Soccer Attacking Offense Positions
Should Soccer Fullbacks "Push Up" on the Attack?
Or Should They "Defend Deep"?

(Terms in quotation marks are defined in the Dictionary)

What is "Pushing Up" and Who Should "Push Up"? If you have fast, tough, skillful Fullbacks, you may want to have them "Push Up" when you attack, to help support your attack. But if the opposing Forwards are faster than your Fullbacks, you will probably be better off to "Defend Deep", because if you "Push Up" there is a risk of giving up goals on "breakaways" before your Fullbacks can "recover" to defend your goal.

The term "Push Up" refers to Fullbacks or Midfielders moving forward toward the halfway line. In certain formations and if your team has speed and stamina, SoccerHelp recommends you "push up" when you attack or any time the ball is near the other team's Penalty Box, even if the other team has the ball, so you can support your attack or put pressure on the ball. To build an attack (especially on a large field) it is an advantage to have everyone, including the defenders, shift with the ball. This allows your team to keep "shape" so there is "support". Moving the fullbacks up also has the advantage of keeping the other team away from your goal because they will be "offside" if they go past the last defender before the ball passes him. This keeps the attackers out of scoring range, but defenders must be quick to fall back if the ball gets past them. This is why some teams use a "Sweeper". A Sweeper is a very fast player with good endurance who is not afraid to make contact to stop the ball & clear it. The Sweeper will play slightly behind the fullbacks or as a Center Fullback with a "Stopper" in front of him. (The Stopper is like a "Front Sweeper" and must be fast, tough and able to stop the attack). The Sweeper will run down any through balls or breakaways and kick the ball out of bounds over the side line to slow down the other team's attack so your Fullbacks will have time to recover. If your fullbacks are slow and you want to push them up when you attack, consider using a Sweeper. Another alternative is to use a formation that creates more depth such as a 3-2-2-3 (2 Stoppers), 3-1-4-2 (one Stopper), or 3-2-3-2 formation, as described in "Formations" and "Attacking Plan" at SoccerHelp.com.

Recreational coaches often believe they must "Push Up" their Fullbacks when they attack. There are two reasons to push up your Fullbacks: one is so they are in position to "support" your attack, and the other is to create an "offside trap" that keeps the opposing Forwards away from your goal. The danger of pushing up your Fullbacks is that the opposing Forwards may be faster than your Fullbacks. If they are, your opponent may leave his Forwards near the "halfway line" (or near your Fullbacks) and have his Fullbacks or Midfielders kick "through balls" into the open space between your Fullbacks and your goal, so his fast Forwards can get "breakaways" and easy shots on your goal. The longer the field, the greater the danger, since the "halfway line" is farther from your goal.

Note for U6 and U8 Coaches about Whether to Push Up or Defend Deep:

If you are a U6 coach, don't worry about tactics, just have fun.

If you are a U8 Rec coach, you are probably better off to Push Up your Fullbacks to the Halfway Line when you attack instead of Defending Deep and having your Fullbacks stop on the Penalty Box Line. There are 2 reasons: The first reason is because your opponents probably can't attack as a team so the threat of giving up a lot of goals on breakaways isn't great. The second reason is that many U8 Rec coaches probably can't train their Midfielders and Forwards to drop back to a position to win cleared balls when their goal is under attack. Defending Deep only works if the Coach can train his Midfielders and Forwards that when their goal is under attack they MUST come back to a position where they can win cleared balls. If the MFs and Fs don't drop back to win the cleared balls, it is a disaster because the team Defending Deep can never clear the ball out of its Defensive Third and the opposing team will win all the balls your Fullbacks try to clear.

Remember, every situation is different and your decision should be based on your players and opponents, but if I coached a typical U8 Rec team, I would start by Pushing Up my Fullbacks when I attacked. IF I faced a great team that was scoring on breakaways, then I might consider Defending Deep, BUT I would only Defend Deep if I was able to train my MFs and Fs to drop back to a position to win cleared balls when our goal was under attack, because otherwise we would never clear the ball out of our Defensive Third. As I mention below, I might consider splitting the difference and Pushing Up halfway to the Halfway Line because that would stop most of the breakaways and your Fullbacks wouldn't be as far from your MFs and Forwards, so it would be easier for the MFs and Forwards to win cleared balls.

Of course, keep in mind that there are lots of variations of Defending Deep and Pushing Up and being "Pushed Up half way" and "Defending Deep half way" are the same thing - your Fullbacks would be halfway to the Halfway Line in either case. Pushing Up halfway to the Halfway Line would stop most of the breakaways and your Fullbacks wouldn't be as far from your MFs and Forwards, so it would be easier for the MFs and Forwards to win cleared balls. If you coached a U8 Rec team you would probably tell your Fullbacks that their job is to kick the ball forward or to slow down the attack until your midfielders can recover to help.

You can probably get away with Pushing Up slow Fullbacks to the Halfway Line until about U9 or U10 most of the time. The reason is that most soccer teams simply don't have the skill to counterattack until U9 or U10. But by U9 or U10, if you Push Up slow Fullbacks against a well-coached team, you will give up lots of goals on breakaways. So, you will be able to beat poorly coached teams, but not well-coached teams.

If you have the speed to do so, Pushing Up your Fullbacks is definitely preferable. If you Defend Deep, Push Up your Fullbacks to at least to the Penalty Box Line - don't leave them on the Goal Box Line, that won't help you much and they will be in your Goalie's way.

How To Decide How Far To "Push Up" Your Fullbacks To Support Your Attack. Most teams "Push Up" their Fullbacks some when their attackers have the ball and are attacking on the opponent's half of the field (i.e., when the ball is far enough away from your goal that the opponent's can't quickly get into scoring range). "Defending Deep" means to only push up the Fullbacks as far as they can go and still recover - it doesn't mean you have to leave them in the Penalty Box, but that they play conservatively and don't give up goals because they can't recover in time to defend a fast counterattack.

Why Defend Deep? Defending Deep prevents your opponent from beating you with a fast counterattacking style of attack and forces your opponent to play a controlled-passing style of attack, and most Rec teams aren't very good at that.

The question is: How far can your Fullbacks safely Push Up but still recover to be in position to defend your goal if there is a fast counterattack by the opponent? This decision will be based on the speed and awareness of your Fullbacks (by awareness I mean are they paying attention so they can quickly fall back into position if the opponent launches an attack?) and how fast and skillful the opposing Forwards are. At the very least your team might Push Up to the Penalty Box line - that's a good place to start because it's clearly defined, they can see it and stop there. Even Pushing Up to the Penalty Box line or to the top of the Penalty Box Arc gives you some advantage because your Fullbacks are in position to kick away long "through balls".

Here are some of the factors to consider when deciding how far to "Push Up":

  1. The number of players on the field makes a difference. What is best for 5v5 or 6v6 might be very different than what's best for 8v8, 9v9 or 11v11. If you play 5v5 or 6v6 you may have to Push Up in order to support your attack. You will want to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of how far to push up. The farther you Push Up, the more players you have involved in the attack, but the greater the risk your defenders won't be able to recover against a fast counterattack.
  2. The experience and amount of practice makes a difference. How good your team is will be affected by whether your league allows teams to stay together (instead of breaking them up every year to re-balance the teams) and how many times per week you are allowed to practice (obviously, SoccerHelp believes twice is better than once if you can get your players to attend).
  3. The skill level, athleticism and speed of your players makes a difference. If one-third of your players are unskilled or slow, it presents challenges you don't have if all but one or 2 of your players are good.
  4. The quality of the competition and the style of play the competition uses is also a consideration. Is the opponent good? Can they launch a fast counterattack?

Pushing Up the Fullbacks is not the best approach for many Recreational teams. Instead, many Recreational teams are better off Defending Deep. Here's what one coach said who switched from Pushing Up his Fullbacks to "Defending Deep": "I have to say that using the attacking style and formation you recommended were extremely effective with my U-14 team. The girls scored many goals, and they really enjoyed playing. They were confident they could score on any team if they hustled (and they did). I should note that our practice attendance was very low (less than 50%), particularly late in the season. It only took about 3 practices to teach them this style of play, however, and they hit the ground running as soon as we started playing games. Also, your advise about not pushing up the fullbacks worked very well. I'm convinced now that, at the recreational level, pushing up your defense is very overrated. We had very few goals scored against us when our fullbacks "stayed home." The idea of using Premium practice games during practice, rather than drills, also worked very well, particularly with my U-10 girls. I had a lot more fun coaching this year, and I'm sure the girls had a lot more fun playing." Coach Jack, U-10 and U-14 Girls, Nevada, USA

Pushing up on the attack requires either fast Fullbacks or a great "Sweeper" (a Sweeper is a fast, tough player who plays behind the Fullbacks as the last line of defense, and whose job is to back up the Fullbacks and stop breakaways by kicking the ball away from the opponents).

If you have slow Fullbacks or few substitutes, it is probably better for you to "Defend Deep" than to Push Up. Pushing Up requires your Fullbacks to run a lot, and they will get tired if you don't have subs. This is especially true if you play on a long field. (If you have only a few substitutes but use a Sweeper, you may be able to push up in the first half while your Fullbacks are fresh, but you may be better off to change your Formation and Defend Deep in the second half). If you choose to Defend Deep, you may need to change to a "Formation" that puts players in positions to help support your attack, and whether you "Defend Deep" or "Push Up", you should teach a "Style of Play" that suits your team's abilities.

"Pushing Up" is an idea that Rec coaches picked up from watching professional teams or travel teams. It works for Professional and Travel teams because they have fast, tough, skillful Fullbacks. Most Rec teams don't have enough fast, tough, skillful players to play them at Fullback; these players usually play Stopper, in the Midfield or at Forward. Most Rec teams have some slower, less skilled players who must play somewhere, and they usually end up at Fullback (SoccerHelp Tip: don't put a timid player at Fullback; read "Assigning Positions" and "Hiding Weak Players" on SoccerHelp Premium). Even Professional and Travel teams will "Defend Deep" if the opposing Forwards are faster than their Fullbacks. If you watched the 2006 World Cup Final, Italy beat France by "Defending Deep" and "counterattacking" in the 2nd half -- at times, Italy totally gave up the midfield. This was especially true in the 2nd half when they got tired and France got momentum, because what Italy knew was that they couldn't give up a goal on a breakaway and at that point their Fullbacks couldn't run as fast as France's Forwards.

Some coaches insist on trying to "Push Up" Fullbacks who simply aren't fast enough or skillful enough to defend fast, skillful Forwards when "Pushed Up". Often, the result is that the opposing team scores goals on breakaways that the Pushed Up Fullbacks simply cannot prevent, because they aren't fast enough to defend the opponent's fast, skillful Forwards. This causes the Fullbacks to feel like failures, when it really isn't their fault; it's their coach's fault for putting them in a position where they cannot be successful. Why "Push Up" if your Fullbacks simply cannot be successful if Pushed Up? Some coaches continue to push up even though it is detrimental to their team and their players. A good coach uses the Style of Play that gives his team the best chance of being successful. It's much easier for slow, unskillful players to be successful Fullbacks if they "Defend Deep" and are given clear guidelines to follow. If you have fast, skillful Fullbacks, then you probably should "Push Up" when you attack.

SoccerHelp Premium contains over 50 pages of discussion relating to Formations and Styles of Play (out of over 600 total pages). SoccerHelp Premium explains how to choose the formation and style of play that is best for your team and how to teach your team how to play the formation and style of play you choose.

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  • Coach Bryant, U-10 Girls, Pennsylvania, USA

  • "I have to say that using the attacking style and formation you recommended were extremely effective with my U-14 team. The girls scored many goals, and they really enjoyed playing. They were confident they could score on any team if they hustled (and they did). I should note that our practice attendance was very low (< 50%), particularly late in the season. It only took about 3 practices to teach them this style of play, however, and they hit the ground running as soon as we started playing games. Also, your advise about not pushing up the fullbacks worked very well. I'm convinced now that, at the recreational level, pushing up your defense is very overrated. We had very few goals scored against us when our fullbacks "stayed home". The idea of using Premium practice games during practice, rather than drills, also worked very well, particularly with my U-10 girls. I had a lot more fun coaching this year, and I'm sure the girls had a lot more fun playing."
  • Coach Jack, U-10 and U-14 Girls, Nevada, USA

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