8v8 Soccer Formations
for Rec Soccer Teams
and the Importance of a Stopper
This article discusses 8v8 soccer formations, soccer positions and much more.
NOTE: SoccerHelp Premium contains over 200 pages about soccer formations and assigning positions, including 35 articles about 8v8 soccer formations and how to coach various formations. As you can tell from the articles below, choosing the right soccer formation can make a HUGE difference, and choosing the wrong formation can DOOM YOUR TEAM TO FAILURE. Choose the formation that will give your team the best chance to be successful and to have fun and build confidence. As Coach Glenn says so well, "It is demoralizing to the players to get beat every game, and more importantly, they are so overwhelmed and lost they don't learn anything." Coaches like Glenn take the time to write because they are happy and they want to share with other coaches. There are over 500 Testimonials from coaches about how they were helped by Premium or our motivational iron-on patches.
Subject: 8v8 soccer formations, 2-1-2-2 vs. 3-3-1 and 2-3-2 (this coach tried them all. Read about his experiences).
Note from David -- A 2-1-2-2 soccer formation is just one kind of Stacked formation for Rec teams. For most Rec teams, a 2-1-3-1 soccer formation is probably better because it is a little quicker and easier to teach and it allows you to have your best athlete at Stopper (your bravest, fastest player), your most skilled player at Center Midfielder where he or she can control the Center of the Field and still come into the attack, and you can also hide weak players are Right Midfielder and Left Midfielder. Controlling the Center of the Field (between the 2 goals) is critical and the team that controls the Center will usually win the game. You can give up the sidelines but not the Center. To be clear, a 2-1-3-1 would be 2 Fullbacks, one Stopper . 3 Midfielders and a "Target Forward". If you have a typical Rec team where your Fullbacks are slower than the opposing Forwards, I recommend you have your Fullbacks "Defend Deep " instead of pushing them up. The reason I think the 2-1-3-1 might work better is because it allows you to have strong players in the Center and to put the weak players at Right MF and /or Left MF where their impact as Weak Links is minimized. The 2-1-2-2 doesn't have those advantages.
Click here to read an article about the Advantages of a 2-1-3-1 formation and how to launch a fast counterattack from this formation
Click here to read an article about 8 v 8 Soccer Formations and Positions, 2-1-3-1 vs. 2-1-2-2, Target Forward and Stopper, What to Do if All Your Players Want to Score? How to Make Every Soccer Position Important
(Below is a great letter from a coach who had not won a game in 3 seasons, but switched to a 2-1-2-2 formation and started winning)
I coach a U-12 mixed rec team. I read the testimonials on SoccerHelp about using a 2-1-2-2 formation and it seemed to make sense to me. But when I asked our league's select coaches, the high school coach, and even a college coach, they all said 2-1-2-2 is terrible. They suggested a 2-3-2 or 3-3-1 because of the flexibility and all of the options available in those systems.
I tried their formations for 3 seasons and had horrible results. It was a train wreck every time.
In those 3 seasons, our record was Zero Wins, 2 ties and 45 losses.
This season, I decided to ignore the "experts" and go with a 2-1-2-2. We've played 5 games so far with a record of 3 Wins, 1 Tie and 1 loss.
FANTASTIC. Our loss was to a very experienced team and that game was 5-2. Last season that same team beat us 12-0, and I stopped that game midway through the 2nd half to protect my kids from being humiliated.
Here is why I believe the more advanced formations fail so badly and why the 2-1-2-2 works so well:
Those coaches suggesting the 3-3-1 or 2-3-2 are higher level coaches WITH HIGHER LEVEL PLAYERS! There are no inexperienced players taking the field in Select (travel team) or High School or College soccer. The advanced formations are great IF you have experienced and skilled players.
But for a rec team with little or no experience among the players, there is NO WAY we can play a 3-3-1 or 2-3-2. It is a disaster. It is demoralizing to the players to get beat every game, and more importantly, they are so overwhelmed and lost they don't learn anything.
It's like picking the "best" math system. "Ok, calculus is the "pro" math! You should do calculus!" Great! But there is NO WAY anyone can do calculus until they've learned the adding and subtracting and all the other basics. That's exactly the case in young soccer teams. Trying to make them learn and play a 2-3-2 is like telling them to do calculus. It just isn't going to work, no matter how good the coach.
The 2-1-2-2 is AWESOME for a young team! It is very simple and easy to learn. The best part, I believe, is that it encourages individual AGRESSIVENESS in games. They don't look lost on the field trying to figure out, "am I pressure? or cover? Or am I balance? Oh, and what the heck is balance anyway? What does balance do exactly?"
In the 2-1-2-2 makes it very simple for young, inexperienced players. They quickly lose their timidness and just go play hard and have fun.
The high level coaches complain that a 2-1-2-2 does not develop player skills to prepare players for higher levels. I COMPLETELY DISAGREE! When my kids are on the field, they have fun, play hard, get aggressive, and their CONFIDENCE SOARS. I'm fairly new to coaching soccer, but I've coached other youth sports and played sports all my life.
I absolutely believe that the most important element for developing players is CONFIDENCE. When they start to believe in themselves, they really shine. They have the confidence and the enthusiasm to try new things and to learn more and more.
I have learned from frustrating experience that the 2-1-2-2 is by far the best system for teaching young, inexperienced players and teams.
They have FUN, their team and individual confidence soars, and they feel excited to learn new things.
I will never again put myself or a young team through the heartache and frustration of trying to play a system that is simply beyond our experience and skill level.
Good luck coaches! And THANK YOU! Most Rec coaches are volunteers who work hard and put a lot of heart into trying to help kids. But there are rarely enough parents saying thank you, so THANK YOU.
Coach Glenn, Premium Member
U-12 mixed rec
Importance of Putting Your Most Athletic Player at Stopper:
Following is a letter we received from a Boys Rec U-13 coach who is a Premium subscriber and our reply.
First of all, thank you for the great practical information on SoccerHelp and SoccerHelp Premium. The information on "Assigning Positions" and "Formations" has been especially helpful. (Note from SoccerHelp: Here are links to these 2 documents and another we think is very important: Assigning Positions . Formations . Most Important Things To Teach and Read)
I am a first time Rec league coach for a U-13 Boys team. My soccer playing experience includes about 7 years of youth soccer and 1 year in high school.
Our league tries to evenly distribute players according to ability across 8 teams. We play 8 vs. 8 including goalies (7 on the field plus a goalie).
The team I coach has 11 players, 2 of which really standout. One is an excellent shooter and dribbler. The other has decent technical skills, but is "dominant" from a standpoint of pure athleticism.
For our first game (which was this week), the hardest decision for me to make was who to play as goalkeeper, the athletic superstar or the second option which was a BIG drop-off in ability.
I decided before the game to put the more athletic player in goal for the first half and the second option in goal for the second half. Listed below is what happened. (By the way, we only had 8 players show up--no subs. The other team had 11.)
Strategy: 2-2-1-2 formation with the excellent shooter as the lone midfielder who played like a center forward when we were on offense. The 2 stoppers stayed in our half of the field. The 2 fullbacks stayed in the penalty box . The athletic player was the goalkeeper.
Results: Our team (4 shots on goal, 1 corner kick & 1 great save) Other team (7 shots on goal & 4 corner kicks)
First Half Score: Our team 1 / Other team 1
Comment. The ball was in our Defensive Third for most of the first half. Our only goal was on a Breakaway by the talented shooter. The other team's goal was an excellent shot on the ground to the far side of the goal.
Strategy: 2-1-2-2 formation with the excellent shooter moved up to forward . The 2 midfielders were permitted to go up on offense, but rarely did. The 2 fullbacks stayed in the Penalty Box . The athletic player played Stopper . and the second option played goalkeeper. The stopper was told he was free to go up on offense, but his first priority was defense.
Results: Our team (12 shots on goal, 3 Corner Kicks & 1 save) Other team (2 shots on goal & 0 corner kicks)
Second Half Score: Our team 5 / Other team 1
Comment. The ball was in our Middle Third and Attacking Third for most of the second half. Our talented shooter had 7 shots on goal and scored 3. The stopper scored one by dribbling down the sideline from the midfield and shooting from far out. Our other forward scored a goal from persistent rebounding inside the goal box. The 2 shots from the other team resulted in a goal that should have been stopped and a ball that was dropped and then picked up by the goalkeeper (this is the one save listed above).
What a difference it made to have the dominant athlete play Stopper instead of goalkeeper. We were 1-1 at the half, and won 6-2 after changing to a 2-1-2-2 and putting my most athletic player at Stopper.
Goalkeeper is arguably the most important position on the field, but not if you have a field player who can significantly reduce the opponent's shots on goal as well as create more scoring opportunities for your team.
Hope this feedback helps,
Coach Michael, U-13 Boys Rec, AL, USA
Thanks for this excellent analysis. I think you have an excellent grasp of positions. It's very interesting how much of a difference the Formation change made when combined with putting your best athlete at Stopper. This confirms my thought that in Rec soccer the most important position is "Stopper", and 2nd is to have a strong scorer at Forward.
Send me your address and we will send you 30 free Red Soccer Ball Patches for taking the time to write this. Use these to reward hustle, bravery and winning the ball -- my boys called them "Blood Patches" and they were coveted -- they really make a difference. ONLY give them out for hustle, bravery, winning the ball and defensive toughness -- NOT for goals scored unless it involves bravery, hustle and toughness.
Any other feedback would be very much appreciated. You have an excellent tactical grasp of youth soccer.
Here are some tips:
1. Play the "Dribble Across A Square" game 3 times to start EVERY practice (use it as a warm-up) and ask each player his score at the end of each game -- trust me, this really works.
2. Teach Coaching Rule No. 3 (at "Coaching Rules" in Premium) -- it's worth 1 or 2 goals per game.
3. Play games that involve dribbling and maintaining possession, such as "Double Dare Attack/Defend" and "Dribble Turn and Shoot".
4. Try the "2 Team Keepaway Game" -- it combines 1v1, team play and teaches fast transitions.
5. Be sure ALL your players can make a "Lofted Pass" -- this is especially important for your defenders to be able to clear the ball, but also so your Stopper and Midfielder's can send Lofted Passes into the open space toward the opponent's goal. Our "Chips/Lofted Passes Game" is a good way to teach this.
I'll bet you have a great season. The parents and kids will love having a good coach and being successful as a team.
Importance of Stopper, Patches and Coaching Rule No. 3; Letter from U-10 Coed Rec Coach Playing 9v9:
We had 1 win and 4 narrow losses until I put into place your tactics for playing a stopper, marking on throw-ins, goal kicks, punts and free kicks (Coaching Rule No. 3) and using patches as incentives to motivate players. The team we played today would have normally beaten us, but we beat them 3-0. The number of assists and striking in the goal box was amazing, lots of far post positioning by our team, I changed the Stopper half way thru first half. My first choice at stopper ended up having no real energy, the second choice was amazing - he went like a steam train. I told him the whole field was his, as long as he ran back to position each time the other team went on attack - he did this - and performed incredibly well. Our defenders did see some action but it was more clearing type work.
As you recommended, I played our best goalie in the field because he's a great athlete and our second choice goalie was in goal - I was nervous at commencement of game. But the other team hardly got near our penalty box.
Marking improved all thru game, I gave out patches at half time for marking and assists. This really got my team going. Me yelling out to player as he/she went by - "you've got a patch for marking Logan". or "Jack, you're patched for hard attack!" You should have seen the kids faces then watched them react on the field.
The parents were screaming their heads off - they couldn't believe the change in our team. All the kids came off the field heads held high and smiling. They knew they'd achieved something great.
SoccerHelp - I am raising a glass to you guys this evening - I think the team is starting out on a great path. You've made the difference today mate!
All the best and have a great weekend. The start of ours has been awesome.
--Coach Chris, New Zealand
8v8, 2-1-2-2, Importance of Controlling the "Center of the Field", Attacking Plan
I've been a Soccer Help Premium member for a few months now and I enjoy the site though I find the amount of information here to be overwhelming at times. One thing I expected to see relates to soccer formations. While you have a ton of info on various formations for various leagues (6v6, 7v7, etc) I would like to see some diagrams of how to line kids up in a 2-1-2-2 or whatever. Do they all stand in a row or do the 2 mids in, in this case play out more as wingers or what. Seems silly to have everyone down the middle of the field when we teach kids to move the ball up the touch line.
So, formation diagrams would be helpful. Thanks.
P.S. I intend to try the soccer patches this year and will be ordering a bunch shortly.
Coach Pat, PA USA
We don't show diagrams of formations because the specifics depend on coaching preferences and the ability of the players -- anything we showed would apply to some teams but not to others, and would do more harm than good. Also, where players should be depends on where the ball is, whether they are on offense or defense, and whether their coach "Pushes Up" on the attack or "Defends Deep". The important concepts are "shift and sag", "first defender/second defender", "first attacker/second attacker", and that positions are "relative" to each other and generally when on Defense, the "left" side players should stay on the left side of the field, the "right" side players on the right side of the field (left and right are as you face the opposing Goalie), Fullbacks should be closer to their Goalie than their Midfielders are, and Midfielders should be closer to their Goalie than their Forwards are. (These guidelines also apply when a team is on offense, but not as strictly. Offense is more creative than defense and players may "overlap" in order to advance the attack; this is particularly true with Midfielders and Forwards, because most coaches may want their Fullbacks to be conservative and stay in a defensive position in case there is a counterattack by the opponent).
Regarding how to get the most out of Premium, start with "Most Important Things" and go from there.
3 Tips: Read "Stopper Importance" (worth 2 goals per game), teach Coaching Rule # 3 (worth a goal or 2 per game) and play "Dribble Across A Square" and "Dribble Around Cone and Pass Relay Race" a lot, which will help your players hugely.
If you have a Rec team I recommend you:
- Defend Deep (read "Defending Deep Basics" on Premium) . Teach "First Defender/Second Defender" and "Shift & Sag"
allow easy goals). If you need to "hide" some weak players think about a 2-1-3-1 formation and put the weak players at RMF or LMF, and leave a strong player at CMF.
If you try this, I think you will score a lot more goals. Thousands of coaches now use this style of play. You can read the Testimonials to see the results.
SoccerHelp Importance of a Stopper in 8V8 Soccer
2-1-2-2 vs. 2-3-2 Soccer Formation
Analysis, Evaluation and Tips
How to launch a counterattack and score more goals against a Pushed Up Team
(The following letter is very insightful and analyzes the differences in play of a U-12 Rec team using a 2-3-2 formation and a 2-1-2-2 formation, and Pushing Up all the time vs. adjusting to circumstances and occasionally Defending Deep. I want to thank Coach Mark who took the time to write. Notice that their record with the same team improved from 3-4 to 5-2-1 and they tied the best team in their league 5-5, an undefeated team that had beaten them 9-1 the prior season. Coach Mark says of that 5-5 tie: "This was a huge victory for us and a personal highlight of my 4 years of coaching." He describes the Style of Play his team used to launch fast counterattacks against the Pushed Up undefeated team.)
I coached my daughter's U12 girls Rec team the last 2 seasons (assistant in the fall season, head coach in the following spring season). I followed the advice of my neighbor (played college and now coaches) along with your recommendations for a 2-1-2-2 formation. Being the assistant in the first half, I created our lineup and convinced the coach to use a Stopper. Unfortunately, the coach played the Stopper forward essentially as a center midfield. My lineup was transferred into a 2-3-2 and we were constantly getting beat in our defensive zone. The spring session I was able to play the kids my way and offer the following report comparing both formations. I also include comments on adjusting this formation for tough opponents and those playing an offside trap. Thanks for SoccerHelp and the helpful information, even for those of us who are not premium subscribers. Your love for the game shows.
Here are my observations and analysis:
2-1-2-2 lineup with a strong, aggressive, defensive minded player as Stopper and at least one sharp shooter as Forward compared to a 2-3-2 formation.
Analysis, Findings and Tips:
The 2-1-2-2 formation provides greater depth and flexibility than 2-3-2. If the other team's offense manages to pass one line, the next line is there to prevent further progress forward. This deep formation helps to keep the Center of the Field (length of the field net to net) in your team's control. If the opposing team goes up the side, your team can simply shift left or right while still maintaining control of the central field area.
This formation enables your team to instantly adjust to an opponent's strategy and abilities. If an opponent is not exceptionally strong, push midfielders up for a dominant offense. If an opponent is strong, adjust the stopper and defenders back further and pull the midfield back as additional defense. This latter tactic is especially useful in two cases:
- When the opponent is "Pushed Up" to create an "Offside Trap" - When the opponent is very good (maybe even more skilled than your team) and/or playing 2 defenders well forward (relying upon the offside rule for "protection"), the remainder of their team is in your zone with a dominant offense. By playing your Midfielders back deep with your Stopper and Defenders, players on both teams are evenly matched (although in your zone) but your team has an advantage for potential breakaways (a fast counterattack against their "Pushed Up" defenders ). To counterattack, play your Forwards just onside of the opposing defenders and instruct your team to kick long passes or lobs behind/over the opposition. Your forwards can breakaway the moment the ball is kicked (not before the kick or they'll be offside) and beat the "offside trap" with a great scoring opportunity.
Summary of Results for 2-3-2 Formation vs. a 2-1-2-2 Formation (U12 Girls Rec League):
The 2-1-2-2 proved to be superior over the 2-3-2: I had the same basic core team in fall and spring but the Stopper was pushed forward in fall (effectively making the line-up a 2-3-2) and played back on defense the following spring (true 2-1-2-2).
- Fall record: 3 W & 4 L (last game rained out). We gave up many goals because the Stopper was not able to get back in time to cover breakaways and the remaining 2 defenders were often outnumbered. We played the best team in the league only once and were beaten 9-1 (they were undefeated).
- Spring record: 5 W, 2 L, 1 Tie. Rotating our most athletic players in Stopper and Forward positions, we kept the ball out of our zone a majority of the time. There were some games where the opponent did not get a single quality shot on goal because they couldn't penetrate our zone. Stopper played defense at center line and was instructed to clear the ball out of our zone immediately.
Analysis of Wins and Losses Playing a 2-1-2-2:
3 wins were major shutouts, 2 other wins were almost shutouts (we gave up only 1 goal each). One loss was only by 1 goal to a fairly strong team.We lost 1 and tied 1 to the undefeated team which was played two different ways:
- In the Loss we used Standard Midfield positioning. We were tied at the half but gave up 5 goals to lose in the second half.
Retired Coach Mark
Thanks for writing. Your letter has made my day. SoccerHelp is a "hobby" job for me -- I have a day job too and it re-energizes me to know that SoccerHelp is helping coaches. And thanks for the kind comments.
I've received some criticism from Travel Team and College Coaches for my ideas such as "Defending Deep". Some people think there is a "one size fits all" approach and that Rec teams should try to play like college teams. I think each team should do what is the most fun and allows them to be successful and to achieve their potential. In my experience, most kids would rather play a good game and would rather win than lose. It's discouraging to get killed and not have a chance. That's why some leagues try to balance the teams so they are competitive. My guess is that the "best" team you played had more fast, athletic players than your team and that is part of why they won so easily when your team "Pushed Up" -- they were simply faster. Your story shows that good coaching and motivation can allow an underdog to have a chance against a stronger team. When a team plays well against a stronger team, it gives them confidence and they start to listen to the coach because they see he can help the team play better.
Your analysis is very insightful and it's obvious that you are a student of the game.
You say you're "retired" from coaching -- that's a shame, you're an excellent coach.
I've set up a free 1 year Membership for you to Premium.
Thanks again and please share any more good ideas -- you're insightful and a good writer. I hope you coach again sometime or share your knowledge with other coaches. I will coach my granddaughter next year in U-4, so I'll be coming out of retirement.
David at SoccerHelp
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Love the site. This is my first year in coaching soccer, and I've devoured most of the information you have here.
Here's my lineup:
A - Fast scorer, good on defense, good ball handler, best player, rumored to tire easily
B - Same not quite as good as A
C - Same not quite as good as A -- doesn't tire easily
Little D - Fast but out of control but never tires, haven't seen him score much in small sided scrimmages
Big E - Slower than B & C but has a nose for the net, tough kid
F - Fast, not very tough, misses lots of practices so unsure of skills
Big G - Goalie, slow, good punter, good hands
Big H - Slow, tough attitude, not much leg or ball handler
Little I - Fast, good handler, not very aggressive
I was thinking of this line up. (We need seven in the field so only one sub):
Goalie: Big G
Fullbacks: Big H, Rotate A & B & C at other spot
Stopper: D (or rotate A & B & C in at Stopper, F, and FB?)
Mids: Rotate E F I
Forwards: A & B & C
Here's my thinking. Big G has lots of experience playing goalie, and basically only one that wants it. (If any one of the MF ask, I'll get them in too).
H is a natural Fullback if I can teach him to stay near the posts. He'll clog up the opponents attack.
A is my best player, and I'd put him at Stopper but he appears to tire easily and is a great scorer, so if I defend deep, I'm not sure that he has the gas to go both ways and score. I'd rather put him at Forward, and get my fun loving but out of control player to roam and defend and push the ball up when necessary. Only problem is he is smallest kid on team. Maybe I should put B & C at Stopper instead.
I like my mid guys where they are.
At Forward, I need A & B & C to learn to work together. At the same time, they are my best players and I'd love to have them strong up the center with one at stopper and two at forwards.
What do you think? We are two new coaches with new players but the parents have bought into the 'games' and high-energy, up-tempo practices (we were only allowed enough time to have four practices before the season starts this weekend!) and so far the kids have been great. As a new team, with only one sub, however, I'm definitely worried that we are going to get embarrassed by the other teams who have played together for years and have 10-11 players per team. Thanks for the games and the practice plans, they have been a life-saver.
Larry, Premium Member
Congratulation! It's obvious you have done your homework. I think you have a great plan and will be a great coach! I think you, and the other "experienced" coaches, will be surprised by your success and by how good your players get, and when the other parents see the skill your players develop, they will want their kids on your team.
Here are some ideas:
- Teach Coaching Rule No. 3 -- it's worth 2 or 3 goals per game. Seriously -- teach this! It's easy to teach and will make a HUGE difference. You can even teach it before the game in about 15 minutes.
I think you will have a good team.
Please let me know what works best and what helps the most.
David at SoccerHelp
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