U10: 2-3 or not 2-3. That is the Question.

My U10 Rec team had their first scrimmage last night and did well. I was thrilled to see them finally starting to look UP and get aware of what’s happening on the field (vs. looking at the ball all the time). However, I’m still struggling with how to arrange my players for 6v6.

I talked about U10 formations previously, but didn’t really come up with a ‘best’ answer. Of course, there may not be one since soccer is a fluid and dynamic game. I’ll admit that post was written from a theoretical point of view. Now that we’re coming up on our regular season, we’ll see how things pan out on the pitch.


So back to last night’s scrimmage. Both teams started out with a 2-3 formation (2 defenders, 3 forwards) and it worked well. However, being a scrimmage, I started to mix things up and move players around. I also encouraged the kids do some things they hadn’t done before, like defenders who had time to settle the ball – take it up an open lane instead of just passing. This worked very well in some cases. I had one of my defenders streak up the touchline with the ball and take a good shot. Another time, with the wings making runs up the touchline and drawing opponents towards them, the defender with the ball saw an opening up the middle and just flew up to the goal.

Now this was on a 53 yard field (our match fields are just under 60 yards long, but were being used by other teams) so take that into account. One dangerous thing about this was the rest of the team wasn’t quite expecting certain defenders to take off either and that left our end of the field woefully uncovered. However, I pointed out to my team that if the front 3 saw a defender streaking up the field with the ball, the closest player to midfield HAD to stay back and cover. Near the end of the scrimmage, they started to do just that and we protected our goal much better. They really started to grasp the idea of protecting ‘space’ and using the space, though we still bunched up at goal too much at times. But I digress.

We never tried a 3-2 formation officially. However, given how successful the defenders were moving the ball upfield on the wings, we might just use that more often. I’m torn on that, however. We’ve spent a lot of time this preseason working on possession. Keep possession of the ball at all costs and the goal opportunities will come. Having 3 up front makes it easier for us to control the ball up front. I’ve always figured I’d start out with 2-3 and if we built up a lead of a couple goals, switch to a 3-2 with defenders allowed to make runs if a lane opens up. If things are winding down and we need a goal to tie, etc., I might even go with a 1-4 with the ‘1’ being one of my more tenacious defenders. Some might say U10 kids can’t grasp different formations, but I’m not sure of that. I’ve seen kids on a number of our Rec teams understand about positioning, open space, staying clear of the ‘diamond’ in the center of the field, etc.

I know some of you have been playing 6v6 at the U10 level for a while now, so I’d love to hear what your experiences have been. What have you found worked as expected? What didn’t? Did the kids understand what you were trying to get them to do? Definitely post some comments – successes and failures :) I can’t honestly say I’m confident in any formation I come up with. I know in the pros that managers will use formations based on the opponent, but this is Rec ball! So you go with what you feel comfortable with, but have the flexibility to change things up if the opponent warrants during the match. The key is making sure the kids are ready for it and can handle the pressure so they are ready to play in a new formation.

I love that our league decided to stick with a larger field as it really gives the kids space to run and move, encouraging more 1v1 and longer passes. I expect the matches will be high scoring affairs as well, but that’s not a bad thing. Many of my players got to score or got good looks (the other team’s 3 keepers did an outstanding job all night) so that raised the ‘fun’ for them a bit.

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  1. I think a 2-3 is fine. Offside or no offside? – OK – I’ll shut my mouth! Regardless, for the last two years I focused on not so much in tactical positioning – but yes – the players need a place to start and realize they have a few responsibilities – but that was wings try to stay wide and defenders need to remember to come up field when we have the ball and be in position to track back quickly when we lost possession., That said, when we have the ball everyone was on offense and when we lost the ball everyone was on defense (responsibility wise- that is).

    Example – If we had the ball – ALL players need to think forward and move into space – not just stand there! On defense – closing down an attack was everyone’s responsibly to try to win the ball back.

    6v6 are not many in sheer numbers on the field so all the players need to be able to contribute. I also move players around from position to position in a 2-3. Except goalkeeper where I hade 2 kids I could count on.

    I am not sure that helped but I tried to keep it simple – I wanted my players to be able to be technically well trained – be able to dribble, pass and shoot properly. Tactics will iron itself out as the season progress and simple instructions are given.

  2. I probably didn’t make it clear enough in the post – I’m not trying to overdo tactics vs technical – I agree 100% that technical skills are what need to be worked on at this age. Honestly for our entire month of practices, it’s been 95% technical, with some tactical thrown in here and there. But the kids do need some basic idea of where to be on the field, etc. In other words as a coach, I’ll put in 80% of the work into tactical and then simply to tell the kids basic tactical positioning.

    I agree 100% on all playing offense/defense. We’ve been stressing to the team constantly that there is no ‘offense/defense’. Everyone plays both. You may be in the rear positions, but once the ball is past midfield – you better be up contributing to offense, etc. Everyone should feel like they can score. Any team that doesn’t do this in 6v6 is going to have serious trouble.

    So regardless of 2-3/3-2, all my kids play offense. On defense with 2-3 I’ve told the center forward to help, but not go deep to their own goal so our players have a target to pass to if necessary to get it out of the crowd. Not sure if that’ll always be the case, but my kids are doing quite well at containment so the 4-5 disadvantage hasn’t been a huge issue – yet.

    So, yes, tactical simplicity is the key, but introducing some basic positioning concepts seems worthwhile, and much of that will come during match play, not necessarily practice (i.e. taking away from technical instruction) The basics I’m stressing are:

    * wings should not cross the center line of the field
    * Everyone plays offense in the opponent’s side of the field
    * When ‘defenders’ make runs, someone should hang back
    * The center forward hangs back a little on defense (not cherry picking – they just shouldn’t dive into their own penalty box – more like try not to go far into their own goal box)
    * Stay spread out into an ‘M’ or ‘W’ – the whole open space concept.

  3. I would suggest 3-2. That way a “wing defender” can make a run up the field and, in the event of a counter, you have 2 back already instead of just one. I’m willing to bet with a 2-3 you’ve been caught with just one defender back at times?

  4. I wonder what types of concepts 10 year olds haven’t yet grasped but are learning. Maybe what isn’t so important is are the actual tactics but they they learn about the tactics and see how different onces make differences on how they play together.

  5. While I agree that technical skill is the major emphasis at this stage, without sound tactical basics our players tend to chase way too much and are often out of position. We play with two defenders, two forwards and a striker. The forwards often act as sweepers while the striker seldom enters too far into the defensive side of the field. The better U10 teams we face have the basics of field position and lane management down and when they execute good passes, any individual technical skill advantages that we may have are really neutralized in a hurry. In my opinion, getting U10 players to understand position management and how to use the entire field is a key concept that must be introduced at this stage.

  6. I’d agree. We tend to play a 2-3 on the attack with the defenders up at mid field trying to seal things off and sweeping. The forwards push up as a unit mostly. On defense, we morph more to a 2-2-1 with the center forward hanging near midfield while the wings come back to help on defense.

    We spend the bulk of our time on technique during practice, but work on tactics during free scrimmage time and during matches. It has helped them understand how to adjust to an opponent. We even have tried a 1-1-3 at times at their suggestion and it worked well.

    So tactics have a place in U10 for sure. I laugh when I hear people talk about how U10s can’t understand offside. Sure they can. I see it all the time since out league plays U10. They may not understand the subtle parts of it, but they know they can’t cross the invisible line with out the ball or the ball in flight to them.

    Digressing for a moment – in our last match, we actually encountered the offside trap against a team over and over. Normally we see MAYBE 3-4 offside calls in a match. But we were pressing this team hard and they were playing a 1-4 trying to drive one in. Their one defender was quick and I don’t think he even realized what he was doing, but he’d hang near the bottom of the mid field circle and my wings, seeing us gain possession would move even with him. When we got ready to pass/cross, he’d dart toward midfield trying to intercept, catching us offside constantly. His thinking was ‘let me intercept that’ and he ended up really helping his team because the ARs were younger and had trouble judging the timing of the kick (playing ball to our forward) and the defender darting towards midfield and they erred on the side of caution and called us offside a LOT.

    Was a great learning experience for my team – because now they understand a lot better how offside can work from a single match situation where they begin to grasp what he was doing and sure enough towards the end of the match, my wings started to match the defenders movements until they KNEW the ball had been played to them.

  7. I’d like to hear more about the 1-1-3, I’m getting ready to shift from rec soccer to Select, staying in U-10, and I’m nervous about the true test some of my strategies will now receive! I’ve been playing my rec teams in 7v7 U10 in a 2-1-2-1 formation, basically setting up a diamond design with a Stopper, wings, and a Striker. I’ve had some incredible legs assigned to Stopper, and they would launch the ball arching at the goal from midfield, with my striker crashing after it and the wings giving support. I’m now contemplating how to handle being 1 short with 6v6.

    I played this size on miniature fields at U8, and with the small fields and tenacious defenders, it was easy to play a 1-1-2-1 formation, especially without offsides! plant a striker near the penalty box, set up a great tandem in the back in “Sweeper/Stopper” style, and actually hide less talented players on the outsides!! But on a larger field, older age, I don’t know that Sweeper/Stopper will work…

    Flip side? I’m also worried that two fullbacks will leave us open in the middle, where everyone loves to shoot…

  8. Coach D,
    We play a 2-1-2. We cap our rosters at 11 so you can run two shifts and everyone can have equal playing time. Also, you can work your 2 strongest kids as the “1” and then rotate pairs that work well for turns as the offensive 2 and then the defensive 2 (although I agree with the point that stresses everyone plays offense and defense on the field).

    2-1-2 is easy to show triangles to teach balance and space. Also, I think your strong players in the center have a tendency when playing 2-3 to get the ball up front and not be thinking play it wide to space. It’s a bit more of grind on the “1” – you can tell when that player is tiring as the formation breaks down back to a 3-2 or 2-3 so you may have to sub that position quicker than the “2”s.

    We ran into a team playing a 1-1-3 and it took one rotation each for the players to adjust (and giving up an early goal). However, once they realized that holding their shape and playing the ball quicker allowed them to have quick transitions, we pretty much dominated (and the skill level was fairly equal). My problem with the 1-1-3 is your two “1” players pretty much have to cover side to side and they don’t gain the perspective of shape and balance that will become important when you reach 8 v 8 next year.

    Here’s the beauty of playing 2-1-2. At the end of the season, we are playing in some 8 v 8 tournaments to expose them to next year playing U-11. We just played one last weekend and it was very easy for the kids to go from 2-1-2 to 2-3-2 without having to do tactical prep.

  9. Thanks Bob, that’s great information. One follow up on it though: What range up and down the pitch did you allow the “1” to have? Did they lean more toward a Stopper role, hanging back behind attacks, or more of a free-range midfielder role, contributing to the attacks and hustling back to almost become a sweeper on D? (or something else entirely?)

  10. Coach D,
    We stress that the “1” in not a sweeper and does not have to get back to cover the center defensive position. The weak side defender has that responsibility. As a general rule then, the range is top of the penalty area to top of the penalty area with side to side being based on where the strong side striker/defender are. I have them think of a diamond shape with the arcs as the top/bottom and half-way to touch from the center as the sides.

    Two points.

    If you run into a team playing a 2-3 or 1-1-3, you are overmatched up front (we tell the weak side striker to get back and cover the weak side attacker, but that’s tough for a young player to do consistently.) However, you find that your “1” has lots of space in the middle and you can lock down/contain the play in the opponent’s end.

    Offensively, I tell the “1” to cue off the other striker when the ball has been played wide. If the other striker has made a run in, then the “1” should hold back or make the far post run. If the weak side striker is closer to the far post, then the “1” has the responsibility to make the near post/center run — that’s why the “1” will tire faster as well. When the ball is played to center, we coach the 1 to think 3 options – can I take it directly to goal or do a give/go combination with the striker; can I play a through ball to a striker making an inside run; or can I play it wide to a striker making an outside run.

    Now, I have a “1” who is well skilled with a dad who’s a U-12 coach/former semi-pro player so this kid gets these concepts reinforced outside of training sessions. My other “1” is a good athlete, but I have to remind him he’s not a “free ranger” because he will run all over the pitch. Our older teams play in general a 3-4-3 so we do not encourage “sweeper” like thinking. Of course, when the match starts, they are still U-10s so there are lots of breakdowns; however, I still think 2-1-2 fits well for a style of offensive-minded, high pressure, transition soccer.

  11. We played a 2-2-1 with the focus of 4 attacking and 4 defending at all times. We used all the formations mentioned above for our U10 boys team and moved to this formation with much success. We designated an attacking defender and a sweeper who would stay home. We are a possession team with decent skill for 10 year old boys. Including tournaments and indoor we were 44-6-4.

  12. Reading through all the comments here – this is definitely one of the more enjoyable parts of U10/6v6. You can try so many starkly different formations that have a drastic effect (vs say the difference between a 4-5-1 and 4-4-2)

    Given the right mix of players with speedy strong defenders, I like a 2-3. If you need the far forward to come back and cover, it works and flows (if they remember to do it). But I also like a 2-1-2 if the ‘1’ is a versatile player because they can often intercept an attack much earlier and provide natural long shooting.

  13. I have spent the last 3 yrs coaching and learning at U10 soccer level. I have tried 1-4, 2-3, 3-2, and 2-1-2 over the last 3yrs. In 2011, we operated out of 3-2 for our based formation. The team went 26-3-3. Winning the a state championship, and a few other tournaments. Why does the 3-2 work for us?
    1.) 3 – Defenders play more of a midfield position.
    a. They are position ½ between goal box and midfield stripe.
    b. Center position can roam the middle of the field goal box to goal box.
    c. Left/Right midfielder look to start the counter-attacker, but always remember when in doubt kick it out.
    2.) 2 – Attacker/Strikers
    a. They trust the midfielder to do their job.
    i. They are waiting in the wings for a pass.
    ii. This was accomplished by not allowing the strikers to cross midfield in scrimmages/friendlies.
    3.) The midfielder are my better athletes(anyone can score)
    a. We tend to owe the middle of the field, and play on the offense side of the ball.
    b. Over our last 10 games, we only allow on average 5 shots on goal with taking 25-30 shots.
    4.) Also remember: have your players run to the post. The next step after running to the post is crossing passes.

    Most of our opponents used a 2-3. Our center midfielder would slice up 2-3, and opponents could not clear the ball from their defensive area. Why?? The our defender were playing a more of midfield position. Place your best players as defender/midfielder, and incent your players on assistants verse goals. If you can do this, and 3-2 will work for you.

    How do I setup teams.
    1.) Center Midfielder: my best ball handler – help if they have endurance.
    2.) Left Midfielder: my best athlete. (They will be going up against your opponents # 1 score.)
    3.) Right striker as most of your players are right footed, and most player don’t bend the ball yet.
    4.) Left striker – you can hide a weak player here.
    5.) Right Midfielder is my last position filled.

  14. Excellent thread. Enjoying the comments.

    We run a 1-3-1 with my U10G team. We have so much flexibility with this formation, especially when we’ve been working this season on overlaps and runs.

    The center mid acts like an axis for the left and right mid to move. However, they are free enough to help cover weakside defense with the back or making a weakside run to goal.

    I am so happy we went to this formation. It seems like we attack better and defend better. Plus, it’s fun to watch from the sidelines.