Figuring out which position your child will play in soccer is typically easy when they're still young—it often translates to what they want to do most: score goals. But despite the allure of knocking in that game-winning shot, not everyone can be a forward. As your child grows older and moves away from kick-and-chase soccer and small-sided games, positions become more defined and more important.
Exploring different positions is crucial, especially when children are just beginning to play the game. Despite that initial thought to be the one earning the glory by scoring, children often possess certain skills that help them excel in different areas around the field. Boys and girls with good hand-eye coordination can be great fits as goalkeepers; while children with a knack for setting up plays and directing traffic on the pitch might end up succeeding at midfield. Speed and an accurate shot are valuable assets for any aspiring forward.
Until your child is ready to play at a more competitive level or join a club team, which usually starts around age 10, there's often not a need to zero in on a position. Before that time comes, it's best to encourage learning the game and fostering a love of soccer. In fact, the policy of U.S. Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer is that players should be exposed to all positions through the Under 14 age bracket.
Still, as children start to explore the sport at the next level, positions do become more apparent and defined. Strategy and varying systems are employed, making different roles on the team clearer. Beginning to focus on skills they can use to specialize as a defender, for example, can help them compete at the next level.
But even when your child does pick what they feel will be their "permanent" position, it's important to remember a few things. Even once players settle into a habitual spot on the field, coaches will still shift them around from time to time. This can be due to a variety of reasons, ranging from the collection of talent on the team to what sort of system is being run. A coach also might see value in a child moving to the right side of the field versus the left, or to drop back to play defense.
While it's important for your child to work at understanding the nuances of their position, it's equally as important for them to keep an open mind. Being adaptable gives your child a shot at making a wider variety of teams, and a strong understanding of the fundamentals of the game should make them adept players no matter the title.
Communication with a coach is key to seeing where your child will be the most effective on their current team. If a boy or girl is interested in joining a group that already has firepower up front, being able to play midfield can give them a better chance of making the squad. In truth, position changes can occur even among the pros—DaMarcus Beasley, for example, switched from left midfield to a left back position when he played with the U.S. Men's National Team.
In the end, while it's important for children to figure out where their skills are best suited — something that starts to become clear as they reach competitive levels — be sure to remind them not to get locked into thinking that they will only or always play that position the rest of their soccer career.