Playing your Best Position doesn’t Mean it Should be your Only Position

Are positions in soccer something that should be permanent or flexible? And if they are something that should start off flexible then when should they become more permanent? Is it better for development to let players play their strongest positions all the time or make them play multiple positions?

Here’s my thinking: Positions should be flexible and should stay flexible for as long as possible.


First, let’s make a connection to school. Your kid may be fantastic at math and they may love it because they know they are fantastic at it. But you are not going to convince your kid’s teacher to just let them do math and no other subjects just because they love it and seem to have an aptitude for it.

It’s the same with positions. I’m going to learn to be a better player if I’ve played different positions. Playing different positions truly is a novel experience. Each time you step into a different position, the field and the spacing of players looks different and is different. That takes time to get used to. But once you do, you start to have a more complete understanding of how the game is played. That’s going to help you with the position(s) you show a greater aptitude for. If I only ever play left defense than I have no perspective of how the player in front of me or across from me or from the other side of the field sees the game.

Yes, it does take time though. Which means if your philosophy is to play players in different positions and you come across a team that plays their players in their strongest positions all the time, you could be in for a bit of a shellacking. That comes with the territory in organized youth soccer and is something we all just need to have the intestinal fortitude to endure. We should be all in this to play the long game. Like I talked about in this post, that means striving to win and develop but when the two are at odds to choose developing over winning.

Will this make most kids feel uncomfortable? Absolutely! And that’s a good thing because that’s how learning and change happens. Folks, can you name a day in the last few months where you haven’t felt just a little bit uncomfortable? For our children (and their future children) adaptability is going to be at the top of the life skills list. You only have to take a small glimpse at the news on any given day to realize that. Start that process while kids are kids. They’re already adaptable but like all humans they complain about change and don’t want to do it. The more we try to make it comfortable, the less adaptable they become. Get them into comfortable-being-uncomfortable mode as soon as possible and as often as is healthy for their age and maturity.

Finally, you’ll even find support out there for being a generalist instead of a specialist when the environment in which you are learning is very complex and hard to predict. Team sports like soccer would certainly fit that bill. Doing so can aid in the development of adaptability.

Players can be given the same position for a game or two before changing to a new one. This way they have some time to adjust and adapt to the new requirements instead of being thrown from position to position during a game. And playing all positions means all positions — including goalkeeper. That is definitely a harder sell but if it is outlined from the beginning as the way things will be and players see that everyone takes their turn, then things usually work out just fine. It goes without saying that some players won’t be as good at playing goal as others. That will be the case with any position. The difference with goal of course is that if you aren’t very good then the number of shots that you let in amplifies that.

And for every reason a person can come up with as to why players shouldn’t play all positions, there is always a workaround. I’d never make a player keep playing goal if they’ve had a very bad experience (like getting hurt) but then that’s the exception. The rule I still feel is that our players will learn more and grow more if they play all positions while at U11, play most positions at U13 and only then at U15 start to specialize in a couple of positions.

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