My 8 year old is a Striker. Why are you playing him at the back?

I have always been a strong advocate that it is beneficial for young players (U16 & younger) to play in many positions when they are developing as footballers. I believe it benefits them because firstly I believe it makes them better footballers and secondly it allows them to enjoy playing football for longer as they have a broad enough education in football to adapt to each football environment they encounter.

Now it is time for me to state my case for this long held belief and see if I still believe it.

I am revisiting this because a 9 year player has left the club I work at simply because it is our policy to rotate players through positions at that age. He has moved to a club that has ‘guaranteed’ he will play centre midfield every game.

For the sake of this blog if I assume that all clubs have identical quality training sessions plus identical coaching and playing styles and only differ on this point then what benefits come solely from playing in a variety of positions?

These are in no particular order

1 – Walk a mile in my shoes

Surely a player will have a greater understanding of how to assist a team mate or exploit an opponent playing in a position if they have experienced the difficulties or nuances of those positions first hand i.e A midfielder understanding that the full back will struggle to get back into position if they have overlapped the forwards and so move to cover that position in case the attack breaks down.

2 – You’ll never know if you never give it a go

A player might really enjoy or have an aptitude for playing a certain position but if they never get to try it then they will never find out. With the reduced amount of informal play now I can imagine there are few opportunities to experience different positions if your club team insists on giving you a set position.

It is a real source of annoyance with me that left footed youth players in particular seem to be assigned a left sided position immediately and often never get to play anywhere else because they give ‘balance’ to the team.

3 – Player’s playing experience

There is a world of difference playing football when the game is mostly to the side of you, in front of you or when it is all around you. A player has to position themselves differently to find space, they have to scan differently and with different frequencies plus they have different amounts of time to execute what they want to do depending on where they are on the pitch.

If you always play in a set position surely the range of technical skills you get to practice is also limited i.e the most obvious being defensive players would rarely get to practice taking a player on.

4 – Versatility

The coach decides to switch formations and your previous position no longer exists. The playing experience from your previous set position may not help you find a new position in the new formation. If you have to move to a central role from a role on the flanks or from a defensive position into a more advanced position. Can you learn the new role quick enough with its different requirements or are you discarded for a new player.

A new player joins the team and they are better at playing the only position you have ever played than you.

5 – Suitability for a position

A player might have the requirements to play a position in youth football due to early maturation, pitch size, no offside rule, opposition player’s lack of technique or whatever factors but by the time they are ready for senior football they may be totally unsuited for that position.

These are the reasons that came to mind for players rotating positions but obviously I need to hear from Coaches who feel playing in a set position from an early age and sticking to it is more beneficial. I would also like to hear from Coaches who have different reasons for rotating players.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year.

Look forward to hearing from you

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Till next time