11v11 (U13 upwards)

Written by Ian Knapp & Kevin Corbett


When your team reaches U13, they move to "proper" 11 a side football. The first time you see your 12 year old goalkeeper standing in a full size goal, the idea of playing matches on pitches almost as big as those professional footballers play on seems totally absurd. However, everyone finds their feet fairly quickly, with the 2 years of playing 9 a side football standing the players in good stead for the move to 11 a side.

There actually aren't any major changes in terms of rules from 9 a side to 11 a side football. You still play with a size 4 ball at U13 (and U14 for that matter). Rolling subs are still allowed. The change to competitive football happened at U12, so no change on that front.

The main differences are:

  • the size of the goals (you move up from 16ft x 7ft at 9 a side to a whopping 21ft x 7ft minimum at 11 a side, with some teams using full sized adult goals of 24ft x 8ft).
  • the size of the pitch (some clubs are lucky enough to have space to have a "junior" 11 a side pitch slightly smaller than a full sized pitch, but  many teams will play on a full size adult pitch or not far off)
  • the length of matches goes from 60 minutes up to 70 minutes at U13 (2 x 35 minute halves). This increases as you move through the age groups until you play a full 90 minutes at U18.

Squad Size:

The "ideal" squad size largely depends on how committed and reliable your players are. I would say a squad of between 16 and 18 players is ideal, depending on those factors.

3 subs at a game is about the most you'd want. 4 is just about manageable. Anything more and you're chopping and changing so much that you majorly affect the flow of the game and your team's chances.

Remember that you can dual-register players from the club who play in other leagues. This is a great way of providing cover for situations where you're really short whilst not having an overly large squad of players who are all expecting to play every week.

Kent Youth League:

One of the big changes moving into the U13 age group is the introduction of Kent Youth League (KYL) football.

The KYL is the highest standard of grassroots football in Kent and the majority of the best players from Kent-based clubs (and in fact some non-Kent clubs) will end up playing in this league.

This tends to mean that the other local leagues (Crowborough, Tandridge) become significantly weaker at the start of the U13 season, with the best teams moving en-masse to the KYL or their best players jumping ship to play for a KYL team. Not every club has KYL status and only one team per club is permitted to play KYL football per age group.

Kent Youth League is a high standard, it can be brutal if you haven't got a team capable of competing, but is where you will almost certainly want to take your team if you want a challenge and they're capable of handling it. We have teams in the KYL (speak to Chris Allen or Kevin Corbett for more info on what it's like if you're considering it).

11 a Side Tactics / Formations:

11 a side formations (see some ideas, with diagrams, here) could be discussed all day and of course could depend on opposition, which players you have available, conditions etc. Not really something anyone can give you specific advice on without knowing you and your players...

One thing a number of our coaches noticed early on in the first few games of U13s was the players were still playing the game with their 9 a side heads on, operating in smaller areas, playing some really nice football but not using the full range of the 11 a side pitch. Some simply couldn't kick the ball far enough to quickly switch the play, but others just weren't looking up and realising they had that much more space to work with. This changed over time and with work in training, but getting in some early friendlies to get the players used to the new pitch size (and goal size) is something well worth doing.

The first year of 11 a side can start with the quicker players initially dominating again after some of the space they thrived on was denied them in the second year of 9 a side. Finding ways to counteract teams who have a lot of pace is something you may want to look at, particularly on larger pitches - a quick ball over the top of a high defensive line with a pacy striker running onto it can leave you very exposed. Having your goalkeeper really understand their starting position in terms of the "sweeper keeper" role can be a key thing to visit early in training, as can the role of the defenders in terms of denying that space in behind.

Corners were another interesting one - the majority of 12 year olds can't deliver an accurate corner into the box, so looking at short corners or other corner routines is well worth it in my opinion, particularly in the early days of 11 a side at U13. My preference is to use these to provide variety anyway throughout the age groups as the number grassroots child footballers who will score a header from a corner is minimal outside the top level, but others may be blessed with a number of players who can execute accurate headers at goal from those sorts of situations. If so then brilliant - you just need to find a 12 year old David Beckham to deliver the ball exactly where you want it.

In short, don't just "do what you see on TV" when watching 11 a side football with regard to things like corners - think about your players, their capabilities and adapt accordingly whilst challenging them to practice the things they can't yet to. They'll get there. We've got a section on set pieces and some ideas for how to set up to attack and defend corners and free kicks here...

Something else to bear in mind is that your players may well fill a slightly (or completely) different role in 11 a side football to that which they tending to play before. Be open to your players changing positions or to some of the players you viewed as being "weaker" at younger ages playing a key role in your 11 a side team. Obviously there are plenty of similarities to 9 a side football, but there are differences too and anyone who has been down this road before will tell you that at the very least, one of their players surprised them hugely in terms of the step up they made when the team moved to 11 a side. I was on the verge of suggesting to one lad that he step down into the team "below" us in terms of ability, for the good of his development as he'd struggled enormously at 9 a side, but I kept him on and he was one of our top 2 or 3 players in the first year of 11v11. Similarly, one or two who dominated at 9 a side have found 11 a side harder.

Growing / Physical Changes

U13 to U15 is an age at which most of your players will be going through a lot of physical changes. The height difference (and muscular difference) between players is huge at this age. You will turn up to face teams with players who have the physique of grown men, whilst others still look like 10 year old boys. Bear this in mind. Try not to get sucked down the "big is best" route - some very small, but skilful and tenacious players have been incredibly successful footballers. Smaller players who were on a par with everyone else size-wise a couple of years earlier may struggle, but once they have their growth spurt will catch up again. Players who were the biggest and used to dominating, who then find others catch up, may struggle with confidence. These things are enormously important.

One Final Thing...

You'll need a ladder to put the nets on the goals!