At the youth level, teams typically play with numbers of players that are less than the standard 11 vs. 11. There are many formation options. The best way to choose a soccer defense is to assess your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and then decide what formation might be best. Coaches always change formations throughout the season as they learn more about their own player’s abilities so don’t feel you must be attached to one way of playing only. No matter what formation you decide to choose, there will be decisions to make when selecting one.
Will you use a sweeper?
A sweeper is a defensive player that’s serves as the last line of defense. Some coaches like to designate a player for this role and some coaches like to use what’s called a “flat back system” in which defenders all have the same role and there is no one individual who has sweeper-like responsibilities. The decision will mainly be determined by the number of defenders you have. If you have several good, quick defenders it might be best to play with a flat back because they may be able to grasp the idea of pressure and cover as well as catch fast offensive players from the opposing team.
Or, if you have one defender that appears to have more skill but few others defenders without much experience, you might want to play with a sweeper. Playing with a sweeper can also be useful if you have one quick defender and several that don’t have as much speed.
Using a sweeper also takes less organization. If you don’t have many experienced players, it might be asking too much of them to have them shift across the field and change their formation shape to reflect the opponent’s maneuvers. If you use a sweeper, then you can tell inexperienced defenders to simply guard one person on the offense and follow them wherever they go. The sweeper is simply there to stop anyone that gets through.
Do you need a solid system?
The reasons to go with a more defensive system are many. If you have players without much goalkeeping experience you might want to limit the pressure on the keeper by providing extra defensive support. Or the entire team may be inexperienced in which case playing conservatively is best. Whatever the reason, it might be best to play with a 3-3-1. That means 3 defenders, 3 midfielders, and one forward (that’s if you have 7 players to use. If you have more than you can add them where you feel it’s best). A 3-2-2 will give you another offensive player but of course this will sacrifice the defense.
It’s up to you, the coach, to make the decision based on the skill you have on your team. It may take time to learn about your players and your players will learn about themselves and each other as the season goes along. You can always adjust – the “tinkering” with the defense is part of the fun. Explain to your players the formation you choose and why. They’ll learn a lot and enjoy finding out what works best for them.
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