The Importance of Spacing in Youth Soccer

Anybody that has seen a youth soccer game has witnessed the spectacle of ball chasing or “bunching”—the pursuit of the ball by all 20 players on the field. While often comical and even charming, this practice is perhaps the biggest hurdle in the development of an individual athlete or team.

That’s where space planning comes into play.

Understanding the principles of space planning and successfully integrating them into your team’s consciousness will not only eliminate bunching, it will bring on a bigger joy—the sight of 11 individuals working together to form a team.

Positioning in soccer is just as important as positioning in any other sport – it can make or break the game. It’s hard to imagine a first baseman lined up next to the shortstop or a center chasing the ball all around the basketball court, and for good reason—the game can’t successfully be played that way. Soccer is no different. Both on offense and defense, it is the blueprint that will set your team apart from the bunches.

Types

To better understand spacing, it’s important to understand the three types that each player will each have to master:

  • Personal– the area immediately surrounding a player.
  • Group– slightly larger than personal space, this area includes teammates and opponents who are one direct move (pass/shot/dribble) away from said player.
  • General– this area is the entire field of play in general.

Instilling each one of these principles will help your children understand their role, both as an individual and as part of a larger group working together. Through explanation and practice, they become as fundamental as kicking the ball towards the net.

Offense

Perhaps the hardest obstacle to tackle when explaining offensive spacing is the concept of movement without the ball. Most children’s first instinct is to stay put when the ball isn’t in their control, when in fact, their positioning is as important as the dribbler’s. On a personal stage, the child should always try to remain at least five to 10 feet away from the closest defender. The most basic level – this frees them up to be open for a pass or shot.

When your kids become familiar with this principle, steps should be made for them to better understand group spacing. Perhaps the most important offensive spacing strategy is how a player positions him/herself around a teammate who has the ball in their possession. Instead of rushing to the ball, the teammates position themselves as outlets for the ball-handler – one in front, one behind and one to the side. This not only keeps the defense honest, but presents plentiful opportunities to move the ball around.

Finally, your kids can master general spacing. Instead of having everybody collapse to whatever side of the field has the ball, instill the principles of group spacing to this larger level. Remind your kid on the opposite side of the field that they’re only two passes away from the ball. Stay in position with the outer members of his/her group and move as a whole up and down the field.

Defense

With few exceptions, the basics of defensive spatial placement are essentially shutting down what was outlined in the offensive section above. On the personal level, the defender wants to always ensure his/her corresponding mark is within the five to 10 foot range. This allows for an easy interception of a pass, or at the very least, a prompt challenge on the ball.

Group defensive spacing is the natural progression of the personal level. The defender, while still engaging their mark, must try to cut off a potential pass’s line the whole time ready to help out, should the main ball defender fall out of the play.

Finally, your players will be ready to tackle general spacing. Much like its offensive counterpart, the main aim of this philosophy is to prevent your defensive from collapsing onto one side of the field. Applying the principles learned in the first two groups, each kid maintains a mark in his/her smaller group. However each child must be ready to supplant a member of his/her group should they have to have to supplant a member of their respective group.

Remember that the keys to successfully incorporating space planning into your team’s playbook are practice and patience. Spatial conceptualization is hard enough for adults, much less children. Come up with small-sided drills to practice these principles and don’t be afraid to stop them and teach the appropriate techniques. Before you know it, a team will be forming right before your very eyes.

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