3v3 – The Best Learning Platform for Soccer?

27 Sep

This fall, just like last spring, my two sons split an age group divide.

On the young side, Evan is playing in our club’s U6 age group.  U6 plays 3v3 games on a field that’s about 30-40 yards long.  The rules set is loose – no need to do correct kick off, coaches act as referee/facilitators to matches, and the sidelines are loosely defined.  The focus is on keeping games moving, and keeping kids involved in play of the game for the full game time.

Fast forward to U7 and U8 – and the one year of age brings two more players (including a Goalkeeper) to each team for a 5v5 match on a field that’s about 30 yards longer and wider as well.  Goals get larger also (but still well under the size of 7v7 or 11v11 goals).  The rule set becomes more stringent, with throw-ins, goal kicks, and corner kicks entering the game.   While the club still keeps no standings, there definitely is an urgency to start winning matches and being competitive.

The problem is, that new players continue to enter the sport after the U6 age group – and thus come into the team environment without either foot skills (dribbling and 1v1 defending) at all developed and without a good “game sense” (knowing which direction the ball is moving or who is in possession).  Add in players who come to the age with bad habits developed (kick first, think second) and there’s a mounting list of items that you are trying to teach, all at the same time.

So would some, or most of these players be better served in playing a modified 3v3 (or 4v4 no keeper) rule set instead of playing 5v5?

In Favor of 3v3

There are many aspects of the bigger game that could be effectively taught to U7’s and U8’s using 3v3.

  • Shape.  The basic shape employed in soccer is the triangle.  With three players, it simplifies the players moving in concert with each other.
  • Defending.  A basic principle of defense is Pressure, Coverage and Balance.  The first defender pressures the ball, the second defender provided coverage in case of the ball penetrating the first defender, and the third defender provides balance against switching the point of attack.
  • Full field offense and defense.  No player left behind in the other end of the field – everyone needs to play a role in all aspects of the game.
  • Elimination of keepers.  I don’t have anything against the position per se, but it is another set of skills that are in many ways in discord with the more basic soccer skills that we are trying to teach players.  It also might help eliminate the instinct players have to run and cover the goal instead of attacking the ball.
  • Hone 1v1 ball skills.  Honestly, my U8’s need a lot of work with on ball skills and not coughing up the ball when challenged.  More touches, more responsibility for offense – I would hope everyone takes ownership.
  • It’s a fast game that gets players involved.  I imagine a lot of games would end up being played at high speed and actually be exciting.  Lots of scoring, lots of 1v1 challenging.
In Favor of a Larger Game
  • The Players need to move at some point to a bigger game.  I’m not sure how valid an argument this is – it’s fundamentally the same argument that some have used in England regarding playing young kids at 11v11.
  • Some kids are ready for the bigger game.  I totally agree – there are kids ready for a bigger game, due to their own combination of development and physical characteristics.  Maybe the age group needs more tiers of play.  But are there aspects, outside of long passing and shooting that can’t be worked on in 3v3?
The Verdict
I’d like to see 3v3 incorporated as a more formal part of U7 and U8 play.  While I used 3v3 (or as close to that as I can with my team of 7) in practice, playing 15 minutes of it versus 48 minutes a week of 5v5 isn’t helping their development as much as flipping those proportions.  It could take the form of community based pickup or play dates, playing in someone’s front yard – but we need more of it enacted from the club level.  Without it, I don’t see a chance of bringing new players up to a similar skill level as the players who started at U5 in either of the dimensions I defined.

One Response to “3v3 – The Best Learning Platform for Soccer?”


  1. What If We Started Over? « Be An Athlete - November 2, 2011

    […] discussed before whether 5v5 (including the goalkeeper) was the right platform for seven year olds to learn the sport of […]

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