Nationals FC 3v3 Soccer Philosophy

Soccer in the U.S. has come quite a long way in changing its rules and philosophies towards youth player development. It's hard to imagine that we used to put 8 year olds on a field to compete 11v11. In today's environment this would be unheard of. The most likely thought at the time was that's how the adult professionals do it so we should too.  Over time attitudes changed through coaching education and more experienced and knowledgable leaders who ran our recreational organizations.

In recreational leagues today small sided soccer is now considered the norm for beginning U5 and U6 players. US Soccer recommends 3v3 soccer for U6 and U8 age groups in their published player development guidelines, "Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States." (PDF format) US Youth Soccer has devoted a section of their website devoted to small sided games. So why is it so important?

Less Players More Involvement

Children at the U6 age are already struggling to handle a soccer ball with skill much less combine with a teammate. Every player added to the field adds more chaos and requires a higher level of decision making. 3v3 really becomes their limit of capability. Limiting play to these numbers allows a good balance of opportunity for each player to make real game decisions of whether to dribble, pass or shoot. By keeping the number of players down we are giving them a higher chance of being successful which will promote growth to the next level as well as more enjoyment of the sport.

Team Shape and Player Specialization

3v3 at U8 still provides new challenges that they can take with them to larger sided games. 3v3 introduces the concept of shape as players learn to form fluid triangles that change in size according to the principles of defense and offense. Within this shape players will in time learn that it is more efficient to divide the defensive and attacking roles between themselves. Organization of shape based on their roles is a key concept that will serve them well as they move on to a larger sided game as older players.

Development is Key

During early youth development children must learn to develop skill with the ball. Ball mastery is probably the single most important ingredient for having fun in soccer. The better they are the more fun the game becomes. 3v3 provides an excellent environment for 1v1 situations and it happens over and over again through the course of a game. 3v3 can be the equivalent organized version of street soccer that gives players the creativity and variety of playing experience. A larger sided game simply cannot give players the same repetition level they would receive in 3v3.

So Where Do We Stand Now?

The progress towards small sided games has been tremendous but there's still something missing.

There is such a drive to push youth soccer players to the "next level" because we as parents and coaches sometimes feel they can handle it. We assume that the next step should be to play with larger numbers. It will only make them better faster right? Sadly, no.

A typical scenario you will find is first time players joining their recreational league and playing a year or more of 3v3 soccer. Naturally gifted players are now superstars at U7 so they decide to leave for a more challenging or professional academy league and suddenly find themselves playing 7v7 and sometimes 8v8. Therein lies the problem. Where is the natural progression from 3v3 building up to 7v7? They have not completely mastered all that 3v3 soccer has to give them for the best opportunity to be successful at a larger game.

Youth players still need to develop through 3v3, 4v4 and 5v5 even after they have decided to move on to larger sided games. Outside of proper training sessions, the negative side effect is that player development slows down. The repetition and the opportunity for creative play is often stifled by the expectation of moving towards the adult version of soccer. Are we going backwards in youth player development because we have forgotten the history of where we have come from?

Nationals FC seeks to address this issue by promoting youth player development through 3v3 small sided soccer for ages U6, U8 and beyond. Through the formation and participation of 3v3 leagues and tournaments we seek to provide the best environment for youth players to achieve higher levels of play and gain an even greater enjoyment of the beautiful game.

Read more about our 3v3 Soccer Academy Program

by Jason Brown
USSF C License (1996)