In U.S. youth soccer, 9v9 is typically played by players in the u11 and u12 age groups. This means that players are typically between 10 and 11 years old.
Each of the 9v9 soccer positions requires certain types of skills to become an impactful player. This is also when players will start learning about formations like a 3-2-3.
The switch to 9v9 soccer is often made as a part of a player’s transition from small-sided games (usually 5v5 or 7v7) to full-sized 11v11 games. The 9v9 format allows for a slightly larger field and more players on each team, which helps players develop the necessary skills for playing full-sized soccer.
Key Takeaways From This Article:
- There are four lines of players in a 9v9 format.
- Specific formations require different positions. For example, in a standard 3-3-2 formation, there are (3) defenders, (3) midfielders, and (2) strikers. [jump to formations]
- As a coach, you want to make sure you put kids in the best possible position to succeed.
As a side note – I’ve heard many coaches share their opinion on when players should transition to a full field and many think players in the U.S. move on too early. The consensus is that they should start on a full field at age 14 and not 12. I agree with this logic.
Players at 14 years old are much more developed and don’t need to put everything they have behind the ball.
I would love to see a couple more years on the smaller field so players can work more on their technical skills.
In this article, we’ll address the most common formations for 9v9 soccer positions and some of the strategies for team success.
What Are the 9v9 Positions in Soccer?
As we’ll address the different formations, it’s important to keep these positions in mind:
- Goalkeeper (GK)
- Center Back (CB) or Right/Left Backs (RB, LB)
- Defensive Midfielder (DM) or Central Midfielder (CM)
- Winger (RW or LW)
- Striker (ST)
Basic 9v9 Soccer Formation
9v9 soccer formations often have four lines of players, just like 11v11 formations.
- The goalie stands between the goalposts as the final line of defense
- A defensive line (defenders)
- A middle line (midfielders)
- A forward line (strikers)
Teaching the significance of positions and their roles in young players is critical for their development.
With this said, the lines of a soccer formation should be used as a guide and not the end-all. This is especially true in the younger age groups.
For example, central defenders should focus on defending the middle of the field rather than racing to the sides in search of the ball.
At the same time, give them the freedom to track back or attack when necessary. With a smaller field, players can recover quickly.
As a coach, you’ll want to mix players into different positions based on what you need, the game flow, and the potential you see in players.
Coaching 9v9-sided games can come with its challenges but can also be the spark for many of the young players to flourish. In this next section, I’ll provide some tips on how to effectively coach 9v9 teams.
What Are the Best 9v9 Soccer Formations?
This is perhaps the most common lineup for a 9-on-9 soccer game. It’s a variation of the standard 4-4-2 formation used in 11-a-side soccer, with one fewer player in each defensive and midfield line.
Youth coaches who don’t want to overcomplicate things can often find success with a 3-3-2 formation. This lineup doesn’t overload any third line and keeps each layer of the team well-balanced.
If you are just starting your season, I recommend rolling with this formation and adjusting as you see fit.
The 4-3-1 enables a back four to be used, which is the norm for professional soccer teams. This formation is ideal if you are up in the game or if your opposition has a good attacking game.
Compared to the 3-3-2 formation, the center midfielder (CM) player has more flexibility in this formation. With two central defenders protecting their backs, they can direct their attention toward creating passing channels for the wingers and lone striker.
With the full-backs protecting the wide defensive zones, the wide midfielders can concentrate on attacking plays during the transition.
The 3-1-3-1 formation is an alternative to the more common 4-3-1 that utilizes a back three with a defensive midfielder (DM) in the middle.
The 3-1-3-1 formation gives the midfield three more offensive options than the 4-3-1 since the holding midfielder may provide back-line coverage from the center of the field. The center midfielder is free to press forward during attacks since a holding player is protecting the back line.
The 3-1-3-1 formation allows a coach to exploit offensive skills even more than the 4-3-1 does, especially if a holding man is comfortable on the ball and ready to disrupt opposing attacks.
Teams that wish to control the ball more should consider the 2-4-2 formation.
Maintaining possession in the middle of the field and attempting to shorten attacking plays further up the pitch are both aided by overloading the midfield with four players on either side of two attackers/defenders. The midfielders in this formation need to be patient and confident on the ball.
This center-focused formation allows for simple one-touch passing and dribbling. The midfielders work to force the defense to throw a player out of position, opening up space for the attack.
The two wide midfielders need to keep an eye on the defensive line even if controlling the ball is their top priority. Since there are only two central defenders in front of the goalie, the wide players may have to make defensive runs back to deal with threats from the wings.
In this formation, you’ll want your strikers to be able to work well together. Both attackers need to be prepared to drop deep to assist the midfield in maintaining possession and making intelligent, well-timed runs to take advantage of any spaces created by opponents who are caught out of position.
Coaching 9v9 Teams
Coaching a 9v9 is much different than a 7v7 or 11v11 team. Coaching at this level requires a combination of soccer knowledge, effective communication skills, and the ability to develop a positive team culture.
Here are some tips for coaching a youth soccer team successfully:
- Develop a loose game plan: Establish a relaxed strategy that takes into account your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Depending on your players, you may want to adjust your lineup and formation.
- Focus on player development: 9v9 soccer provides ample opportunity for all players to develop their own skills. Use practice sessions to work on passing, dribbling, shooting, quick decision-making, and other fundamental skills.
- Prioritize teamwork: Like all team sports, players need to work collectively to find success on the soccer field. Encourage your players to communicate with each other, move into open spaces, and support each other on the field.
- Provide clear and constructive feedback: Effective coaching involves providing constructive feedback to help players improve. There are many opportunities throughout the season to provide this feedback including training sessions, in-game, and end-of-season. The key is to be clear, constructive, and positive.
- Continue having fun: Soccer should be a fun and rewarding experience for players and coaches. Encourage your team to enjoy the game, celebrate their successes, and learn from their mistakes.
With a patient and focused approach, you can help your players develop their skills and achieve their goals on the field!
Where Should the Best Players Be Placed?
To be honest, it doesn’t matter much at this age. You want to put kids in the right positions to succeed and grow.
If you are still stuck on the concept of placing the best players somewhere, read on…
It’s common for youth teams to have one or two stronger players. Players who can dribble out of danger, make clean tackles, and find the open player are typically the most effective during games.
Building your youth soccer team from the center-out can be a great strategy since most of the activity tends to be in the middle. Therefore, you may want to consider placing your strongest players in the midfielder positions.
Fastest & Quickest Players
Having quick feet is a valuable asset to any team. It may have a positive impact, whether it’s the fullback getting back up or the winger taking on a player.
A fast-paced player should be stationed where they can have the most impact. In this case, placing them in an area where they will regularly interact one-on-one can be advantageous.
A winger or striker may be perfect for these types of players.
I hope this article helps shed some more light on 9v9 soccer positions, formations, and a little guidance on coaching a team.
It’s important to ensure your players keep their shape. Players should understand the general area they cover and their responsibilities. Having the ability to ‘roam’ a little will give them enough freedom to play on the field without looking too much toward the sidelines.
Also, at this age, try to move kids around in different positions. For the sake of the player’s development, moving players to different spots on the field can give them different perspectives. They may find success in a position they didn’t consider.
Best of luck in your 9v9 matches and remember to keep it FUN!
The 3-3-2 soccer formation is the most common. However, your formation should be based on the talent of your players.
On a 9v9 team, there will be nine players (including the goalie) on the field and about 4-6 subs on the bench. In total, having 13-15 players is ideal.