The other day I came across an interesting blog that was discussing a U-8 girls team and whether or not it was wrong for the coach to have two of his strikers staying forward and not coming back to defend. The coach continued by saying he doesn’t want to “cherry-pick” but strategically they were always open. The debate was divided. One side declaring that the most important thing at the youth age is for them to have fun. The other side stating that is exactly what is wrong with soccer in the United States, they aren’t learning the basics of positioning at a young enough age. There is too much focus on fun and not enough focus on technical skills and basics.
Interestingly enough, no one brought up the point that by having your strikers stay forward and not defending your focus is on “winning.” This left-side, right-side issue is easy to resolve, you need both. What is the typical response when you ask a player what position they play? Ninety-nine percent of the time you will get “striker” “midfield” “defense” “goalie.” That my friend is the problem with soccer in the United States. That correct answer to that question should be, anywhere coach needs me to play.
Coaches, please refrain from asking your players that dreaded question of “what position do you play?” Instead, rotate your players through every position, even goalie! Teach them the importance of knowing how to play all the positions. Give them a chance to figure out where their best position is and where they are most comfortable. Once you get to an older age group there is nothing that impresses a coach more than knowing that you can be utilized in any position, you become an extremely versatile player.
As an example of the importance of knowing all the positions, I had two friends who went to play Division I soccer, one at Wake Forest and the other at Old Dominion. Through their entire soccer careers they were strikers, they had pace and the natural ability to score goals. When they got to the Division I level their coaches converted them into defenders; where they thrived. An advantage to converting a striker to a defender is their understanding of the movements of the position. One of them went on to get drafted in the MLS by the Los Angeles Galaxy and the other was invited to the MLS columbine where he had a chance at getting drafted.
Knowing and understanding how to play all the positions gives you a huge advantage in soccer. It makes you a step quicker by anticipating where the next pass should be going, where your mark could be making their next run and how to cover for a teammate when they are out of position or need help in transition. So my next question for you is, what position do you play?