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Soccer positioning, U12 level

Discussion in 'Coaches Corner' started by DrewDawg, Apr 30, 2015.

  1. DrewDawg

    DrewDawg Dorito Dink SoSH Member

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    I'm coaching a U12 level team, coed, at the recreational level. Some good players, some not so good. I have playing time rules and the like, but I need a little advice on building a strong backline.
     
    We won our first two games 3-2. We played a basic 4-3-3. All the goals we gave up were because once the ball was in our box, we simply didn't clear it efficiently. It happens at this level, but it didn't seem at the time to be any real defensive breakdown, other than young kids, at the recreational skill level, not clearing a ball. Eventually, someone is going to bang it in. We trailed in both games, but generally have enough offensive skill level to respond.
     
    Last game however, was different and makes me wonder if the issues the first game were more because of an overall defensive weakness, than simply a function of the level of play. No really good player at this level wants to play defense, so if the ball is down there a long time, the better players--pushed up on offense--eventually poach one. On Tuesday however, with me out of town, we got worked 5-0 by a team I've seen play and was not very impressed with.
     
    Our backline, for whatever reason, remained hesitant about pushing up the field when we had possession deep. The ball would then be cleared and their offensive players then had acres of space with no player coming out to challenge them until they were way too close to our goal. We are pretty much *always* going to have some weak links in the back, just due to playing time rules. They are slow and scared of pushing up and meeting the player higher up the field. But hanging back isn't working either because there's just too much space.
     
    All that to say--what are some other shapes I can use that will facilitate what I want--players attacking the ball earlier. I can't play one lone striker at this level. We'll never score, but I was thinking of going to a 3-5-2 and using 2 DMs that stay out of the attack but are much higher upfield than my defensive backline. I can find some kids that have some quickness and that will allow them to disrupt an attack that previously had 30 feet of grass in front of them.
     
    Any thoughts on alignments I could try? I have a practice tonight weather-permitting, and a game against a decent team Saturday.
     
     
  2. BroodsSexton

    BroodsSexton Member SoSH Member

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    Keep the 4-3-3.  Tell your defense to play as a diagonal, rather than a straight line across the field.  Whichever side the ball is on, that wing defender pushes up; whoever is on the off-ball side drops back.  As the ball shifts across the field, the diagonal needs to shift, too.  The job of the centerback is to keep the wings in-line (captain the shifting line).  This is also a good technique for keeping the defenders engaged, as younger defenders will also tend to get lost hanging out watching their team attack.
     
    If you want to get complicated with these guys, the next thing to teach the defenders is that if the up-defender gets beaten, his job is to turn and sprint towards the center of the goal, while the center and off-side defender are sliding over to cover for him.  He keeps sprinting until he gets back into position at the back of the diagonal.
     
  3. DrewDawg

    DrewDawg Dorito Dink SoSH Member

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    Thanks---we'll see. My practice was rained out tonight, so it's going to be tough to implement a change for tomorrow or Monday.
     
    We have a number of kids that just don't position themselves well, or do it very slowly. Having them try to get their shape right on the fly *may* be beyond some of them. And it only takes one out of position.
     
  4. robssecondjob

    robssecondjob Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Keep the 4-3-3.  Three across the back is asking for trouble.
     
    I use a dumbed down version of the diagonal line for my U10 team.  Same approach, but I tell them basically which ever defender the ball is in front is responsible for running towards the attacking player and containing them.  This generally will slow up the attack enough that other defenders can slide across and fill the space behind.  This give the defender attacking confidence because they have teammates behind them if they make a mistake.  
     
  5. DrewDawg

    DrewDawg Dorito Dink SoSH Member

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    Well, the issue is the one who *should* be going out to meet the attacker isn't. No matter what we try.
     
    We wouldn't really be running a 3 player backline. If we change it essentially is going to be a 5-3-2, but the back 5 would be staggered just a bit, and the outside players, the "wingbacks", will never venture forward. The thought is that if we stagger them a bit, they'll be forced to meet that attacker sooner. But since they are NEVER going to push forward we should never be caught with only 3 on the back line.
     
    I don't know. I wasn't at the game where we got ravaged along the backline, so I'm spitballing.
     
  6. teddykgb

    teddykgb Member SoSH Member

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    Why are you so focused on the scoreline? This is an awfully young age group to be so worried about winning and losing.  Obviously you need to worry about morale, but aside from that it seems like teaching a formation and working on shape are far more important than any specific set of results.  This sport, more than any, is all about tactical awareness and players at this age group really need to learn to play every position on the field.  Of course, you could try to Jose Mourinho this and play some defensive system to prevent goals, but what are the kids really learning in that situation? I think it's far better to try to teach the kids to press up the pitch and follow the instruction than it is to focus on grinding out results.
     
    I don't mean this to be critical and I know that when I've coached in the past I've found it easy to get caught up in maximizing wins and all that, but soccer is such a beautiful sport with so much variety.  At this age group, learning to move as a unit and everyone developing ball skills seems way more important than anything else.
     
  7. Heinie Wagner

    Heinie Wagner Member SoSH Member

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    I couldn't agree more. Top priorities = have fun and foster a love of the game in all your players.
     
  8. BroodsSexton

    BroodsSexton Member SoSH Member

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    I agree with this.  Don't run gimmick formations that are intended to help you win the game or accommodate for particular player skill weaknesses.  Stick to fundamentals, and reinforcing the concept of controlling space and working as a team.  A diagonal is appropriate for kids this age, and gives them a few tactical concepts to think about (i.e., the player near the ball steps up, the player off the ball drops back), which may also help address the reluctance on some players to get involved in the play.  Of course, you might just have a daisy-eater or two.  Every young team does.
     
  9. Nick Kaufman

    Nick Kaufman protector of human kind from spoilers Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    Would it be an appropriate compromise if you forked the central DM in the back acting as a sweeper in front of the defense? I don't know if you already do it, but really, that DM shouldn't be having attacking duties and he should be the one stopping the transition.

    Also, you can teach them to foul when they lose the ball! :buddy:
     
  10. MetSox1

    MetSox1 Member SoSH Member

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    When I played youth we ran a diamond back line,stacking the 2 CB's. A little funky but you have a natural person, prob your best defender, always heading off the ball, and the other defenders can also use that player as an outlet to the midfield.
     
  11. BroodsSexton

    BroodsSexton Member SoSH Member

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    Diamond defense just exacerbates the problem because you end up relying on your sweeper to "clean up" after your passive defenders, and you don't teach the key skills for the defenders, ie, stepping up, interrupting the play, and working as a unit. You also compromise your attack. It masks the problem.

    If you want to get creative, I'd actually go 3-4-3 with your CMs dropping back similar to what was suggested upthread--but that's a more defensive set, too.

    Really, at that age, it sounds to me like your real issue is not getting creative with the formation, it's motivating your stragglers to get in the game--that's going to be true no matter how you line them up. I think a simple scheme is best. Try the diagonal and coach them to shift up and back as the ball moves across the field. By putting their duties in the context of a set line they may be more motivated (rather than if they think it is just a command to the individual to step up).
     
  12. DrewDawg

    DrewDawg Dorito Dink SoSH Member

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    I'm not focused on a scoreline. I'm focused on putting the team (this is not a club team, but an "everyone plays" city parks and rec team) in the position to have fun and perform well. There's no one size fits all formation in soccer and perhaps I selected the wrong one (4-3-3) for our skill-set, but it's hard to know that until they play a few games. And after a few games it appears we are not strong defensively. Maybe I didn't phrase my opening post correctly, but my questions was more--should I continue to go with what we started with, or is there another formation that would work with our kids better?
     
    My motivation for thinking about going to a 5-3-2 was not to win more (we had won 2 of our first 3 in the 4-3-3) but simply because perhaps with our kids, another formation would work better and play to their strengths. I wouldn't care if we didn't win the rest of the season, as long as the kids responded to the coaching, played hard, etc.
     
     
    That said, I did switch it up for Saturday, but I think it was a mistake. I think the feedback I got from my assistants about the 5-0 game I missed wasn't 100% accurate, and after Saturday's game we talked (the assistants and some parents) and kind of figured it out. We lost Saturday 1-0 to a good team (they scored with 5 minutes left) and we prevented them from getting a lot of shots, but with an extra kid in back we could never sustain any pressure once we got the ball in their end.
     
    So, no gimmicks, we're going to go with the 4-3-3 and stress to the defenders what their job is (diagonal--coming out to meet the attack, etc.). I had assumed this is what happened the game I missed but apparently the defense was left to their own devices for a bit and that could be why they weren't as aggressive. I didn't have the info prior to my opening post here.
     
  13. BroodsSexton

    BroodsSexton Member SoSH Member

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    Be patient, and continually reinforce the same thing, over and over again.  You can't look at the results of a single game and draw any conclusions about whether what you're doing is right. It takes kids a long time for positioning to become second nature, and if your team is like mine (where everyone is swapping positions constantly, too), there is some additional confusion built in going from offense to defense, left to right, back and forward.*  I understand your point, but "we're not strong defensively" is a tough observation to make (and maybe not fair to your players, given where they are in developing skills and learning the game).
     
    All that said, I have a U8 team, and have been preaching the diagonal from the first week (we talk about keeping a diagonal shape on defense, and making "Vs" on offense--give and gos, taking it down to the corner, and kicking it across and back to the center).  It's been about 4 weeks, two games/weekend, and I'm starting to see the players pick it up a bit.  There's still a lot of mob mentality, but as a coach, I take it as my primary responsibility during the game to call out/coach these shapes, and encourage them when I see them doing things right.  I've had good feedback from both the parents and the kids, and actually heard them encouraging their teammates to think about positioning, here and there. 
     
    Sounds like you're on the right path.  Keep it simple.  Give them some practical concepts to think about.  Encourage them to do it right.  Have fun.  Lather, rinse, repeat...
     
    Oh, and I couldn't tell you what our record is. 
     
    *Incidentally, it's totally appropriate for them to be switching positions constantly so everyone gets a chance to develop at each position.  I have a player who is a classic "put that one on defense" player, but who is doing surprisingly well with opportunities on offense.   At the same time, I have a player who wants to be center forward all the time, but who has been most astute at picking up the defensive concepts.  You just don't know when they're young.  One thing I wrestle with, though, is whether to let them have more time at a position (like a half) before swapping them forward and back, just so they can spend a little more time getting chances and learning the position.  Curious how others do it in rec league situations.
     
  14. teddykgb

    teddykgb Member SoSH Member

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    I wasn't trying to attack you, just trying to provide perspective.  I think 4-3-3 is the best formation you could play in that it demands two way play from nearly every player on the pitch save maybe the #9.  I really just disagree with playing specialized formations that turns a 12 year old into a specialist attacker/defender.  It might work for the team in the short term but isn't good for a player in the long term.  Not to go all "Total Football" but CDMs shouldn't exist at this age group, these kids need to know how to play all over the pitch and develop skills that might in the future be utilized in a more specialist role.  This is realistically all I was trying to get at -- bigger picture, even if moving to 5 at the back or asking a kid to CDM or CAM would help in the immediate term I still think it wouldn't be a good thing to do as a coach.
     
  15. DrewDawg

    DrewDawg Dorito Dink SoSH Member

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    We have to play everyone 2 quarters (we play four 10 minute quarters) and I have a 15 player roster--11 boys, 4 girls. Three of the girls want to play defense only. The fourth (my daughter) wants nothing to do with defense. All the boys want to play up front, and they definitely all get chances, but most of them still think that only the crappy kids play defense and that's not the case at all.
     
    I can't give every kid two consecutive quarters up front every game because there just isn't that much playing time, but I try to make it happen every other game or two. Most of them do get one quarter up front and one in the back and depending on how many are there at any given game, I mix and match a bit--in any given game, some kids only play 2 quarters, some get 3, and a few get 4, but I rotate that--everyone gets a chance to go 3 or 4 quarters, and everyone has to deal with a game where they only play 2. But I can sub a bit more freely in the 4th quarter, so even the kids that I've penciled in for 2 quarter that game, usually end up with more.
     
    Last game we only had 12 kids so everyone got at least 3 quarters.
     
  16. BroodsSexton

    BroodsSexton Member SoSH Member

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    Out of curiosity, what's your thinking on this?  I don't ask a kid to sit 2 quarters if there is another kid who hasn't sat, and if I did, the kids' parents would be incensed.  Am I just too much of a socialist?  Do you switch positions each quarter, or do you frequently send kids back to the same position?  I generally switch them around each quarter, but I'm wondering if a bit more stability might be better to give them a chance to settle in.
     
  17. DrewDawg

    DrewDawg Dorito Dink SoSH Member

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    I generally switch each quarter. I mentioned I have 3 players that only want to play defense. Two of them have played some midfield, but the other I've yet to move. First of all, she's really good on defense, she's playing a position other kids try to avoid, and she's said she gets really nervous when she plays somewhere else. As this is rec league, I've no desire to make her uncomfortable, so I've just kept her in the back.
     
    Generally if a kid is playing upfront in the first, I'll move him back for the next quarter he plays. Perhaps, thinking back I could have talked with them and explain that we'd do it on a game by game basis (Joe Blow is playing upfront for his 2 or 3 quarters this game, and next game, he gets time in the back). I really don't know which is best at this age.  have a mixture of kids--some will be moving over in the fall to the club teams (Advanced or Travel) while others are topping out at the rec league level.
     
    As to PT, as I said I do rotate this. I have 15 kids---I could play 14 of them 3 quarters and 1 of them 2 quarters and there's my 44 quarters of PT. But I only play 8 games and not everyone would get a game with only 2 quarters, so I change it a little bit. If I play 2 or 3 of them 2 quarters in a game they can all have a game like that, and conversely they all get a game where they play 3+ quarters. To do this though, some kids have to go all 4. I don't just play my best kid all 4 every game. In fact, my daughter is one of the better players on the team (even in a coed league) and she doesn't get to play the entire game either.
     
    And I liberally sub in the 4th quarter, so it works out that lots of kids are getting 2.5 quarters each as opposed to some just 2. I make a note on my lineup sheet which kids have only played 2 and try to get them in during the 4th quarter, especially for the kids that were listed as playing the entire game.
     
  18. robssecondjob

    robssecondjob Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    The bolded line drives me crazy with my U10 travel team.  Every boy is convinced they need to be in the striker role to contribute.  My U12 team (both of my teams play travel) made it to the state championships last season based on their defense.  And they know.  For that team it is a badge of honor to be in the back line.    
     
  19. Heinie Wagner

    Heinie Wagner Member SoSH Member

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    "did you score any goals?"   "how many hits did you get?"  "how many points did you score?"
     
    These are the first questions parents and just about everyone else ask kids after a game. It's a cultural problem with sports. Kids are constantly getting messages that these are the things that matter the most.
     
    Plus, the coach's kids are always strikers.  :)
     
  20. DrewDawg

    DrewDawg Dorito Dink SoSH Member

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    Well, our defense was Swiss cheese again last night--allowed 5 goals. One was a free kick from just outside the box and it was placed perfectly. No big deal.
     
    But the others were balls rolling SLOWLY along the ground that we didn't clear. We either didn't aggressively get to them and clear the ball or swung and missed. Not sure how that happens so much. We actually had more hard shots on goal than they did, but they were all right at keeper or he made a nice save. We used the 4-3-3 and the aggressiveness was fine, but I'm not sure how everyone can stare a ball rolling around at their feet inside the 18 yard box and not clear it.
     
    We're going to rotate some different people back there next game for longer periods of time. They all say they want to play striker, but we're also suddenly not finding the net.
     
    I have another kid that informed me that midfield is too much running, but he keeps asking to play up top. Sigh.
     
  21. robssecondjob

    robssecondjob Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Not always.  I have a defender and midfielder.  Full disclosure, both were strikers...
     
  22. Schnerres

    Schnerres Member SoSH Member

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    Hello,
     
    i have a few other ideas than you guys, i don´t wanna sound like an ass, i hope you understand we just see things different and i definitely don´t think i know everything ;-)
     
    What we learned (in coaching class in Germany) is that there are different learning ages. I don´t remember them perfect and i can´t base it now on any links, but i would say there is a first golden learning age from about 8-10 where kids should learn technical skills almost exclusively. Then there is a 2nd golden age at about 14-16, where they are able to "understand" the game and their body starts to develop some more muscles (so it´s tactics+technique+physical parts=complex training).
     
    Your team is aged in between, so i wouldn´t make to strict "rules" or settings for them and still experiment. Those guys should learn positions - everyone should get his position or at least some kind of, like attacking, defense, keeper, central midfielder (off/def),... and maybe rotate between them from game to game. I would also play guys the entire match and the others the half match or three quarters. They should already learn, if they´re performing good, someone will play his position for the entire match, because it will help him get better and us play a better match, no matter if he plays left midfield or striker or central back. This makes more sense than to push someone from one to another to bench to another. And the kids have to understand this, too.
    When they get to U14 level, they should each stick to their position and not rotate at all, so they should already somehow start this.
    Same goes for the back line, i wouldn´t play it, if you see problems. I don´t know the ability of your guys, but i doubt they use an offside trap or push from one side to another if the ball is there. Helping as an attacker (for the left/right back) is only possible if the opposition isn´t too good. You can play ten teams and five may be better, where you have not a single chance to push up as a left/right back. I don´t think a back line is duty.
    I think i would play with a sweeper and 2 or 3 defenders ahead to cover the strikers. Two things: a) this would help win games. You can say this makes no sense, but winning is fun for the kids. b) They learn how to defend: They have to learn tackling and man-coverage first, before they can play a "zone defence" like the back line where you have to switch and cooperate and talk much more.
    If there are games which seem to "easy", sit your better players at the start and let the usual bench players start. I can´t understand how someone can complain about playing "only" 2 out of 4 quarters in a close match, come in at the half when it´s 3-1 and then the match ends 3-2 and your team almost drawing/losing. Then you have to explain that football is about learning, about the team (=everybody plays), but also about performance (=better players play longer; choose the right words at the right time, maybe set up a parents-coach-meeting before the season starts, that´s what I do usually) and results. Everyone can play, but it isn´t fun if you lose every match, just because everybody plays the same amount of time. Everybody gets his shot, everybody plays a decent amount of time, that´s why you´re there as a coach.
     
    Good luck!
     
  23. DrewDawg

    DrewDawg Dorito Dink SoSH Member

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    Thank for your words. It's good to get perspective from other systems of training.
     
    We are at that level of development for most kids where the better ones will be moving off to club/travel soccer in the fall. My daughter is, and we have a few more that are thinking about it. There's still a pretty stark dividing line between the ones that are starting to think tactically (playing the ball into space, possession, etc.) and those that are still just kind of there. I was playing one of those kids at striker Saturday and I asked him if he knew his responsibilities and he looked at me for a moment and said "I go up into enemy territory right?"
     
    We won 3-2 Saturday (all 3 of our wins were 3-2). We played a DM ahead of the backline, someone to go out and meet the attack instead of laying back and this showed our defense the idea of what we've been talking about. We dominated the ball a lot better since we were breaking up the attack much sooner. We only allowed 2 shots on goal--of course they both went in. One was a slowly rolling ball that somehow trickled in--after we had dominated the quarter. I explained how our good effort for the previous 9 minutes can be undone by a lax 30 seconds so we play until the whistle.
     

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