Hello, I coach a boys travel team. We use a 4-4-2 formation and the biggest problem I have is trying to teach the most simplified tactics of bringing the ball up the field. Any suggestions you have on how to do this would be great

Don't worry about all the different formations.

• Width and Depth in Attack - What matters is having width and depth in attack. When a player in your midfield has the ball, the player should be able to look to either touch-line and find a player to receive the ball. The player with the ball should be able to see somebody far ahead so that the ball can be played forward, and there should be somebody more than 10 yards behind the player with the ball. As the ball moves to a new player, the supporting players need to move new supporting positions. There should always be someone up front to play to, with body shape open to the ball.
You can teach this just by starting with 4v4, leaving off the opponents at first, and starting out with a 4v0. Let the kids move the ball around and get the players to keep an attacking shape.

• Changing the Point of Attack - In general, you would want to teach the kids first how to change the point of attack at the back to learn how to play the ball out of the back. You can do this by having them move the ball around the back in short simple passes, always to feet, to bring the ball from one side to the other, through the keeper. You can play balls to the keeper and let the keeper play to a defender's feet. Each player on either side of the ball has to tuck back in a bit and open body shape to the ball, so that the player with the ball can pass to a front foot. After passing, the passer should tuck in to become a supporting player. The defenders in this kind of an exercise would work to play the ball to target players at the halfway line on either side of the field. After this is working, you can send in one, then two, then three, then four chasing players who try to win the ball before your defenders and a midfielder or two can get the ball to target players.

Then you would want to work on combination play and runs out of midfield, and then move on to combination play and crossing attack going to goal.
Overall, this goes from back to front.

Coaching Tools You Can Use

• Shadow play - Allows you to get pattern runs happening without defenders complicating the picture. Kids can start learning that the shape, timing, and location of their runs and passes are very important. You, as a coach, can really start to focus in on understanding the creation and use of space. You can work on a variety of movements involving the whole team, and play to a goal at the other end of the field and finish with a shot, all without pressure. As you get some movement, then you can add a few defenders perhaps and progress things into a game.

• Zone games - Usually involve dividing the field into thirds or fourths with cones (thirds is usually plenty!) and reducing the complexity of the game by having only a few players in each zone. A lot of things go easier when numbers are lower, and this is one way. An additional sort of zone game that can help you involves using outside channels that run the length of the field. In the outside channel, you can assign one player from each team to each side, or just use one player on each side with that player assisting both teams. Yes, you play various tactical games on the field inside the channels, and the players take advantage of the channel players to advance the ball.