here are some more "Coaching Rules" for you to consider:

Defend the most important parts of the field and Don't defend the least important parts. You don't have the speed, stamina or skill to defend the entire field, so you MUST defend the most important parts and not defend the least important parts. If you had the speed and stamina to defend it all, GREAT, but you don't

Stay strong in the Center of the Field. The Center is the area between the 2 goals, as opposed to the "wings"... it is where a Center Fullback or Center Midfielder might play. This means DON'T give up easy goals straight down the Center -- force the opponents to the outside (to the wings). If you force them to the wings, your players will have time to drop back to "recover" on defense.

Protect your Goal Front. Ask yourself: Can my opponent score on crossed headers from the corners? Few U-9 teams can. If they can't score from the corners, why defend them in the corners? Let the opponent have the corners.

One last suggestion: read "Why Bravery is a Better Word to Use than Tough or Aggressive"

I hope this helps -- please let me know what helps you and how you do.

David at SoccerHelp

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