Field Position of the Players
In soccer, there are two classes of players: field players; plus one (1) goalkeeper. In the recreation program, these numbers vary with the number of sign-ups received and available coaches. When you see, for example, that your age group will play with “9 per side,” that means 9 players total: 8 field players plus one (1) goalkeeper. For ages 4-6, there is no goalkeeper.
Except for the goalkeeper, the best way to position your players on the field might not be so obvious. In general, a coach would divide his available players into three ranks.
- Defenders (called “full backs”)
- Midfielders (called “half backs”)
- Attackers (called “forwards”)
Plain language descriptions can describe a field position in greater detail; for example, if there are four (4) players on the back rank, you might call them:
- left outside full back
- left inside full back
- right inside full back
- right outside full back
What you call various field positions isn’t very important. Your focus should be on teaching the basics: That full backs play defense, forwards attack the opponent’s goal, and midfielders play everywhere – bolster defense when on your heels and support the forwards when the pressure’s on the opponents.
When to Teach Positions
In the Age 4 age group, do not teach positions. In the 3 vs. 3 game format played at this age, just let the kids skirmish and have fun. Focus on teaching them to move the ball away from their own goal and try to kick it into the opponent’s goal. Teach them not to push other players, and teach them not to touch the ball with their hands — use your feet!
In the 5-6 age group, don’t teach field positions at all – at least by name. Simply spread the kids out and let them explore at game time. Putting a few up front and a few in back for the kick off keeps things organized, but once things get started, let kids explore on their own. Simply teach them to spread out a little if they aren’t close enough to reach the ball.
In the 7-8 age groups, begin to introduce positions and explain their jobs, starting with the goalkeeper. Teach simply that players that start back have to stay back (on defense), and the rest try to work the ball up the field towards the opponent’s goal.
In the 9-10 age group and older, follow a similar pattern to the 7-8 age group but give more exacting instruction to players on an individual basis as they begin to show that they understand. Patience is important here, because you will have many players in these age groups that don’t understand the terminology or what it means yet. Less experienced players will observe your more established players and emulate them on their own. Allow this process to take place organically and don’t force it by creating unrealistic expectations. Teach slowly and allow kids to explore the game at their own pace, keeping in mind that recreational soccer is simply a community activity for the kids to enjoy.
Field Position of the Officials
In the 4-6 age groups, the field is very small, and a single official controls the game (and sometimes, the coaches). In all other age groups (7-8, 9-10 and 11-13), two officials will work as a team to control the games.
With two referees on the field, the referees should position themselves on opposite sides of the field and on about a 45-degree angle from one another, such that one referee is always closer to a different goal line than the other. Both referees should always be close enough to the play action to spot fouls, especially handling the ball and pushing, and easily see which team kicked the ball out of bounds. Do not allow coaches, teams, or spectators to occupy the space reserved for substitutions.