Youth Soccer Positions: Roles and Responsibilities

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My first youth soccer game was a match between children aged 12 and under (known as under-12 or U12).

The teams had nine players each (one goalkeeper and eight outfield players). As a long-time fan of the beautiful game, I was confused.

I asked the coaches whether youth soccer is mostly played in a nine-player format and if there was a special reason for that.

I felt worried that these kids wouldn’t grow well as players unless they faced each other like professional soccer players. Join me as I share the knowledge I gained that day.

Soccer Position Diagram

Now, I understand that young players do not have the stamina to play at full throttle for 90 minutes.

There are many examples of uber-talented young players who broke into senior professional teams as teenagers, all crashing and burning due to the physical demands of the sport.

The coach reminded me of this knowledge. Then he reminded me that young players are made to play in several soccer positions and roles in their developmental years, which is often why their starting team numbers increase as they age.

The soccer position diagram below shows how a U12 team would line up.

youth soccer position diagram


Youth soccer positions evolve as children age. In the U6 to U8 level, the kids play without a goalkeeper because they play with four to six players.

The goalkeeper is introduced at the U9 to U10 levels when the number of players per team increases to seven. One of these children becomes the goalkeeper at this level:

  • The biggest child
  • The most athletic child
  • The child with the best aptitude for defense.

The goalkeeper also has to be the most vocal and aggressive player on the team. This is because, at all levels, a goalkeeper sees the field better than the players.

As such, he can tell where attacks are coming from. Only a vocal and aggressive person can command the defense to cover the areas attacks will come from.

They also have to be willing to put their bodies on the line to stop goal-bound shots. It is a big responsibility to put on a child, which is why coaches do not include goalkeeper training when teaching soccer positions and roles to kids under the age of six years.


Youth football brings simplicity and a youthful twist to defense. 

Right Defender / Left Defender (Fullback)

Right Defender / Left Defender (Fullback)

Coaches believe that at this level, the players fully understand the basic outfield roles of defense, midfield, and attack.

Fullbacks are an offshoot of the defensive role and are not required to sit in front of their goalkeepers just as center-backs do. They also join in team attacks.

At U12, coaches can now teach soccer positions with attacking soccer in mind.

The primary role of these defenders at this level is to support the center-back and help get the ball to their midfielders.

Players who have shown aptitude for tackling, dribbling, and passing are converted into fullbacks at this stage in youth soccer player development.

They need to be very good in one-on-one situations and unafraid to go after the ball. Players who are converted into fullbacks:

  • Are Aggressive
  • Have Controlled dribbling
  • Posses Good awareness

Center Defender

This is the first role that every child is made to play when they join a local team or an academy. Those with the aptitude are then polished and made into professional center-backs.

Their main qualities are:

  • Leadership: As it is one of the key player positions in soccer, only players who others listen to should play there.
  • Disciplined: Among the various soccer positions and roles, this requires the most positional discipline. A player who cannot maintain his line cannot play as a center defender.
  • Big and Strong: Center defenders have to be intimidating to force attackers to make mistakes or to go out wide where they have limited opportunities to score.
  • Great passing skills: In teaching soccer positions in this day and age, coaches will emphasize that center defenders need to be able to pass. This is because they are always the player to start their team’s attack. 
  • Able to defend one-on-one: Where opposition attackers are tricky, center defenders must be able to face them head-on.

At the youth soccer level, they are called “stoppers”.


In youth soccer, the center midfielder is introduced at the U9 level when the number of players on the team increases to seven.

Center Defensive Midfielder

At that level, they are almost like center defenders but with the added responsibility of running more.

Here is where coaches put the all-rounders who they discover at the U6 to U8 levels, which requires all players to be rotated around the various soccer positions and roles.

At the U12 level, where teams begin to play with nine players, center midfielders with an aptitude for defense can now become center defensive midfielders. 

They are the engine of the team. In this role, they will be required to plug holes in the midfield and slot into the defense if the situation calls for it.

Coaches begin to train them on how to slow down attacks, how to steal the ball, and how to restart their team’s attack to help their defense reset.

They must be as disciplined and aggressive as the center-backs and have the passing skills and intelligence that midfielders must possess.

Center Midfielder / Central Midfielder

Youth soccer positions and roles require the central midfielder to have:

Top-level endurance: This is because this player will run a lot. If the center defensive midfielder is the team’s engine, the central midfielder is the team’s piston.

They work to transition the ball from defense to attack, so they must be ready to move up and down the pitch.

Great dribbling skills: Carrying the ball from defense to attack requires great technical ability. The best dribblers are given this role to work in the center of the pitch as central midfielders.

High soccer IQ: Because they are required to identify the best-attacking lanes and the players best positioned to do the most damage, they must have a high soccer intelligence. They must be the most trusted players on the team.

Awareness of everything at all times: Being aware and alert is a key quality of a center midfielder. Players who can read the flow of the game are given this responsibility in youth soccer. They are trained to be able to harness their IQ.

Right Midfielder / Left Midfielder

This position can be introduced as early as the U6 level, where four players is the limit per team. This is if coaches choose to play with a 1-2-1 formation (one defender, two midfielders, and one striker).

The left and right midfielders operate on the left and the right side of the field. Their jobs are a lot simpler than regular center midfielders.

While center midfielders need to cover the whole pitch whether by running or with their IQ which allows them to pick out the best attacking lanes, right and left midfielders only have to make sure they are in sync with the other teammates operating in their areas.

These are wingers and wingbacks at the youth soccer stage. They must be fast, able to face defenders one-on-one, and be able to make split-second decisions on whether to shoot or cross.

Attacking Midfielder

The players must also be aware enough to make tackles that can stop attacks from their zones on the field. Their biggest quality, however, is that they are great in space.

If you have been paying attention, you will realize that we have focused on the U6 to U12 levels, which is where most soccer education happens.

At the U15 level, youth players are already considered semi-pros. Many clubs usually have mixed training sessions with their U15 teams for educational purposes and as a warm-up after a long break.

This means that from the U15 level, the team number increases to 11, which is the required number of players for a professional soccer match.

The attacking midfielder is introduced from the U15 level. The coaches transition the center midfielder with the best eye for goal into this role.

In this role, this player will perform their midfield duties of finding attacking spaces and creating chances to score. However, they have the added responsibility of scoring goals when the strikers cannot.

The best-attacking midfielder is never afraid to have a go at the opponent’s defense in or out of possession, to receive crosses, or to take advantage of shooting opportunities. 

Forwards and Strikers 

All youth soccer positions and roles must make room for an attacker, also known as a forward or a striker. They are the ones who finish the chances that are created by the defenders and midfielders working together.

A striker in professional soccer takes up more responsibility but in youth soccer, they see less action. The rest of the responsibility is introduced to them as they grow older.

They are also the most confident person on the team because a striker cannot be too timid to shoot from any position as long as there is a visibly clear sight of the goal.


I previously said that the best passers are midfielders, right? The actual best passers of the ball are the wingers.

Wing play evolved from the midfield. This is because teams needed width on the field. Coaches stick rapid attacking midfielders closer to the touchlines so that they can cause more damage from there.

As a result, when they have a clear sight of a pass, they must be able to make it with the right weight to reach the intended target who finishes the chance.

Wingers in soccer play on either the right or the left side of the pitch.

Right-wing Forward/ Left-Wing Forward

Like the right and left fullbacks or the right and left midfielders, wingers operate on either the right or left side of the field (wings).

They will have a lot of space to exploit but must be wary of a rapid fullback, who will be looking to close them down. For this reason, they must be great passers, great dribblers, and players of great confidence,

This position is rarely seen in youth soccer until the U15 level (the semi-professional level).

Final thoughts

Youth soccer is difficult to follow because clubs and academies want to keep the development of players away from the spotlight. They also do this for commercial reasons (scouts are always looking to poach the best youth players).

But if you find the time, just like I did all those years ago, you will not only discover gems but also gain a deeper understanding of the game.

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