Soccer Principles of Play

Attacking Principles:


  • Exploiting created space with the ball. Is the act of breaking through the defence by dribbling, shooting, running or passing.


  • Ahead of the ball - behind the ball - sides of the ball (key for ball retention). A player in possession of the ball receives help to maintain possession. Support attackers provide forward, backward and sideways options to the attacker in possession of the ball.


  • Intelligent & calculated movement to create opportunities to receive the ball. The ability to stretch and pull defenders out of position.


  • Use of the full pitch to create space. The attacking team attempts to stretch the opponent’s defensive shape. The attacking players use the width of the field to tempt defenders from a compact shape covering the dangerous areas in front of goal and in so doing create space. The attackers move the ball to change the point of attack in an effort to find a seam or space between or behind the defence.

Improvisation & /Creativity

  • Individuals combining, unexpected skills, eliminating opponent at appropriate moments in the game. Attackers will try to break down defences by employing the element of surprise. Skills such as back-heels, cut backs, flicks, feints and fakes are all used to this end. Comfort on the ball is critical and this training should start as young as possible and continues to be developed all the way through adulthood.

Defending (Recovery) Principles:

Delay (Pressure)

  • Pressing or Dropping Off. To “pressure” the attacker to reduce their time and space and prevent the ball from being played forward quickly. This slows down the attack to allow the defense to reorganize when outnumbered.

Depth (Cover)

  • How Deep & How High. To provide close support for the pressuring defender (i.e. 1st defender) and restrict/reduce space for attackers. These players do not provide pressure on the ball but instead support the challenging player. Their relative position to the pressuring player is dependent on the situation and part of the field they are supporting the player in. Defensive support is generally much tighter than attacking support.

Compactness (Balance)

  • Distance Between Units - Distance between individuals. To assemble as quickly as possible as a team to protect areas of the field vulnerable to scoring opportunities. In order to cancel the threat of mobility provided by the offence, balance is required by the defending team to retain defensive shape. Balancing is an extension of delay and depth. Balancing players provide additional support. Be prepared to leave weak side attacking players unmarked to balance the strong side of the field.

Discipline & Patience

  • Defending players need to be patient and assess the risk involved in challenging for the ball. A well structured defending line can quickly become disorganized with one rash challenge. Players need to exercise control and restraint and re-adjust their shape to changing scenarios. Players also need to be alert to their surroundings at all times (switched on!).


  • Defensive movements should encourage/force the attacking team to play into certain areas of the field. Channeling play into particular well defended areas or less important areas of the field makes play predictable and increase our chances of regaining possession or decreases goal scoring threats. Being patient and waiting for the correct moment to win the ball.

The most important part of the above isn’t the words, but rather understanding what is meant by each bullet point. These Principles are taught to varying degrees dependant on the age group.
Ball Control and Comfort on the Ball are critical to the Attacking Principles.
Confidence and Patience off the Ball are critical to the Defending Principles.