7v7 Soccer is another crucial step on the way from small-sided games to 11v11. But as players get slightly closer to the adult game, how much should coaches think about shapes and systems? Below, we discuss what makes a good formation, explain how to use team shape to facilitate player development, and consider some of the best 7v7 soccer formations.

In This Article

Choosing the Best 7v7 Soccer Formations

What is the best soccer formation for 7v7? It’s different for every team, and will depend upon a variety of factors. As coaches, we should first consider the individuals we’re working with. Things like their developmental goals, their learning plans, the types of players they are, and where they are in their journey — and, if we have one, the philosophy of our club. Then it’s a matter of identifying shapes that give us opportunities to work on these things on gameday.

As an example, we may wish to train specific units — for instance, a center-back pairing or a midfield three — in order to help players develop relationships in certain areas of the pitch, and build our formation around those units. Alternatively, if we want to give a center-back more experience of defending 1v1, we might only select one defender, thereby maximizing their exposure to 1v1s on gameday.

Ultimately, the best formation will be tailored to the individual needs of our players, in order to stretch them and provide specific challenges.

Remembering the Individual

According to PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright, “The best environments look at players as a collective group of individuals, considering what their targets are and how they tie together on gameday. The better you understand the individuals in your team, the more your shapes will reflect them.”

But when choosing a formation to suit the individuals in our team, it’s important not to overcomplicate our approach or overload players with information. Kids often progress to 7-a-side games around the time that they’re playing U10 soccer — while they’re still learning the game and building a relationship with the ball and their teammates — and we should remember to be patient while they learn new formations.

Using 7v7 Soccer to Provide Mixed Playing Experiences

While it’s essential to give players time to learn a new formation, we should also consider occasionally adjusting our shape, or the way we play within it, to give kids different experiences. 

This could mean playing two or three different formations over the course of a season, or simply playing different variations of the same shape. For example, depending on the context of the game we’re playing, we may encourage our team to press higher up the pitch, increase the distances between one another, or, perhaps if the opposition is particularly challenging, shorten those distances and become more compact.

Crucially, this doesn’t mean reactively changing our formation following a poor result or performance, but using our formation to give kids different experiences on the pitch and support their learning objectives. 

7 on 7 Soccer Formations: Some Practical Examples

The 1-2-3-1 Formation

The 1-2-3-1 formation sets our team up with two defenders, three midfielders, and a lone striker. 

“One benefit is that you can have constant rotation of the three midfield players,” explains Wright. “For instance, you could play with a 6, who acts as a constant pivot and a screener, and then an 8 and a 10 rotated, with one to the side and one higher. You can work on different outcomes for each of that midfield three — and when they eventually move into an 11v11 environment, that combination will feel quite natural to them.”

Elsewhere, playing two at the back is likely to give defenders opportunities to play 1v1 and outnumbered, and perhaps allow them to practice decision-making in terms of when to make forward runs and when to cover for their teammate. The 1-2-3-1 also links nicely to the 1-4-3-3 formation when players move to the 11v11 game with two centre backs playing out together and linking in with a midfield three. The midfield three can play like a central combination, or two of the three could opt to provide width. This decision would result in the central midfield player being tested in 1v1/1v2 scenarios in possession.

This shape is also easily expanded to the 1-2-5-1 formation when our team progresses to 9v9 soccer.

1-2-3-1 7 player formation
The 1-2-3-1 with a more centrally focussed midfield unit. This shape leads well into 1-4-3-3 and could lend itself to overloads in central areas against an opponent with only two central midfielders.
7 a side soccer formation
The 1-2-3-1 formation in a playing out from the goalkeeper scenario. Central defenders provide width and the midfield three operate on different lines, one deep (6), one to the side (8) and one high (10). Central players can work on rotation and receiving between lines or beyond opponents. This shape aligns with a midfield 3 or midfield 5 in an 11v11 context with a pivot player (6) dropping in to receive.
1-2-3-1 7v7
The 1-2-3-1 formation with two wingers in play. This shape is useful for players working on dribbling or running with the ball (in possession) and recovery runs (out of possession). The striker (9) should also benefit from combinations with wide players. The central player (8) will be tested as they may be isolated, so a focus on receiving and retention skills could be relevant for this individual.
1-2-3-1 formation
1-2-3-1 with wingers in a playing out from the goalkeeper scenario. Wingers (11/7) are high and wide creating space for the central midfielder (8). Centre backs (3/4) split to allow the 8 to drop in and receive. Another option is for one winger to roll inside to receive and try to overload central areas should they decide to do so. The striker (9) provides height and may choose a side of the pitch.
1-2-3-1 vs 1-3-2-1 formation
An example of a 1-2-3-1 against a 1-3-2-1 and how the opposition (could) set up to defend. Encouraging wide players to receive in front or beyond their opponents (between lines/players) can be helpful. Blue should have a 4v3 centrally with the GK, 3, 4 and 8 to allow them a chance to play out into the middle third of the pitch and progress. The blue striker (9) could find themselves in 1v1 situations which could create scoring opportunities should the blues successfully progress downfield.

The 1-3-2-1 Formation

The 1-3-2-1 formation offers lots of versatility. For example, with a back three, we can encourage two defenders to play like fullbacks or wingers — giving them chances to overlap and build a relationship with the midfielder in front of them while also providing the center-back with exposure to 1v1 and 1v2 scenarios.

In midfield, the two can play side by side, like a central pairing in a 1-4-4-2, or operate more like a 6, sitting deeper, and a 10, playing higher up the pitch — preparing them for two of the three midfield roles in a 1-4-3-3. The lone striker will also receive plenty of exposure to 1v1s and 1v2s and have opportunities to develop relationships with wide players and central midfielders.

As such, the 1-3-2-1 formation provides great preparation for playing in a 1-4-4-2 or 1-4-3-3 shape when players eventually progress to the 11-a-side game. It also affords many opportunities to tailor the roles of individual players to suit their developmental goals.

These two examples demonstrate how we can use formations to address the specific needs of our players, but there are many more 7v7 soccer formations we can try. The ‘best’ will be one that’s based upon the individuals in our team and designed to help them achieve their learning objectives on game day.

7v7 soccer formations
The 1-3-2-1 formation with two central midfielders operating in a pair. A natural lead in to 1-4-4-2.
7v7 soccer formations
The 1-3-2-1 formation in a scenario playing out from the goalkeeper. In this image, the two central midfielders operate on different lines, one high (like a 10) and one low (like a 6). Fullbacks (2 & 5) provide width and height. The striker (9) provides height.
7-a-side soccer formations
An opposed example of the 1-3-2-1 against a 1-2-3-1 showing how the opposition (might) set up. Note the blue striker (9) in a potential 1v2. This could create an opportunity for the blue central midfielders to exploit a 2v1 in central areas and successfully play out.

The Key Points: Picking the Best 7v7 Soccer Formations

  • The best formation is different for every team and will depend upon factors like the players we’re working with and our desired playing style.
  • We should consider the individual needs and learning objectives of our players when choosing a formation.
  • We can play different formations — or change the way we play within a given shape — to give our players a variety of experiences.
  • We should be patient when helping players to learn new shapes and systems.
  • Give the players time to explore and get familiar with different shapes. Success could be defined as players receiving in space and creating the opportunity to keep possession or play forward in this age group.
  • Formations aren’t an opportunity to put on a tactical masterclass; they’re a valuable tool to support player development.

Image Source: Unsplash

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