It’s likely that you’ll only have a few practices with your team before games start. Whatever the amount of time you’re given, it will always seem that there’s more to learn before you’d like to start game play. There’s no need to get overly obsessive when it comes to the best formation for your team. In fact, many coaches simply jump into a game, throw the players on the field, and let them figure out where to play. This isn’t the best thing to do either. Talk with your players about formations, where they’re comfortable playing, and be at least somewhat organized.
Since you’re going to have a certain amount of players who are allowed on the field at a given time, you can adjust the formation you use based on the ability that you see. Make your own judgment of your team even if your time is short. Many youth leagues in which the youngest players will play require about eight players. One player is a goalkeeper so basically that will leave you with 7 field players. The most common formation to use is a 3-3-1 for 7 players. A 3-3-1 represents 3 defenders, 3 midfielders, and 1 forward. If your league allows more players then simply add them one to where you feel it’s best. If 10 players are allowed then you can go with a 4-4-2 formation by adding 1 player into each position.
Basically you want to create a formation based on the ability of your players and, if it’s possible to find out, what formation other teams in your league use. If your team is loaded with good scorers, then it might be best to put more players up front in forward positions and go with a weaker defensive system. This is riskier but if you can afford to do it then it can be a lot of fun as players enjoy scoring goals.
If you think you have solid players in the back and can afford to push more players forward, you could go with a 2-3-2 formation. With this formation, you place two good defenders in the back, three players in the midfield, and then two forwards up front. This will essentially give you five players about to attack the opposing goal. Players will have many options for passes and a player will always be available to attack the goal and follow through on all shots.
Formations can change with each game. Explain to your players why you’d like to use a particular formation and see what their reaction is. If you go heavy with forwards and less with defenders then it’s likely you’ll have a lot of goals scored against you. However, the idea is to score more goals than your opponent and using more forwards can help achieve this.
For the advanced soccer coach, Surefire Soccer has reviewed and recommends a great DVD by Butch Lauffer on the 4-2-3-1 entitled: