Select, Travel and High School Soccer

12 soccer tactics, tips and strategies for select, travel and high school teams.

Good soccer tactics can make a huge difference in winning or losing games. Below are 12 soccer tactics, tips and strategies, including soccer formations, styles of play, soccer defense, the speed of play, free kicks and more. Some of the following SoccerHelp soccer tactics and tips apply to all ages, but some are only for players U-14 and older.

Over 120 soccer tactics and tips are on SoccerHelp and SoccerHelp Premium.


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SOCCER TACTICS AND TIPS FROM SOCCEREHLP.COM (There are additional tactics and tips in the Premium version of this article)

  1. Practice Passing Quickly and Playing at a Fast Pace.

    At advanced levels, the game is played faster. It is a tough adjustment for players to increase the speed of their play, because they must make decisions faster. One common problem is holding the ball too long and losing it. Encourage travel and high school players to play at a fast speed and to not hold the ball long. If they try to hold it until the last second, they will lose it when they play a faster than normal team. Teach your players to one-touch pass and to pass ASAP. One-touch is a faster way to play and players should be taught to play that way instead of always 2-touching. At higher levels of play, the teams that can play faster usually win. The Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race™ practice game is a great way to teach players to one-touch pass. It is also a way to teach players to move to the ball on passes, to pass ASAP, and to be an aggressive receiver, which is VERY important. This is a game and score is kept, so the players have to play fast while under pressure, like they will have to be able to do in a real game - this game teaches them to play fast while under pressure. You can play this game 3 times in about ten minutes. There is a video of this training game at Soccer Drill to Teach Receiving, One Touch & how to Pass While Running Video

  2. Playing Teams That Are Much Slower Or Weaker Than Yours Can Slow Down Your Team's Play. (THIS IS IMPORTANT)

    If you watch a lot of soccer you will notice this is a potential problem. If you play a slower team, consider playing your substitutes or second team, or find a way to make your team play fast; for example, require them to not hold the ball for more than 2 seconds. The reason is that against a much weaker or slower team, your team can goof around, hold the ball longer than normal, dribble more or play more slowly (they have longer to think and make decisions). This can cause a problem when you play a good team because it will take your team 10-20 minutes to adjust back to the faster game speed and it is during that time that they are likely to give up a goal. A one goal deficit against a tough opponent can be difficult to overcome. Another idea is to require that your team only score on crosses or only score inside the Penalty Box, or move your Fullbacks up to Forward. The best approach is to not play teams that are much slower or weaker than your team.

  3. Weight Training and Speed Training.

    Not long ago I was watching a high school game and talking to the father of one of the players. The son had impressive skills and good instincts and field vision. The father said the 16 year old son wanted to go to Brazil this summer to train. In hindsight, what the player needs to work on is not his skill, but his strength and speed. Many, if not most, high school players don't spend enough time on weight and speed training. At higher levels, skills are similar, but the bigger, faster, stronger team has an advantage.

  4. Passing to Open Space and Movement Off the Ball.

    Being able to pass to open space, anticipating passes to open space and "movement off the ball" are critical at high levels. Players who can play this way have an advantage over those who can't. Playing this way allows a team to have a much faster, more fluid and more creative attack. Coaches should encourage this style of play and teach it at younger ages. It is a way of thinking, as opposed to "passing to feet". A player who can only pass to feet and who doesn't know how to pass to space or move to create space is very limited. See "35 Attacking Tips, Tactics & Strategies" in Premium. Try the "Pass to Space, Run With Ball and Shoot" and "3 Man Direct, Wing Attacking" games in Premium.

  5. If Your Style of Play Isn't Working, Adjust.

    We recently watched a high school game where one team was good at Fullback and Forward, but weak at two of the midfield positions. They kept trying to make short passes thru the midfield and kept losing the ball. This went on for the entire game and they lost 4-0. They had very fast forwards and I believe the coach should have adjusted and had his fullbacks bypass the midfield by sending long, lofted passes to the forwards. At least, they would have had a chance by using a different style. They had no chance by trying to make short passes thru the midfield, that style of play simply couldn't be successful.

  6. Flat Back 3 or 4 vs. A Sweeper.

    In High School play, using a Sweeper is often better than a Flat Back 3 or 4. There are two reasons:

    1. The differences in speed. The attacking team usually has one or two very fast forwards, while most High School teams don't have 3 or 4 very fast Fullbacks. If the FB's push up to the Halfway Line, there is a long distance between the FB's and their Goalkeeper (say 40 yards). This gives a very fast forward an advantage over slower FB's. This problem is solved by using a fast Sweeper who plays behind the FB's.
    2. Using a Sweeper allows the FB's to play more aggressively and to mark closer and take chances to win 50/50 balls, because they know they have a Sweeper backing them up.
  7. Strategy for Playing Against A Team That Has A Better Midfield.

    If you are playing against a significantly better team, it usually means they are better in the midfield. This makes it unlikely that you can beat them by passing the ball thru the midfield. Your odds are realistically not good. Your best bet is to play long balls and try to get the ball into the opposing Penalty Box as much as possible. Try to get 2 or 3 players into the Penalty Box and hope for a lucky break or a Penalty Kick.

  8. Strategy For Pushing Up A Fast Target Forward vs. a Sweeper.

    I saw this recently: a great, fast Forward on an otherwise average team. The Forward was so good the opponent assigned a shadow marker (between him and the goal) to him and had their Sweeper play 10 yards behind him. The Forward only pushed up to the halfway line, but in this case, he should have pushed as far as the Sweeper would back up. Doing so would have stretched the Defense, which would have been to his team's (the attacking team's) advantage, and he would have taken defenders with him, which would have given his team an advantage. Even if he pushed up too far to receive a cleared ball, his teammates (Offensive Midfielder's) could have been in position to receive the ball, and with a numerical advantage his team would have had a better chance of moving the ball into their Attacking Third.

  9. If You Can't Move The Ball Thru The Midfield.

    If you can't move the ball through your midfield by short passes (because your midfielders don't have the skill, can't win the ball, muddy field conditions, or whatever the reason), your best option is to put your fastest players at forward and play long balls (ideally behind the opposing Fullbacks). If you can go "over the top", at least you will turn the opposing Fullbacks around, back them up, stretch the defense, your Forwards have the chance to win the ball or capitalize on an error, and you get the ball off your side of the field. It is surprising how many coaches try to stick with a controlled short passing game even when they are behind and it isn't working. If one style of play isn't working, try something different if your team is capable of it.

  10. Formation and Styles of Play.

    Choose the formation and style of play that gives your team the greatest chance for success. This may vary, somewhat, from game to game. For example, if you can't be successful playing an indirect "Possession Style" of play, consider a counterattacking style that uses quick through passes or long balls. Another example: if your Fullbacks are slower than the opposing Forwards, it is dangerous for you to push up your FB's and the farther you push them up, the more dangerous it is. As an alternative, consider playing a "Sweeper" who plays about 5-10 steps deeper than the opposing Forwards, or just have your Fullbacks "Defend Deep" and use a formation such as a 3-2-2-3 that provides depth.

  11. Another Danger of a "Flat Back/Pushed Up Defense" and a Reason to Try Long Balls and Fast Counterattacks When Attacking a Flat Back/Pushed Up Defense.

    If you are able to play several dangerous long balls, the opposing Goalkeeper will start thinking about coming out of goal ("off his line") to kick the ball away (or pick it up as soon as it enters the Penalty Box). This is good for the attacking team because it pulls the Keeper out of goal and creates opportunities to chip over him or to score on a Keeper error. Conversely, it is a problem for the defending team. If your opponent is getting opportunities on breakaways and fast counterattacks, you should drop back your fastest defender to play like a Sweeper (stay about 10 steps between the fastest attacker and your goal) or, at younger ages, just "Defend Deep" and use a formation such as a 3-2-2-3 that gives you more depth.

  12. Free Kicks.

    If you have a Fullback or Sweeper who is good at Free Kicks, have him or her take them when you are in the Middle and Attacking Thirds. This will give you an extra receiver. Obviously, tell the kicker to drop back to a defensive position after taking the kick.

  13. Teach Players to Always Feint When Passing or Receiving.

    This will benefit them greatly as they get older and play at higher levels.

  14. Defensive Tip: 2 Attackers vs. One Defender, from Matthew, Greensborough, Melbourne, Victoria

    (Matthew said: "I've only been playing indoor soccer for a couple of years, but I find myself averaging 5 goals per match, and our team hasn't lost in 2 seasons. I am in the under 14's age group. So after I post my tip I would like some tips to support our attacking style of play.")

    My tip will help defenders win the ball in a 2 on 1 situation........when an opposition player is bringing the ball down the floor and another player is running on the other side of the court, ready for the pass, this tip is very effective. Run up to the player with the ball, but stay 1-2.5 metres away, this will entice him to carry the ball further, when he reaches a few metres out from the goalie's circle, start attacking, he will try to pass the ball to the other player, but he won't be able to because he has brought the ball down to far, and hasn't left himself enough room to pass. This tip always works, even against the better players.