Choosing Formations

Tips On Choosing The Right Formation For Your Team

And why diamonds are a soccer player’s best friend


A formation is simply the way you wish to organize your players on the field during a game. Here we provide some suggestions on formations we have used in the past in the following three competition formats: 4v4, 7v7, and 11v11.

Before we get into the details, let’s take a moment to explain what the numbers in the formations mean. Numbers associated with formations (e.g., 4-4-2) explain how many players you will play in each functional line (let’s call them functional lines), from back to front. In the 4-4-2 example, you would have 4 defenders, 4 midfielders, and 2 forwards.

Sometimes formations may have more than three lines (e.g., 4-1-2-1-2), so starting from the back you would line up 4 defenders, 1 defensive midfielder, 2 regular midfielders, 1 attacking midfielder, and 2 forwards. The goalkeepers are never counted in these numbers, it is assumed that there is exactly one per team if the competition format allows for goalkeepers.

The following advice is meant for recreational players who are still developing and is actually the complete opposite of the advice we would give to teams who are in very competitive leagues.

Why? Because, although those competitive players are still learning, they have acquired enough experience to be able to switch formations and associated positions without getting confused. Switching formations at their level is actually a desirable tactic for coaches as it can confuse their opponents, but for younger players, sticking with the formation you choose is better because it allows them to concentrate on other areas of the game being developed.

Here are some formations we’ve used in the past with their pros and cons. Remember, for any formation three things hold true:

  1. On offense you want your formation to spread out in order to create space for the ball to be played into and/or for the players to run into.
  2. On defense you want your formation to be tight and take away to space to prevent the other team from exploiting the space. Space favors the offense – the more of it there is the more ways the offense can break down a defense – while time favors the defense – the more time elapses the better the defense can get organized.
  3. Players should stay together as a team, so that when you transition to offense the entire team should be pushing up into the other team’s half, and when transitioning on defense, the entire team should be coming back.

We hope you find these helpful, but you should pick any formation you believe is easiest for your players to understand and least distracting so they can accomplish those more important objectives for these age groups and skill levels.

You will find that for these age groups we prefer “diamond” formations. They are a soccer player’s best friend because they comprise triangles. Offensively, triangles provide the player with the ball with at least two options to keep the ball moving. Defensively, triangles provide players with support systems, so that if they are beaten by an opponent, a teammate is there to help.


4v4 Format – Without a Goalkeeper


There are two formations that we have employed in the past in the 4v4 format. Since these assume that there are no goalkeepers, remind your player(s) in the back not stay in the goalmouth and to instead get out and join the team as field players.

The first formation is a diamond (1-2-1 → 1 defender, 2 midfielders, 1 forward).

1-2-1 Formation

Diamond Formation 1-2-1


  • Encourages “angled” passes out wide, exploiting the available space early
  • Inherently forms triangles (2 triangles are a diamond), which you will find are extremely important in soccer


  • Easily exposed if the ball is intercepted, offering the last defender little support from other players
  • Shape stretches out easily – either because the forward does not come back to defend or the defender does not push up to attack


The other one is a square (2-2 → 2 defenders, 2 forwards).

2-2 Formation

Square Formation 2-2


  • Easier for players to initially understand
  • Provides a bit more defensive support as there are 2 dedicated defenders who can help one another out


  • Encourages “square” passes, which can be dangerous and can turn your possession into an opponent’s opportunity
  • Forwards tend to rely on the 2 defenders to do all of the defending and don’t tend to fulfill their defensive duties


7v7 Format – With a Goalkeeper


There are two formations we have used in this competition format, although it is conceivable that others can be used. Our suggestions assume that you are using goalkeepers in this format and 6 field players.

The first formation is a double triangle (2-1-2-1 → 2 defenders, 1 midfielder, 2 wings, 1 forward). In this formation it is important to keep the back triangle tight together, so that it protects the center of the field in front of your box and not the sidelines, while the top triangle is spread out to encourage finding space early through the wings.

2-1-2-1 Formation

Diamond Formation 2-1-2-1


  • Inherently forms triangles, which are of utmost importance when trying to establish possession
  • Gives “outlet” options out wide to make it easier to transition from defense to offense without turning the ball over again


  • Younger players often fall out of position, including the ones on the wings who are supposed to be outlets who tend to bunch into the middle
  • Less athletic players tend to be exposed if they are not “hidden” in the one midfield spots
  • Team can break down if more than one less athletic player is on the field at the same time


The other formation consists of two lines of 3 (3-3). It is our experience that the double triangle formation works better once it clicks with the players, but it also requires a little more effort on the coach’s part to remind the players where they ought to be.

3-3 Formation

Formation 3-3


  • Easy to understand for the players initially as two lines of positions are more simple to comprehend than two triangles
  • Easy to manage for the coaches regarding substitutions


  • Inherently promotes square passes, which are dangerous because they can make your possession turn into a dangerous counterattack
  • Other teams will figure out your formation very quickly, making it easier to defend against you


11v11 Format – With a Goalkeeper


This competition format lends itself to numerous formations coaches can use. We offer suggestions for five formations we have used when coaching this format, but possibilities, and different variations within these formations, are endless. The most important thing to consider is what kind of a team you wish to be:

  • If you want to build up slowly through possession because you have skilled players, you may consider having additional midfielders on the field
  • If you are going to be direct because you have powerful and fast team, you may want to decrease the number of midfielders on the field
  • If you don’t feel like you have a strong defense, you may want to add another defender and sacrifice either a midfielder or a forward

Here are just some suggestions for how to organize your team on the field:


4-4-2 Formation

Formation 4-4-2


  • Easy to understand
  • Players tend to be responsible for their own “zones” and do not have to cover for each other often


  • Too linear and therefore easy for opposition to figure out
  • This can be addressed by breaking up the midfield into a diamond shape so it would become a (4-1-2-1-2) formation


3-5-2 Formation

Formation 3-5-2


  • Stronger than usual midfield, with one of the midfielders possibly being turned into a playmaker that has limited defensive responsibilities
  • Players are matched up man-to-man defensively with the help of a “sweeper” who is free to help out anyone struggling to contain their mark


  • Demanding on outside players as they have to cover the ground from endline to endline
  • Less athletic players tend to get exposed as the formation relies on man-to-man defense and the “sweeper” can only provide so much help


3-4-3 Formation

Formation 3-4-3


  • Stronger forward line than is usual that can wreak havoc on defenses


  • Weaker defense than usual, so your midfield has to be skilled enough to retain possession


4-3-3 Formation

Formation 4-3-3


  • Stronger forward line than is usual that can wreak havoc on defenses


  • One less midfielder than usual, so you need to be pretty direct going from defense to offense, requiring defenders with kicks strong enough to clear the entire midfield


4-5-1 Formation

Formation 4-5-1


  • Strong midfield, with a designated playmaker who is free to move about the field as sees fit in order to find space from which to attack


  • Isolated forward takes away the counterattacking possibilities, thus forcing a slower buildup from the defense through the midfield

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