Youth Soccer Positions
If you’ve watched a professional soccer game you probably noticed that professional teams always have eleven players per side. This is different from youth soccer team positions.
Youth soccer is more complicated because different age groups can each have a different number of players on the field. The philosophy behind why youth teams have fewer players on the field comes down to players getting more touches on the ball. If you are playing with a full 11 players you have a 1 in 11 chance to touch the ball. With fewer players on the field, this fundamentally changes the nature of youth soccer positions, as they have to be more simplified to help kids understand the game.
The youngest players start out in the smallest side games possible. They slowly work their way up until each side has a full starting eleven.
We’re going to cover the common positions at each youth soccer level, and the responsibilities of the positions at each level.
What does the U in youth soccer leagues stand for?
If you have a son or daughter playing in a youth soccer league you may notice sign-ups have things like “U6 soccer leagues” or “U12 try-outs”, the U represents the word “under”, and the number tells you the age limit of the league.
So for example, U6 league teams can only have players on their roster that are six years old and younger. The first of the year is typically the cutoff for the child’s birthday.
U6-U8 Youth Soccer Positions
As the youngest league levels recognized by US Youth Soccer, U6 through U8 leagues play with four players per side. U8 can play with up to 5 per side, but US Youth Soccer recommends only 4. At this level, it’s important to rotate players through the different positions and try to maximize everyone’s playing time. However, higher level U8 teams may move to 7v7 to compete with U9 teams.
Youth Soccer Positions 4v4
There are no goalkeepers in 4v4 youth soccer. It’s recommended to have six players per team, with four on each starting side. Each team has unlimited substitutions that can occur at any time.
Limiting the number of players on the field helps to simplify the positions for young athletes into two basic categories.
Strikers/Forwards: Two players are instructed to move forward with the ball towards the opposing team’s goal. Their roles are to assist each other, shoot, and score. We also encourage our strikers to help defend when the ball is in their half. This discourages players from standing in the other team’s half and waiting for the ball.
Defenders/Center Backs: Two players are instructed to maintain their defensive half. Their roles are to make tackles and deliver quality passes to their strikers. When the ball is in the other team’s half the defenders should advance to midfield. We do not recommend that they stand on their own end and wait for the ball to come to them.
By instructing the strikers to help with defense and defenders to advance when the team has the ball, they will learn at an early age that the team needs to move forward and back as a unit (but not a swarm). Plus this keeps them engaged.
It’s best to rotate young players between the two positions. An easy rule to follow is to have the strikers and center backs switch after every goal.
If your roster has the six recommended players, consider having them organized as three lines or pairs of two. This lets you keep them in a constant rotation from sideline-defense-offense and back to sideline after every goal.
When coaching U6-U8 I’ve also played with a diamond formation. This changes things slightly by adding midfielders. Instead of two defenders and two strikers, you now only have one striker and one defender.
Left/Right Midfielder (LM/RM): If you use this formation you create two wing players. Their role is to help with both offense and defense. When defending they should be winning the ball back or receiving a pass from the center back. Then they can either dribble the ball forward or pass it to the striker to shoot on goal.
When the team has the ball the center back should also advance with the team and not linger in front of the goal.
U9-U10 Youth Soccer Positions
U9 and U10 represent an important step in the youth soccer progression process. These leagues introduce some significant changes to the game to help players continue to develop their skills.
Here are the four most important differences between U6-U8 youth soccer leagues vs. U9-U10 :
- There are now goalkeepers.
- There are 7 players per side (one goalkeeper, 6 field players).
- The offsides rule is in effect.
- The ball is now size 4.
Like the rules, the youth soccer 7v7 soccer positions get a bit more complicated. U10 youth soccer positions begin to play a more significant role and player development goals shift from fundamental individual skills to fundamental team skills.
Youth Soccer Positions 7v7
Besides goalkeepers, the biggest change in 7v7 youth soccer is the addition of midfielders. A regular 7-player side will have a goalkeeper, a defensive line, a midfield line, and typically a striker.
Goalkeeper (GK): 7v7 is the first time that goalkeepers are introduced to youth soccer. It’s important that these formative years are welcoming. Make sure other players don’t blame the goalkeeper for goals or losses. Soccer is a team sport and teams that play together well don’t allow many shots on goal. Also, don’t be afraid to remind your team that you have to score to win. Clean sheets are nice, but a clean sheet without the team scoring is a draw at best.
Defenders/Center Backs (CB): Center backs will see a lot of action on the field. They will have to make clean tackles. They will have to consistently defend the best shooting areas. Players here earn a lot of experience in a short amount of time. Coaches should keep that in mind when making substitutions.
Center Midfielder (CM): Center midfielders will be just as active as center backs. The difference is that center midfielders will run more. The central midfielder position requires an all-around skill set. Players will need to be able to dribble, pass, tackle, and shoot. Make sure to manage your center midfielders energy level, and time substitutions appropriately.
Left/Right Midfielder (LM/RM): Left and right midfielders will play a vital role in driving the ball up from the midfield and into attacking territory. Their secondary role is helping to assist the striker. These midfielders will frequently have chances to shoot as well.
Striker/Forward(S): Striker is an extremely important position in 7v7. It provides young soccer players genuine soccer forward experiences.U9-U10 strikers have to follow offsides rules as well as beat a goalkeeper. Players often covet this position on the team. Coaches should remind players that the striker position sees less action all-around than any other position and that the team helps with the build up to give the striker an opportunity to score.
It’s important for coaches to keep in mind that this is a developmental time for athletes. There’s no benefit to heavily restricting positions. The greatest soccer players all have a diverse set of skills. Active substitutions and rotations should be the norm.
U12 Youth Soccer Positions
U12 youth soccer is usually the last time youth players will play with small-sided squads. This age league has teams field 9 players each. These youth teams have a dedicated defense, midfield, and offensive line for the first time.
Youth soccer 9v9 soccer positions add a forward and defender into the mix. This makes team chemistry even more important! Attacking becomes more dynamic with the additional forward. This helps prepare players for the final leap to the
Youth Soccer Positions 9v9
Goalkeeper (GK): By the start of U12 goalkeepers have been a part of youth soccer games for 3 years. At this point, you’ll want to strive to have two goalkeepers for your squad. You should have a starting keeper and a backup.
The backup goalkeeper can fill in from another position like defense or even midfield. It’s a great learning experience for field players. You don’t want to be without options if your starting keeper is injured, sick, or has to miss a game.
Center Back (CB): In 9v9 your center back plays alone. They will have a left and right back, but no one else with them in the middle. This makes the position even more important.
Center backs carry a lot of responsibility. They are expected to be leaders of the defense. They should be vocal and help organize the defense. The best center backs take the team getting scored on as personally as goalkeepers do.
Left/Right Back (LB/RB): These defensive positions are new at the 9v9 youth soccer level. The primary role of these defenders is to support the center back and help redistribute the ball out of the back up to their midfielders. Tackling, dribbling, and passing are crucial skills for success at left or right back.
An easy tip for success is to have your left and right backs play tighter to the center. At this level, most of their competitors are going to look to shoot from the center of the field. Forcing opponents to play the outside will make it harder for them to create quality scoring opportunities.
Center Midfielder (CM): The center midfielder position is even more important with the addition of a defender and forward in 9v9. Center midfielders are the crucial link between the backs and forwards.
They can dictate the pace and momentum of the game. Play constantly breaking down in the midfield turns soccer games into slogs with low-scoring opportunities. These players are “the engine” and they will do the running to prove it. Center midfielders need a strong all-around skill set, and a high work rate to succeed.
Left/Right Midfielder (LM/RM): Left and right midfielders at this level need to establish good working chemistry with their backs and forwards. The backs and midfielders on the wings are one of the most common ways to get the ball out of your half after winning possession.
Once they have the ball up field, these wing midfielders need the skills to deliver a pass that their strikers can shoot. If their strikers are heavily marked, wing midfielders may coordinate an attack to intentionally try to outnumber the defense and create a scoring opportunity.
Striker (S): The big change for strikers is the addition of another forward. Strikers now have another teammate to assist or receive passes from. This is a great level to work simple give-and-go plays. Strikers at this level should look to assist as much as score.
Center Forward (CF): The difference between a center forward and a striker is size and speed. Center forwards are typically larger soccer forwards that use their size and strength to score within the penalty area.
Their biggest responsibility is capitalizing on as many scoring chances as possible. Being in the right place at the right time goes a long way in this position. This is why center forwards are sometimes referred to as “poachers”. Otherwise, if the shot isn’t there they should look to assist their strikers.
Keep Youth Soccer Positions Simple
Don’t be afraid to make youth soccer positions simple if your players are struggling with concepts.
The team will be better off with players who are playing at full speed and sometimes out of position rather than players who are hesitating because they’re not sure if it’s their role to make a play.
You can always slowly scale up concepts and responsibilities as players become more comfortable in their roles.