Growing up playing different sports, it was always important for me to learn and know the playing positions. Whether it was soccer, basketball or football, I wanted to know the positions. It was important for me to know what coach was talking about if he switched my position. Nowaday US Soccer wants to go by this soccer position numbering system. This is nothing new worldwide, so it’s not that US created it. The difference is USsoccer [Development Academy] wants to have players, parents and coaches using this numbering system, instead of using the terms center mid or forward. Some think it’s too much and unnecessary, while others think it’s good to be educated on. Note: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
History of numbering system and who uses it
For years we have grown up on center back, full-back, center mid, forwards, wingers or outside mids. A friend of mine is a FIFA Player Agent and he says that agents and professional clubs speak the numbering system language, which was created in the 1920’s. This was then adapted by USsoccer around 2012. Is all of this too much for youth soccer families in America to learn and adapt? There are already so many who don’t even understand the regular position names. In my opinion we need to all be on the same page at least at the ages of 6-11. Though players ages 12+ need to be able to adapt to different coaches and systems that they could come across.
Adapting to different coaches and systems
Every coach is different, as is every player. For the players who want to one day play high school or college soccer, I think they should at least know the soccer position numbering system. The main reason is because coaches appreciate when a player is educated on these topics. So knowing, could one day help you when trying out with a team. It’s more of a conversation piece or quicker way to let the coach or player know exactly what position. This saves a little time, which is good.
Pro games on TV don’t use the numbering system
When you watch World Cup, English Premier League or a La Liga game or any pro game in the world you don’t hear them say “Great pass from the #6 position out to the #7. Also if you watch a team like Spain for example, you will see one of their center backs [Romos wearing #15]. So it’s not like you have to have a specified number. I do think it is important or cool for parents to know, but when I hear a player or parent say they play the #5 or the #9 I kind of smile like wow. These kids know the numbering system and tactics, but most select/travel soccer players don’t even know the exact parts of the foot to pass with. In my opinion, we need to be stressing the fundamentals and advanced passing skills.
Soccer position by traditional names
This all depends, but for the most part it usually looks like this. Just know that a person from Ireland or England could use different position terms from someone from another part of the world. To me you should want to know them all. I remember first learning it when I was about 12 years old and thinking it was all fascinating.
Keeper, Goalie (GK)
Center backs (CB), outside backs (RB, LB), Wingbacks (LB, RB)
Defensive / Holding Midfielder (DM), Attacking Center Mid (AM), Outside Midfielders (RM, LM), Wingers (RW, LW)
Center Forwards (CF), Striker (S)
Soccer position numbering system
This all depends on the formation or part of the world. For example: the number 6 typically plays defensive center mid, but can also be an outside mid. Below you will see some numbers at different positions, so remember that it all depends on the formation. Teams play different position depending on coaching preference, player ability or injuries. A 4-4-2 formation is most popular, while others play a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2. There are so many options even playing a 4-5-1. All of these numbers mean this: Let’s use a 4-4-2 for example – the first 4 is the defender, the 2nd four is the mids and the 2 is the forward position.
Numbers 0 or 1
Center Backs / Central defenders:
Numbers 2, 4, 5
Outside Backs / Full-backs:
Numbers 2, 3
Defensive Center Mid:
Number 5, 6
Number 6, 8
Attacking Center Mid:
Outside Mids / Wingers:
Number 6, 7, 11
Forwards / Strikers:
Numbers 7, 9, 10, 11
Is this dividing youth soccer?
Not sure if it’s dividing youth soccer in America, but it is going to educate those who want to play at the select/travel club level. Development Academy is doing everything they can do show they are organized more than your average local league. In the end there are choices to be made, which is good in a way. As long as you know that you don’t have to play Development Academy (DA) to get college scholarship. I know a ton of players who play ECNL, DA and other leagues and they all get college opportunity. So don’t worry too much about which league. If you want to play on the US National team then DA is best. If you don’t care about that, but do want to play high school and college, then ECNL will be just fine. In some states, ECNL teams are better than the DA, so it all depends on where you are and what year.
Mexican soccer numbering system is different
Have you ever played or watched a youth team from a Mexican club? If so did you notice that they have high jersey numbers like 84 or 118. The lower the number you have in this system the higher up you are to the 1st team [pro team]. Numbers like 30 or 40 are basically the U-18 and U-23 players who are close to cracking the first team. The first team typically still has their defenders numbered 2 – 5, mids 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 and the forwards 9, 14, 20. This is very motivating for the younger players wanting to get on the first team. Your number is almost like a badge to show how hard you are working to your dream.
Technical skills should always be main education
At the end we want to improve our players technique at a young age, not worry so much about tactics and numbering systems. Though for ages 12+ it is something you want to at least know. I like that this soccer position numbering system teaches history of the game and tactical understanding. More important though, let’s teach players the importance of receiving and striking a proper ball with different parts of the feet. There is no perfect youth system, so every country is wanting to improve year after year. If not you will get left behind and I don’t think any country or player wants that.