Principles of Play

Harness the Power of the Attacking and Defending Principles of Play
Ian Barker

Attacking Principles of Play and Defending Principles of Play are published in partnership between Soccer Coach Weekly and United Soccer Coaches. Together they provide 46 exercises with high-definition illustrations to guide you through the 10 principles of play that underpin the game.

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Attacking Principles of Play

Soccer is an invasion game, with the objective to breach the other team’s defence to score. This manual of 23 attacking training practices includes sessions on how to attack through midfield, developing strikers in today’s game, and the role of goalkeepers and defenders in attacking play.

This manual will help you to coach fundamental attacking principles, and should form an important part of your coaching library. It was developed as part of an exclusive United Soccer Coaches webinar series.

What’s inside?

23 great sessions to help you coach the 5 fundamental attacking principles to your players. The principles are:

1. Penetration

With the help of this great book, you can teach your players how to break through a defense by dribbling, shooting, running or passing. No matter how young they are, you can coach this principle to your players.

2. Support

A key part of your team plan must be to help the player who is in possession of the ball. Support attackers provide forward, backward and sideways options to the attacker with the ball and this manual offers great options to help you win matches.

3. Mobility

Attackers make runs into different areas of the field in order to draw defenders out of their positions. This attacking manual will teach you about the more advanced aspect of ‘elusive movement’.

4. Width

The attacking team attempts to stretch the opponent’s defensive shape. This section will teach you how to destroy the compact tightness of a defense by creating attacks along the flanks of the pitch.

5. Improvisation, Creativity & Surprise

Although not an easy part to the game to teach, attackers must try to break down defenses by employing the element of surprise. Coaches must ‘brave the percentages’ meaning you must be willing to accept that in order to reap the benefits of exciting and creative players, there will be a unsuccessful attempts at first.

Defending Principles of Play

As coaches, we should consider time spent training defending technique to be equally important as time devoted to improving attacking. Although often not as appealing for the players, raising the defending performance of individuals, small groups and teams is critical to performance improvement.

What’s inside

1. Pressure

Your players need to know that the moment possession is lost, the nearest player(s) try to regain possession or apply pressure on the ball. With this manual’s help, you’ll be able to teach your players that if they fail to win the ball back immediately, he or she must drop back and delay the attacking advance.

2. Cover

This is the immediate organization of players behind the pressuring defender. While the ball is being pressured, other players must realise they need to be recovering to defensive positions. Such positions must support the pressuring defender in the event he/she is beaten. Working as a unit makes your opponent have to do more to take advantage of these situations.

3. Balance

As the team concentrates its defense in the area of the ball, defenders away from the ball (opposite side of field) must position themselves to cover vital spaces (central areas). This will prevent attackers from making penetrating runs into these spaces and make an attempt on goal. All players who are on the opposite side must seek positions in which to provide balance to the defense.

4. Compactness

As players recover towards their own goal, they need to learn the objective is to limit the time and space for the opponent. You have to teach your defenders to also recover centrally towards their goal to prevent the opponents’ ability to directly attack the goal.

5. Control and Restraint

Players must be disciplined and play “under control” when challenging for the ball. Too often players make poorly timed or off-balanced attempts to win the ball. Players should restrain from tackling until they are confident they will win the ball.

About the authors

Contributing coaches are: Justin Neese, Soccer Programs Manager, Houston Dynamo, Ricky King, Coaching Education Administrator, New York Red Bulls, Mike Smith, Director of Youth Academy, Portland Timbers, Ian Barker, Director of Coaching Education, United Soccer Coaches and David Newbery, eLearning Coordinator, United Soccer Coaches.


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Ian Barker is somewhat unique having held leadership positions with US Youth Soccer and United Soccer Coaches and he has had extensive experience at youth and college levels.

He coached for 21 seasons with the men’s programs at the University of Wisconsin and Macalester College, before becoming United Soccer Coaches Director of Coaching Education in 2012.

Ian was the Director of Coaching and Player Development for Minnesota Youth Soccer Association for 10 years and is a Head Coach of Region II Boys Olympic Development Program.

His qualifications are extensive and he holds the USSF A License, United Soccer Coaches Premier Diploma and United Soccer Coaches Master Coach Diploma.

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