In preparation for our U10 division moving from 8v8 to 6v6 this season, I wrote a few articles this summer that talked about how to handle the smaller sided match: Strategic Thinking and U10: 2-3 or not 2-3. Now that my U10 team is well into our Fall season, I figured I’d revisit the ideas in those posts.

My U10’s are doing very well this season. I have a number of kids who returned from last year’s team and a few new players who hadn’t played soccer before this season. Our kids played well last season, losing a number of matches by just a point, finishing 4-0-3 (W-T-L) and 2-0-5 in the Fall and Spring respectively. While 2-0-5 isn’t a great record, they played very tough and made a lot of teams nervous – we just couldn’t quite put matches away. However, they finished up the Spring season with a great match against the #2 team in the opening round of our end of season tournament.

While many people were telling me that my team this year would be very good, you try to be as objective as possible as a coach. I worked my team hard this August, taking nothing for granted. It was tricky because I had a few kids who had to learn how to dribble the ball and a core group that needed to take things to the next level. But my new kids have really worked hard to get up to speed and are now able to keep up with the rest of the team during practice.

But I digress … back to the strategic thinking part. I toyed with using a 3-2 formation with the defenders knowing they could make runs up open lanes to try and score. We used it with our U8 team last year (after seeing it used very successfully against us by another U8 team) and it definitely opened up the game a bit. The problem is you only have two ‘forwards’ and if a defender isn’t making a run, the remaining offense is badly outnumbered. The flip side is your better ball handlers are back on defense making it much harder for opposing teams to score. Using this formation usually means a low scoring match. You try to score once or twice and lock down your side of the field. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. While we haven’t used it yet, we probably will at some point.

I have a lot of players able to score on a regular basis this season (We’re 24 GF and 5 GA after 3 matches), with most of my players having scored at least once so far. I’ve stuck with a 2-3 for the most part to give them plenty of scoring opportunities. My kids are pretty quick, so even with only two defenders in back, if one sees a lane – they are encouraged to make a run and the forward closest to mid field will hang back and ‘cover’. This can be a bit dangerous, however my kids have usually streaked back into position to prevent a breakaway when needed. The advantage to doing this is the opposing team often doesn’t expect a defender to dart upfield with the ball and shoot or pass. It hasn’t been so much about it being ‘2-3’ or ‘3-2’ as it has letting the kids know they can be creative. For example, I have a girl who often plays defense who can kick the ball like a rocket. Kids who have played against her before will duck and cover when she goes to clear a ball. This season I’ve encouraged her to maintain possession and bring the ball across mid field. If she is left alone, she will step up and take a shot from 20+ yards out, often lofting the ball into the far corner. I have another left footed shooter who teams expect to play left wing. Instead he enjoys playing right wing and dribbling deep towards the corner only to bend a shot into the near corner.

I’ve also encouraged my keepers NOT to punt the ball upfield unless they see forwards ready to make runs because you seem more apt to lose possession on a punt than maintain it. So we’ve worked hard to throw the ball into open space for an open player. It can be risky since the ball is closer to your own goal, but the keepers learned quickly to punt if a throw couldn’t be made safely.

I’m glad our league decided to keep offsides in U10. It allows my defenders to come up to midfield when we are attacking, which I think is more exciting than having two or more players stuck back by the keeper watching the play on the other end. With offsides, everyone except the sole keeper are in the thick of the action.

I can’t say we’ve done anything unorthodox or unusual. Our signature as a team has been a relentless pursuit of the ball and the ability to steal the ball or run opponents into the touchline on fast breaks. We’re still working on staying in lanes and passing into open space instead of trying to dribble through traffic. Watching even my most timid players step in to separate a skilled player from the ball has been great.

We’ve also worked a lot on pursuit in practice. Three team chase is a favorite – where you play 4 v 4 v 4 with the team losing possession transitioning immediately to defense while the other two teams work on passing, moving into open space, and maintaining possession. Another one has players starting from the goal line about 1 yard apart. The ball handler starts on the touchline side, trying to dribble to a cone at midfield. The defender starts on the goal side trying to run the ball handler out of bounds. They’re encouraged to use footwork they’ve learned to try and retain possession (or as the defender, steal the ball) It can be a physical drill with a fair amount of jostling going on.

But above all – it’s been footwork, footwork, footwork combined with drills emphasizing 1v1 encounters. Looking up while dribbling, settling chip shots, step overs and other ‘moves’, etc. We’ll see if it pays off. So far, so good.

It’s been a very exciting season so far for my U10’s. This Friday they face a team made up primarily of the kids many of my players played with in U8, so that should be fun. We may take our team to the NCYSA Recreation State Cup this year given how they’ve played so far. If we do, I’ll be sure to let you all know how they do!