Playing Up an Age Group

Vikings (U10s playing as U11s) 2018/19 by Adam Stretton (Vikings manager / coach)

After a successful period from U7 to U9 it was judged that some players needed more of a challenge - a few players from two paired teams and some others created a new team set to play up an age group (the first time a mini soccer group has done so at LG football club). The best development for them was to make things tougher...

For anyone considering this approach in future, here are some of the challenges we’ve faced and how we’ve overcome them, most importantly learning and developing because of it (coach and player a like).


  • 9 aside (U11s is when you move to this)
  • No goal kick retreat rule
  • Offside introduced
  • Bigger everything! Pitch size, goals and generally speaking the opposition

The format changes are your immediate thing to tackle. I could write an essay but I’m sticking to the critical points.

  • Similar to the approach with the retreat rule on goal kicks, having a strategy is fundamental for the rule disappearing. In the fashionable age of playing out from the back, if you can take it quickly and your players are confident in handling the ball in pressured situations, I would always advise that... which will serve them better in the future as well as other situations when under pressure.
  • Trust your goalkeeper. It’s the only way to breed confidence, so passing back to the goalkeeper if required after a goal kick should be an option if the goalkeeper is in a position / situation to receieve the ball back.
  • Teams with a high press. If being marked, the only option is going long. Is the goalkeeper's kick strong enough/is the team structure set up to protect if you lose possession from the goal kick or win back quickly. Going wide and long is the usual answer here but think about creating space in the middle of the pitch so the goalkeeper could choose this option and players can drift in to win the ball.
  • Offside. A big consideration playing up an age group as you’ll generally come across quicker teams. So whilst a good learning for them, playing too high up to catch the offside can be dangerous. Being a bit deeper is more beneficial as well as encouraging the goalkeeper to take up a starting position higher up the pitch when the ball is at the other end so if the opposition break quickly he or she is in a position to clear the danger. I’ve found it’s more important for your forwards to learn to hold the line and judge their runs better.
  • Size. Let the ball do the work! This can be a reality check for some who are used to being successful on the smaller 7 aside pitches. Passing through the phases of play and long ball strategy is key. Players will get tired quicker, so rolling substitutions is helpful still. Physicality - you’ll need to play good football some moments, and be fighting physically the next, and then a combination of the two. You have to instil the desire in the players to work hard against more physical and stronger opponents, never give up.


There is more focus on the positions and roles players perform.   You generally settle on your preferences per player but be prepared to still be surprised by some and try stuff out.

You want to be competitive so you might want to think conservatively first before you settle on your formation and way of playing - nothing worse than some demotivating performances/results at the start of the journey.

Development versus success - this is the trick...

What you’re doing by playing up an age group is challenging the players but really it is to develop them further and prepare them for life further down the road. Balancing development against results is the tough bit, no different to the younger age groups but a more acute issue. You’re still looking at what players need to work on, some positional role changes, developing styles of play and at the same time wanting to win - all should be part of your season. The Vikings have found the right balance here, surpassing expectations on results, playing good football, having to cope physically and player development into roles that will benefit next season and beyond.

- Adam Stretton, March 2019