What are halfbacks, sweepers, and other soccer positions?

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As your children age up in youth soccer, you'll start to hear some terms for field positions that don't make sense at first. Top that off with almost no uniformity across youth soccer coaches AND age levels, primarily because the number of players on the field changes as kids get older. Even when matches are played with eleven players per side, coaches will vary their formations.

Lets start off with the basic formation and terms for a full sided 11v11 match. Formations are generally done in 'lines' of players from 1-5 players wide. When talking about players on a soccer field, you start from the keeper. In front of the keeper is usually a single player called 'The Sweeper' who plays behind the defenders and 'sweeps up' anything that may get through. Many formations omit a Sweeper. The next line of players are the defenders or 'Fullbacks'. In front of the fullbacks are the midfielders or 'Halfbacks'. The next line of players are the 'Forwards' or 'Wings' depending where they are positioned. Finally you may have one player who roams around the top part of the field trying to score - that is the Striker, usually a team's strongest scoring threat. Forwards are sometimes just called Strikers - the terms are sometimes interchanged. Here is a basic visual of an 11v11 formation:

---------------------Striker---------------------

----Left Forward----------------Right Forward----

Left Halfback----Center Halfback---Right Halfback

Left Fullback----Center Fullback---Right Fullback

---------------------Sweeper---------------------

----------------------Keeper---------------------


In general, the players are grouped into three 'types' Defenders (Sweeper and Fullbacks), Midfielders (Halfbacks), and Forwards (Wings, Forwards, Strikers). You'll often hear formations described as a series of numbers. Starting from (but not including) the keeper, you count how many players are playing each 'type' of position OR on each line. It varies. So the formation above might be referred to as a 1-3-3-2-1 or a 4-3-3.

In youth soccer, many coaches use the more descriptive terms of 'defenders, midfielders, and forwards' so the kids understand them more. But others will start to get them to understand the proper terms (fullbacks, etc) around U10, where you start to see some basic formations take place, like 2-3, 3-2, 1-3-1, 1-1-3, 2-1-2, etc. At U11/U12, you'll see formations like 3-3-1, 3-2-2, 3-1-3, etc. and also the occasional use of a Striker (3-3-1 or 3-1-2-1)

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  1. Very good description of positions (though could be interpreted differently depending on the club), but the 1-3-3-2-1 formation is unnecessarily-complicated and rarely used at the professional level nowadays. the 4-4-2 formation works a lot better, AS LONG AS the fullbacks and wingers are really fast and are in good enough shape to cover a lot of ground for the whole game. when i played in college, we had two centerbacks (not too far away from our keeper), two fullbacks in front of them covering the far sides of the field (they had to run up and down the field for attack and defense all the time), then two midfielders positioned close to the center of the field, then two wingers in further up and covering the outside, and then finally two strikers. This formation is a lot simpler than the one described here but I do understand the benefits of having a “sweeper”, which our team never had.