9v9 Soccer Formation [Complete Guide for Soccer Coaches 2024]

In the US, there is a transition time in grassroots soccer that we play the 9v9 soccer formation. It is in the U11 and U12 age groups. This sounds fairly similar to the 7v7, where there are two years to coach the new formation before moving to a more complicated one. However, the lessons you need to teach the players and the challenges are vastly different. Don’t forget that eventually, you need to move to 11v11 where we’ll start with a 4-3-3 formation, so the lessons will be building blocks for that stage.

As we always do, we focus on the players and what they need right now. Firstly, keep in mind that at this age some of them are getting into puberty, while others won’t for a few more years. Secondly, some players have likely been coached well in 4v4 and 7v7, while others have no idea what formations are. Before you start complaining, keep in mind that even at the highest level, some players get tactics better than others. If you want the same level of background knowledge among your pupils, think about coaching tennis or chess. We are working on tactical player development with a long-term mindset.

What is the best 9v9 soccer formation?

The best 9v9 soccer formation for youth player development is 2-3-2-1, or what many of the coaches call the Christmas tree. We said it in the 4v4 guide and in the 7v7 guide, this might not be the best formation for winning the game. However, this is the best formation to coach the tactical knowledge that the players need to learn at this age. You have two years of it and we do recommend coming up with a dual system where you start with 2-3-2-1 and later down the road progress to 3-1-3-1. We’ll walk you through the reasons, as well as touch on a few other options that can be used. 

Special note: you, as the coach, will start to feel considerable pressure to win. The players will hit that level of competitiveness because of puberty. The parents are becoming restless because they have read of the superstars being widely known at this age and their kids lose games. The coaches at the club wonder if you are doing a good job, while other clubs try to steal your best players. You will have to resist this temptation and have faith in the process. It’s a developmental process and it is a dance of the coach, the player, and the parents. For everyone’s sake, if somebody doesn’t like the music they will have to change it or leave the podium.


9v9 soccer formation 2-3-2-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
Created by Rondo Coach Formation Tool


9v9 soccer formation 3-1-3-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
Created by Rondo Coach Formation Tool

2-3-2-1 [Guide and Progression]

This is the formation that we recommend, as it has several benefits. From 7v7 and our favorite 2-3-1 formation, you add the 8 and the 10. The two central defenders already know well what their role is, as well as the wingers. Similarly, there is nothing completely new for the striker and the goalkeeper. However, the central midfielders become interesting now. 

Because of the hard work at 7v7, you have hopefully trained at least a main and a backup 6. The importance of the holding midfielder is that they are in two diamond soccer formation groups there – with the defenders and goalkeepers, and with the attacking players. Then the attacking midfielders have lots of freedom to act even as wingers and overlap and underlap with the wingbacks. Similarly, one time I had a team where the striker was so mobile that they acted as a winger to receive long balls on the ground and the attacking mid had open spaces. Other times they dropped to help out as a false nine. Truly an amazing partnership for that age.


Natural build-up from 7v7 and towards 11v11

Wingers are both defenders and attackers, so we develop them for 11v11 in a great way

The attacking midfielders get so much freedom and creativity, great for coaching new lessons 


Wingers have to be fast and disciplined

The skill of the two defenders has to be similar, otherwise will concede lots of goals

You need 3 dynamic and technical players in the middle, in addition to the dynamos on the wings

2-1-4-1 (attacking)

9v9 soccer formation 2-1-4-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
Created by Rondo Coach Formation Tool

4-3-1 (defending)

3-1-3-1 [Guide and Progression]

The 3-1-3-1 is a popular formation and you should probably introduce it in the second year. It is a natural progression of the 3-2-1 formation we talked about in 7v7, with the addition of the two wingers. 

What we coach here is the width and the players will likely move less. When defending, the wingers and the wing-backs will be pulled in and have an overload. The biggest coaching point is to help them transition from attacking to defending quickly and to think about anticipation. 

You will likely not score much in this formation, but you also will rarely concede if you have a reliable central defender and an aggressive holding midfielder.


Development of a natural 10, which is the hardest position in attacking

We look more compact and solid in defense

Width is created naturally, with many players helping switch the ball from side to side


The goalie rarely plays with their feet

The wide defenders will attack less often

There is less opportunity for players to be creative except for the attacking midfielder

3-3-2 (narrow 3-1-3-1)

After you’ve coached the other formations, there is one thing that we have rarely coached and that is a partnership in the attack. Sometimes, you might want to play with two strikers, to show what it might look like. More likely, the reason why we want to play with two strikers is to pin down 3 or 4 defensive opposition players. If the opposition plays something like 3-1-3-1, then playing with two attackers can really keep all the back 3 and the holding mid back. 

We consider the 3-3-2 to be a variant or a progression of the 3-1-3-1. It is great for coaching the second striker role of overloading attack or midfielder.

Path forward for the 9v9 Soccer Formation

4v4 Formation by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
8v8 Soccer Formation 2-4-1
9v9 soccer formation 2-3-2-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
6v6 Soccer Formation 2-1-2
7v7 soccer formation 2-3-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool

This is the full guide on how to coach the two years of 9v9 in youth soccer development. The ideas of roles and responsibility, team cohesion, solidarity, tactics, and strategy, are formed here at this age. It is important to have a system and to discuss it with the players collectively and individually. It will make you learn better approaches as a coach, but also it will make the players think about making a contribution to the team in whichever role they have at the moment. That mindset will set them up for success in every field in life. 

The guide explains how to use the 2 years of 9v9 to develop all positions that you might need for the 11v11 formations. Some soccer clubs mandate their youth level to play the same formation as the senior team. However, at 11v11, every formation is a fair game in our books. We will go deep into some of those formations and how to use them for teaching valuable lessons, which is the goal of youth soccer development.