When considering how to prepare a team for 11 a side football from 9 a side is something that can be a challenge for the players as well as for coaches. More often than not you will not be able to train on the pitch size or with the number of players that relate to playing 11 a side. So how do you provide context for your players so that they can relate what you’ve done in training to the game & use it to prepare a team for 11 a side football?

As I spoke in one my previous blogs, both practice design and the ingredients are essential in this. In order to support the transfer of learning you must look to create training sessions which enable you to provide your players with context which they can relate too. For more information click here:

Building a Syllabus to meet the game

One of the main changes to the game from 9 a side to the 11 a side is the pitch dimensions as you move from two halves into three thirds. One of the things you may wish to consider is how you can link your syllabus to each of the three thirds when both in and out of possession. Here are some considerations:

In Possession:

1. Own Third – how do you want to play out from the back?
2. Middle Third – how do you want to keep possession and create attacks?
3. Attacking Third – how do you want to create and finish attacks?

Out of Possession:

1. Opposition Defending Third – how do you want to defend when they have the ball in their third?
2. Middle Third – how do want to defend when they have the ball across the middle third?
3. Opposition in Attacking Third – how do you want to defend in your defensive third when they have the ball?

prepare a team for 11 a side football


Once you’ve identified some clear and simple principles for how you want to attack and defend this will provide you with some context of how you want to work and relate it to game situations. Other things you may wish to consider for your syllabus may be:

1. Set plays
2. Transition
3. Scenarios

These are all areas which may effect how you want to work as you move into the 11 a side game. Suddenly, how you deal with corner kicks and the reaction to losing or winning the ball have far more importance. Scenarios may also effect how you wish to play I.e. you are playing against a team that presses high or defends in a low block.

Play like you train – reiterate or react?

To support the learning you’ll need to choose how you are going to logically work through your syllabus. One of the biggest things you need to decide upon is whether you are going to prepare training based on who you are playing against or what you’ve learnt from the previous games? Or whether you reiterate how you wish to play and stay on method regardless of the result.

For me, development and learning has to be the priority. Therefore, consistency in your language and approach has to be there. By reacting to what has happened in a previous game or to who you are playing next may allow this but can often draw you into focusing on preparing them to win a game of football. Of course winning is important however learning at this age group has to be prioritised. I would suggest focusing on your principles both in and out of possession, reiterating them consistently and giving players context to support their learning. It may be that you’ve seen something an individual needs support with from the game before to help provide context, but this has to be coached as part of how you want to play or what that individual needs. It has to be a player centred approach.

Break it Up

If you take this approach, work your way up the pitch in possession and back down the pitch when out of possession. Spending time on a part of the pitch each week will help you to recreate training sessions that reflect this regardless of the constraints (number of players, facilities) but also this will help you to have a focus on match day. How long you decide to focus on each part of the pitch is your decision, although I would suggest players need plenty of time to get used to whatever you are focusing on as well as applying it to the 11 a side game. An example of this may be focusing on ‘Building from the Back’ and you may do it with your back three and Goalkeeper and look at how you will play out against different formations/ways of pressing.

Formations – being adaptable

As you’ll now have far more formations to choose from in a 11 a side this is a great opportunity for you to teach and educate your players on how to play in and against different formations. Changing formations for players, particularly in the transition from 9 a side to 11 a side will completely change the pictures in both training and games. To support this, I would suggest looking at working through your formations in blocks. An example of this may look like this:

1 – 6 Weeks: 1-4-4-2
7 – 12 Weeks: 1-4-3-3
13 – 18 Weeks: 1-3-5-2
19 – 24 Weeks: 1-3-4-3

Link each formation to your syllabus and how you are practice in training. By looking at each formation and moving through the pitch both in and out of possession, this will provide you with the opportunity to link learning from one formation to the next, whilst also providing your players with context to what they’re working on.

Rotating Positions

As players progress through the age groups they start to develop characteristics which coincide with the attributes that they need to be able to play in certain positions. Before considering what positions players will need to play, look at the returns they will get for each position and choose a position that is going to help them develop the most; not necessarily perform the best. Here are some suggestions on different approaches to players playing in different positions:

1. Playing across a unit – you may want to get players to play across a unit and that they rotate within this unit. For example, playing left back, centre back or right back. This will give the players opportunities to play across both sides of the pitch as well as the middle.

2. Rotating in pairs – pairing up positions can be a great way to help players consolidate learning. I.e. pairing a CB with a CF or a Left Back with a Right Winger. This will give players an opportunity to think about how they are going to attack and defend against both positions that they will play against.

3. Swapping in areas of the pitch – by looking at parts of the pitch this may help you with how you are going to rotate. I.e looking at left back and left midfield or centre back and holding midfield.

Put the Player First

On however you decide you are going to rotate your positions make sure that you put the needs of the player first. Players will need time to consolidate their learning and will need plenty of time to learn each position. To support this you may come up with some principles for each position that link to how you wish to play I.e. if you are a team that wishes to get crosses into the box in the attacking half, think about the principles and challenges that you may want to apply to your wide players etc.

Mirror Coaching

If you are working with another coach this is a perfect opportunity for you to work collaboratively to teach your syllabus. As a lead coach you may be focusing on Attacking in the Final Third, so to help with this you need to create realistic defending for your attackers to play against. So why not use your other coach to mirror and work on Defending in your own half? Mirror coaching is a great way of teaching but also consolidating learning, not only will your players get opportunities to practice against different challenges but they will also get an opportunity to consolidate what they’ve worked on within that other topic.

Don’t have an assistant coach? Don’t worry this may be a challenge for your players when you are working on the main topic to think about how they will attack or defend against this? The use of cards or a whiteboard as well as group discussions may help your players start to think about how they will deal with different situations. This links back to one of my previous blogs where I spoke about Player Led.


To conclude here are some of my key recommendations to coaches working with players that are transitioning from 9 a side to 11 a side:

1. Practice and play – players must be given the opportunity to play lots of games in a 11 a side football. The more games they play, the more experience and opportunity they get to learn how to play 11 a side football. To link learning make sure you make training based around the game.

2. Choose a way of playing and link it to the syllabus.

3. Rotating formations throughout the season or age group will enable players to become more adaptable.

4. Mirror coaching is a perfect way to coach both in and out of possession.

5. Stick to your principles and do not become reactive to performances in these young age groups

6. Have a player centred approach. Consider how you use positions to meet the needs of each player but also link it to how you want to play.