One of the most important jobs as a coach is putting the right players in the right positions. At the younger ages, set the initial lineup is only a starting point for the game. It is up to the coach to find each players “self-identity” and place players in the position that best matches them. I am a strong believer that players must have the opportunity to try other positions during the course of the season as your team should be flexible enough to make adjustments as necessary to match up with your opponents.
Some younger age groups might play without goal keepers, or not play with eleven aside, however, I will go through each of the positions on the field.
The Goalkeeper (keeper)
The coach must be very careful when assigning a young player to this position, and should only assign players who have had several practices playing this position and has proven qualified to play keeper. The goalkeeper should be coordinated, athletic, hands of a wide receiver and the courage of a hockey player. For younger players, players who play basketball often have good hand-eye coordination and can be a very good candidate as a keeper.
When assigning a player to this position, the coach should look for players who are defensive minded but pose a great attacking threat as well. The coach should clearly state the most important job of this position is to defend their goal. Their responsibilities often include man marking, closing down attackers, supporting other defenders, watching backside runs, and winning balls. These players must have strength, speed, concentration, aggressiveness, decisiveness and a good understanding of how to defend.
The sweeper’s position is basically to be a clean-up man. This player’s job is to be the last player on the field (not including the keeper) and is used as the last defensive measure. This position requires a VERY special player who must have a natural talent for defending and being positioned in the right place at the right time. This player should have speed, strength, stamina, awareness, decisiveness, confidence and a natural tact for defending.
Stopper (center halfback)
The stopper is another defender who plays in front of the sweeper. This player’s responsibility is to “STOP” any attack coming down the middle of the field. I generally look for players who are aggressive, strong, confidence in the air, and a clearance for relieving pressure on the defense.
This player should be assigned to your play maker. The center midfielder’s primary function is to support EVERY player on the field (excluding the goalkeeper). They must be offensive and defensive minded, thus they must have outstanding fitness and good at possessing the ball. These players must have stamina, strength, speed, determination and confidence on and off the ball. I often explain this position as being the center of a wheel with a outlet to each player being a spoke on the wheel.
Outside Midfielders (winger)
This player is both offensive and defensive minded. The outside midfield player does not require physical strength, so finding a player that has good ball control, the ability to take players on and great fitness will often make great outside midfielders. This player is expected to be involved on the attack as well as defending, so this player must be fit.
This player is considered the main thrust of the attack and should be the player that naturally scores goals. These players must work closely together and share in the responsibility as feeder and goal scorer. When assigning this position, look for players who demonstrate good attacking ability but not much inclination towards defending. This player needs speed and strength.