A Field Guide to Indoor Soccer

The mention of soccer, for many, conjures images of hordes of tiny humans swarming magnetically to a checkered pinball or the epic battles of World Cup or Olympic glory waged before thousands upon thousands of rabid fans. In between, though, is a culture of rec leagues, club leagues, and school teams that is growing steadily in the United States while overall youth participation in team sports is declining.

Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves drops us into the world of six-a-side elite indoor soccer where players hone their skills during the winter months in a typically faster-paced, distilled environment. Full-side soccer involves eleven players per side on a pitch averaging 7,500 square meters while six-a-side soccer is typically played on a pitch 1/8 the size. Often there is no out-of-bounds area or offside penalty for indoor soccer play, which leads to the quicker, more continuous pace of play.

The foundation of any soccer strategy is the basic formation through which the team operates. Formations typically divide the pitch into thirds: the defensive field (including the goal you are protecting), the midfield, and the attack field. The formations are named for the number of players based in each third. For instance, a 2-2-1 formation is made up of two defenders (not including the goal keeper), two midfielders, and one forward. A team’s most aggressive forward, or in the case of a 2-2-1 formation the only forward, is sometimes labeled the striker.

Midfield is one of the most complex positions due to the pivoting nature of their role throughout gameplay to aid in defense as well as set up the offensive attack for the forward(s). For this reason, the team captain is typically one of, if not the only, midfielder. Teams with limited experience and talent at this position sometimes employ a 2-1-2 formation while teams with a number of experienced players sometimes use a 1-3-1 formation, with three midfielders having a larger role in both facets of the game.

As experience with the strategies employed within these formations grows, many elite teams will switch formations depending on if they are defending or attacking. In all soccer, but especially in six-a-side, staying engaged while rooted in your role and section of field is critical to solid defense as well as capitalizing on offensive opportunities.

As with any sport, the path from the backyard to the brightest stage is laid through countless hours building endurance, training muscle memory, and refining strategy. The elite soccer of The Wolves plays out over the underlying currents of the turbulent waters of adolescence. Within the framework of developing individual skills to employ in support of the team effort, players also navigate who they wish to be and how to find their place in the world. In that sense, the breakneck speed of six-a-side indoor soccer—and the ever-shifting formations it requires—make it a particularly apt microcosm to consider the teenage experience.

—Nathan Norcross