Football (soccer) tactics and skills

From Academic Kids

There are various important individual skills and team tactics needed to play effective football (soccer). Football is a rather simple, flowing game, but only the teams that are most organised and prepared can win.


Individual skills

  • Physical fitness: Each player and the team need to be fit enough to sustain a high workrate for the entire duration of the match.
  • Passing: The ability to accurately and timely pass the ball between nearby players, as well as to direct it to players further away is essential in order to keep the possession of the ball.
  • Moving off the ball: When they don't have the ball, players need to move around the pitch and sometimes even change their whole position in the formation.
  • Shooting:
    • Whenever a reasonable chance appears to have a shot at goal, the players need to attempt it.
    • Shots must be accurate. A shot on target, even if it lacks power, puts the defending team under great pressure.
    • The choice of the part of goal to aim for is a contentious issue. Some coaches say always aim for the farther post, others for the near, but all agree that a low shot at the corners of the goal is the best place to aim for.
  • Marking: When defending, the players generally need to "mark" the advancing players from the other team, meaning they need to stay close to them in order to deter (and hopefully prevent) them from playing effectively.
  • Tackling: The defending players need to know how to make a proper contact with the attackers in order to take the possession of the ball without committing a foul.
  • Jockeying: The ability to maneuver is important to all players, and almost essential to midfielders.
  • Talking: Good communication between team members is an essential facet of good team play. Players in the experienced teams constantly talk to one another. A pass will always be called for and the receiver of the ball should always be told whether they have space to turn or are closely marked.
  • Taking set pieces (out-of-play kicks):
    • Penalties: The accuracy, power and timing of a penalty kick are all important.
    • Free kicks: Usually the accuracy is the most important quality.
    • Throw-ins: After taking care to abide the rules of throw-ins (throwing the ball over one's head), usually it's only necessary to be able to handle the ball without it slipping through one's fingers.
  • Creating space: A skill very much related to jockeying — in order to be in a favorable position when they receive the ball, players need to place themselves into physical positions where there is the least chance that they will immediately be tackled.

Team tactics

Offense (when the team has the ball)

  • Pass and move: This is the most basic team tactic — as soon as the ball has come into possession of the player, they need to be quickly decide whether to pass it or not. If they don't pass it immediately, they need to move forward with it; if they do pass it, they again need to move along, following the general ball movement.
  • Switching the attack: Using a 'square' or 'cross' pass across the whole width of the pitch to a player in plenty of space is a very effective way of both relieving pressure and building a fresh attack. The defending team will be required to adjust its positions and this usually creates spaces which can be exploited.
  • The long through ball: This is a long, and usually high, pass from a teams' own half, over the heads of the other team's defence. It is intended for the attacking players to chase and it is important that they remain in an onside position until the ball is kicked. The tactic works best with strong and fast forwards who will have a good chance of winning back the ball, taking control over it, and eventually getting a shot on goal.
  • Playing possession football: A team that retains control of the ball needs players skillful in ball control and precise passing, but this allows it to tire the opposing players (because they have to run and tackle more) and has more chance of building up to a decent attacking position.

  • Throw-ins: How throw-ins are best handled depends on where they are along the side line:
    • In your own half the aim of good throw in must be to retain possession in order to build up the next attack. The throw need not go forward and the most unmarked player may be a full-back who is behind the ball. Such a throw followed by a quickly taken 'switch' pass is a very effective tactic.
    • If the thrower is unmarked a very simple tactic is to take short throw to the feet or chest of a marked player who immediately returns the ball to the thrower.
    • In the last third of the pitch a player with a long throw can put pressure onto the defenders by throwing the ball deep into the penalty area. It is well worth spending some time in training to establish who in your team has the most reliable long throw. Remember there is no offside from a throw-in and this is an opportunity to push players well forward to look for a corner, or penalty, or a shot at goal.
    • Under pressure simply throw the ball up the line to gain as much ground as possible.
  • Goal kicks: A goal kick is an important 'set piece' that will occur many times in a game and yet few teams practice it. If taken quickly the kick may taken short to a full-back who has run into a wide position. Although this may gain little ground it retains the all-important possession of the ball. A longer kick to the midfield is more common and is vital that the midfield unit are in a position to receive it.
  • Corners: A corner is a real goal scoring opportunity and it is essential to know who is the best at taking a good corner from both the left and right side of the pitch. A good corner will be aimed high across the goal and may be 'bent' towards or away from the goal. A least one of the forwards should be on or close to the goal line when the kick is taken.

Defense (when the team doesn't have the ball)

The basic defensive tactics include:

  • Who are the defenders? The uninitiated might think that the back four plus the goalkeeper are the 'defenders' but that is not true. All eleven players on the pitch have an important defensive role to play.
    • The forwards have several defensive jobs to do. Firstly they must ensure that short goal kicks are prevented. They must pressure the full-backs when they try to bring the ball out from defence.
    • The midfield unit is the 'outer shield' of the defence. As such they should not commit themselves to a tackle too early, but jockey the opposition, preventing them from driving towards the goal.
    • The defensive unit is the last line of defense and here tight marking is essential.
  • Keeping shape. Immediately the ball is lost the whole team should be moving to get into shape. This is not a time to have a rest! This might mean tackling-back if you are near the ball, or getting goal-side of the ball if you are out of position, looking for an opponent to mark, or adopting a holding-role by jockeying the opponent with the ball. A good team will think about building 'layers' of defence between the ball and their goal.

More specific defensive tactics include:

  • Channeling: The defender should, where possible, "channel" the attacker in possession toward the side line. Forcing the attacker to move wide is a good tactic because it reduces the risk of a shot on target. To achieve this, the defender should turn his body so the attacker is cannot easily get past him to the centre of the pitch. This encourages the forward to go to the outside.
  • The sweeper system: The 'sweeper' is a central defender who takes up a position slightly behind the other defenders and does not mark any of the other team's players. His defensive role is to 'sweep up' any attacks that break through the defence and as such he adds valuable depth to the defensive unit. Usually the sweeper will be the controller of the defence. They will determine where the back line should be at any given time.
  • Working as a unit.
  • Setting the offside trap: To set an offside trap the defensive unit move up the pitch leaving one or more of the opposition players in an offside position. It is a difficult and risky tactic and several things must be done correctly for it to be effective. Firstly all the defenders must move up together at exactly the same time. This is usually achieved by a loud call from the sweeper. This not only tells the defenders to move but also makes the referee aware that the defence is moving out. Secondly the opponent who has the ball must not be ignored. They must not be allowed to dribble the ball past the defenders who are moving up the field. Lastly the officials must be relied upon to give a free kick if an offside infringement occurs.

Set pieces

  • Defending at corners: A corner is always a chance for a goal so marking up is essential. The goalkeeper will stand on the goal line, and a full-back will stand next to each post. Another defender should watch for a 'short' corner. All other attacking players in and around the penalty area should be closely marked. It is vitally important to 'jump with your player' as the ball comes over. As soon as the ball is cleared the defence should attempt to step away from their goal.
  • Defending at free kicks.


Formations in football are a method of positioning players on the pitch to allow a team to play according to their pre-set tactics. Different formations can be used depending on whether a team wishes to play more attacking or defensive football. Formations can be altered during a game, but requires adaptions of the players to fit in to the new system.

Formations are described as the number of players in each area from the defensive line (not including the goalkeeper). The most common formations are 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2.

See formation (football) for details.


In competitive 11-a-side matches, teams are allowed to bring on up to three substitutes. The rules of the competition must state the maximum number of players allowed to be named as a substitute, which may be anywhere between three and seven. In non-competitive matches, the use of substitutes must be determined before the match begins, except in friendly international matches, where no more than six substitutes may be brought on.

The most tired players should generally be substituted, but only if their substitutes are well trained to fill in the same role, or if the formation is transformed at the same time to accommodate for the substitution.

Coaches often refrain from substituting defensive players in order not to disrupt the defensive posture of the team. Instead, they often replace ineffective attackers or unimaginative midfielders in order to freshen up the attacking posture in an attempt of scoring more goals.

For a team that is losing a game, a fresh striker can bring more benefit in circumventing an opposed defense line composed of relatively tired players. For a team that is winning a game, a fresh midfielder or a defender can bring more benefit in strengthening the defense against the opposition's attackers (who may be fresh substitutes themselves). In this situation, it is usually imaginative attacking flair players who are replaced by tough-tackling defensive midfielders or defenders.

Injured players may also need to be substituted. For each injured player who must be substituted, the team loses one more opportunity to influence things later in the game in their favor.

See also


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools