Formations and Positions – Not for U6-U8 Play

By Rick Meana

Why, do you ask?

Because children at this age do not understand, do not have the capacity to grasp the concept of “functionality.” They don’t understand that the pieces make up the pie as a whole. They only can understand that pieces exist, but don’t understand how they contribute to the make-up of the whole. In school they learn about basic math, reading, and writing, with an emphasis on fun discovery and development. They are not grouped by accountants, lawyers, or doctors, each having their own curriculum. Everyone receives the same basic curriculum that helps form a foundation for later education and applications.

Before players learn functionality, they need to first experience basic movements. Through spontaneous uninhibited play, children can learn to solve problems, invent, create, and become aware of their physical relationship with their environment. Small-sided game play offers all these factors, and in addition, contributes to skill development. This becomes a foundation for the next levels of play.

Besides, the use of terms such as ‘defenders’, ‘fullbacks,’ ‘midfielders’, and ‘strikers’ are analogous to asking a six-year-old to describe the duties of an accountant or lawyer. Do defenders just defend? Not attack? Does that mean that they need to stay close to their goal? (Usually, these players have been seen standing on the edge of their penalty box 50 yards away from the action – after being instructed by their coach to stay back.) These are literal definitions of positions that are misconceptions of the game of soccer. Usually, these misconceptions derive from other sports where positions literally are constants of what action players’ perform/areas of the field, i.e., baseball. This is not true in the modern game of soccer.

Let’s take a look at the modern “adult” game to gain a perspective. Players who are termed “defenders,” are becoming notorious for scoring goals, while “forwards” who have become famous for their scoring prowess must now be able to defend and chase down assertive back players. Coaches have also had to convert forwards to defenders because of a shortage of attacking defenders. Players today, no matter their position, need to be fluent in all “soccer skills.”

Midfielders, once known for their ability to launch attacks and work at a high rate for 90 minutes are being converted to defenders, and so on. All this goes to show that positions and formations aren’t the answer. Besides, it is not necessarily being in a designated “position” or being a part of a formation that helps the players solve the problem/situations in the game, but rather the ability of the player to read visually the cues, that is the movement of the ball, movement of the teammates and opponents, and quickly execute a movement/decision that will be effective.
Soccer is a game where the players are constantly changing their movement and activity patterns because the game demands – fluidity, interchangeability, unpredictability, quick thought and execution. Adherence to the formations will not aid players in developing the foundation of the game needed to meet these demands.

The activity in “small-sided” games, where players are not inhibited by formations and positions, result in a variety of movement patterns, more contacts with the ball and other players, and is more challenging to a player physically. It also offers many opportunities for players to make decisions and solve problems based on the conditions that are encountered in the game. This is the “learning environment” that is best for the players at this age and maturity level.

Further proof that this environment is best; can be seen in those professional coaches, who in order to economize their practice, efficiently use small-sided games often, to provide a more challenging environment than 11-a-side play. And that is proof- positive that small-sided games, are important for this age group, however, formations and designated positions should not be used by coaches of U6-U8 players.
Rick Meana has been the New Jersey Youth Soccer Director of Coaching for over 16 years and in that time he has directly impacted the education and development of thousands of players and coaches from all levels. Rick has served on both the US Youth Soccer ODP Region I Boys and Girls Coaching Staffs for more than 18 years and currently is the director of the Under-12 Boys South Development Camp. He holds the USSF ‘A’ License and National Youth License, as well as the NSCAA Premier Diploma.


2 Responses

  1. without positions, how do you teach them to not just chase the ball in a pack or even where to line up at restarts?

    • Rick Meana replies:
      First of all, don’t get me wrong when I state this but DON’T, leave them be! Its OK that children at this age not be versed in spreading out from the “pack” or “where to line up on restarts”. The natural tendencies of these children are to chase after the ball (which is in essence is like a toy to them). They are attracted like a magnet to the ball/toy because they are mainly egocentric-selfish (like the sea gulls in the animation movie Finding Nemo mine, mine, mine) and don’t understand concepts such as “team” or “teammates”. Basically they all want the toy, so they all chase after it wherever it goes even onto another field or into the woods .

      Their thinking and problem solving is primitive; they need experience and time to develop. And like formations, adult rules and organization like boundaries, throw ins, corner and goal kicks are completely foreign to them especially when they are only concerned about their toy and their own little world.

      Chaos and play that looks unorganized are important learning building blocks for these little ones. This environment helps to develop instincts for when they grow older and hopefully continue to play. Later on these instincts will help them solve problems using their skills and teammates to make sense out of the chaos on the field!

      That is also mainly why we recommend that children at this age play 3v3 and 4v4 on small fields where the goals are not so far apart and not blocked by a goal keeper; being exposed to these smaller numbers will still result in the pack but it won’t be as large allowing some children the freedom to become confident keeping the ball/toy away from the other children and others a much easier time of trying to steal it away. We recommend that the ball be immediately kicked/passed back into the game when it goes outside the lines or after a goal is scored. Keep things moving! Having children at this age wait for one of their peers to do something with their toy –in other words downtime and not playing, does not compute in their world. Besides being constantly fidgety, a flash bulb has a longer attention span than these little guys!

      In other words, its best they wear Stride Rite shoes first which are specially made for children as opposed to Florsheim’s which are made for adult feet! Let nature take its course. Its fun to wear mommy and daddy’s shoes but I can’t run and play in them. Got to grow into those shoes!

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