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Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

Versatile Players

Sam Snow

Is there an article, blog post, or statement dealing with the positioning of U11-U12 players over the course of a season, or a year? I coach in a couple of different frameworks, but in one framework I just encountered a clash of sorts with a town administrator. This U12 girls' team plays in a results-oriented league with playoffs in the spring. I stated in an initial email to the team that my approach to playing U11-U12 players is to play them everywhere with equal time, and not just one position per game but one position over several successive games then moving to a new position for several successive games. For example, one player might play left forward for three games, then she will move to right back, for three games, and so on, such that the year ends with her having played in every position for a period of a few weeks. I've already lost this fall 2011 team because of this stated philosophy since the town administrator, overseeing the set of town U12 girl's teams, disagrees with this approach. He feels that, especially in a results-oriented league, with playoffs, and especially with respect to the keeper, that U11-U12 players should not be exposed to all the positions in this way. I feel strongly about playing U11-U12 players in all the positions in the way I stated previously, even in a results-oriented league. However, it occurred to me that I have not read this anywhere as a recommendation or directive from US Youth Soccer. I'm afraid now that I might be taking a stance on something that is without foundation so to speak. If there is any relevant reference material it would be helpful to know of it. I have looked but haven't found any.

I replied stating that I think that with the U12 age group you can have a player preform in all defensive positions before moving that player to the midfield line or the forward line.  So, rather than play right fullback for three matches and then move to center forward, the move could be to center or left fullback.  Once a player has played all positions (roles) in one line on the team (defender, midfielder and forward) move that player to the next line on the team.  For example, a player who has performed all positions in the defender line then moves to the midfield line and later to the forward line.

We believe that through the U14 age group players should be exposed to all of the positions in a team, including goalkeeper.  However, beginning with U12 and then on into the U13 and U14 age groups the players could begin to function 50% of the time in one particular line in the team; i.e., goalkeeper, defender, midfielder or forward.

The intent is to help the players learn about positioning over role specific positions.  By playing all of the positions in a team they better learn the principles of play and the particular tactics that go with each position on a team.  This well rounded approach to development will aid them greatly when they begin to specialize in a few positions beginning in the U15 age group.

Finally, it must be noted that this versatility will aid the players not only in making the cut on future teams (club, high school, college and pro), and it also helps them to be more adaptable to new team formations. Top notch soccer teams can play more than one team formation, requiring adaptability by the players. For example read this article on Barcelona which can change from 4-4-2 to 3-4-3.  http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/jonathan_wilson/09/05/barcelona.343/index.html
 
"One of the big issues we face in educating coaches--is allowing [their] players to [play] non-position specific [roles]. Here we have arguably the best team in the world--full of flexible midfielders," says Paul Shaw, Coaching Education Director for Virginia Youth Soccer. The article supports, albeit some thought has to be given to make the connection, our approach that  girls U13 - U15 playing for US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program should have a 3-4-3 and the same for the boys in the U13 - U14 age groups.
 
I have always said that in US Youth Soccer ODP I am looking for two types of players, goalkeepers and field players.  If you are a field player then I expect you to be versatile and be able to play two or more positions.  In my 32 years as an ODP coach there have constantly been center midfielders turned into outside midfielders, defenders and wingers.  Yet another reason for us to continue to teach that kids should be exposed to playing all positions through the U14 age group.