Many junior soccer players across the country will be playing their first ever 11-a-side games this weekend.
The step-up to a bigger pitch introduces hundreds of new decisions for our players and some young footballers take time to adapt to the confusion.
You can help your junior team along by coaching a ‘golden rule’; a key point that they can follow if they’re ever in doubt as to where they should be.
The Golden Rule – Match Your Direct Opponent
As soon as the opposition team win the ball we want our players to filter back towards our goal to give us the best possible chance of restricting space and defending against the attack.
An effective way to develop this positive habit in your players is to talk before the game about finding their direct opponent.
This means at the start of the game looking at where the opposition players are lining up, finding their opposite (e.g. Centre Forward vs. Centre Back, Wide Midfield vs. Wide Defender etc) and looking at their face, shirt number, boots or any other identifiable factor so they can be picked out quickly during the match.
The diagram below highlights the number one defensive responsibility for each player in a 4-4-2 formation.
You can also view the defensive responsibilities of players in a simple 4-3-3 formation at the top of this post.
Of course during the melee of the game our players will be required to cover their teammates, move across to deal with overlaps and solve all variety of other problems.
In addition opposition players might swap positions during the game and substitutions will change their opponent.
But as their coach you can assure them that, if they can find and get goal-side of their direct opponent every time possession is lost, you will be happy with them!