Transitioning to 8v8
Now that we have seen one diamond and the players understand this basic premise, the move to larger teams and fields becomes a bit easier. When we move to the 8v8, we simply position players to form more diamonds. The same basic principles are followed (2-3-2).
Keep it simple and try and move the ball forward. If you can't move the ball forward, look to the side. Then let the side try and move it forward. If that is not an option, then pass it backwards.
Moving to the Big Game of 11v11
Our players are now becoming "big boys" and are moving to the 11v11 for the first time. By using the 3-4-3 we replicate what they have been taught for years. Look at all the diamonds below and keep in mind the keeper plays an important role in the field play. You'll notice that this formation spaces our team out evenly.
We also can push one of the three forwards (center/striker) higher up and still maintain the triangles. Because we give up a defensive player, the defenders must be ready to recover quickly and work on defending skills and communication. Also, the mid fielders must be willing to drop back and help defend when needed. Another benefit of the 3-4-3 is that it allows us to put heavy pressure in the opponent's third of the field.
This formation also encourages players to move as a team. They see and understand that the DIAMOND must be maintained. They must move forward and back to maintain the proper shape.
Cure for Bunching?
The other brilliant aspect of this is that it often helps cure the bunching in soccer. Players start to learn to find open space to maintain shapes. They also start to learn that being away from the ball has a real benefit and is a critical part of the game.
"I Don't Think the 3-4-3 is the Best Formation to Win."
Yes, you will hear this often from coaches because they have their own opinions, and that is fine. However, they totally missed the point of this article. If you are concerned about winning, you should consider getting out of youth soccer and coach an adult team. Winning or succeeding is natural with humans, but in youth sports it is an "inner voice" that somehow needs to be muted. We use the games to practice and try what we have learned in practice.
A Critical Aspect of Development
I can't tell you how many times I hear it from players. "The coach moved me to center mid and I don't like it. I don't know what to do." Not knowing is not the players fault. It's the fault of the teacher/coach/ club/league. Using an easy-to-understand, transitional formation cures much of this anxiety. Often a club / league-wide commitment is needed to foster these transitional steps.
The Light Bulb
It really is funny to see the reaction when I teach this form of simple play to coaches and players. It's like I'm getting that look that says, "Why didn't anyone ever tell me this before?"
Diamonds and triangles play such a key role in good quality team soccer at the youth level.
Coach V is the founder and developer of the SoccerU training series. He currently works with all levels of players including youth, collegiate and professionals.