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Soccer is an invasion game. The objective is to breach another team’s defense to score.

Invasion games rely upon the concepts of attack and defense and to that end, transferring knowledge between sports such as Basketball, American Football, Rugby and Soccer is significant.

It can be a real advantage when planning coaching education, to have coaches with previous teaching/coaching experiences in other sports, particularly when training coaches new to soccer.

Establishing an in-house coaching education program based on Attacking and Defending Principles of Play can provide a Director/Educator with an ideal framework to deliver meaningful training building upon (for most people) prior knowledge and experiences.

Principles of play are the underpinning concepts of the game and can be coached from the first stage of development (3-5 year old players) onwards.

The principles relate to attacking and defending and should not be confused with systems of play – the formation of the team on the field.

The principles of play are the same in any system of play.

I have found that coaches with working understanding of these principles make better decisions on which skill, technique and tactic to select.

Removing the guesswork from coaching allows the coach to focus on methodology, personality and performance.

With a good appreciation of the principles of play and excellent technique a team will be able to play any system and style.

As we witnessed during the webinar presentations, the most experienced and respected educators sometimes di!er in their perspectives on the key principles.

For example, Gwynne introduced the principle of ‘Possession’ and Charlie discussed the principle of ‘Transition’ – both very important concepts for coaching attacking play.

But neither make the most common list of 5 Principles outlined in the introductory presentation by Ian.

Depending on your frame of reference, the number and organization of the principles may vary from these 5 Principles of Attack.

As a note, due to significant di!erences in the development pace of young players of the same age, I prefer to focus on developmental stages than age of players when planning coach training.

To this end, I have made reference above and below to ‘Stages of Development’ in an e!ort to provide the reader with guidance on when it is feasible to commence teaching a particular Principle.

In the 5 stage of development model – a soccer adaptation of the Canadian Long Term Athletic Development Model - development occurs on a continuum where the age of the player is not as important as developmental readiness.

The stages are loosely based on the following: Stage 1 (3 - 5 year olds), Stage 2 (6-8), Stage 3 (9-11), Stage 4 (12-14) & Stage 5 (15-18). Each stage of the model promotes a di!erent development focus – the interplay between physical, cognitive, emotional, psychological and social variables.



In simplistic terms penetration is the act of breaking through the defense by dribbling, shooting, running or passing.

We can start to coach penetration at the 1st stage of development.


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.

We can start to coach support at the 2nd stage of development with an introduction to passing and receiving.


Attackers make runs into di!erent areas of the field in order to draw defenders out of their positions.

A coach can commence teaching this principle late 2nd stage for advanced learners and stage 3 for others.


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 e!ort to find a seam or space between or behind the defense. We can start coaching width in late stage 2 and early stage 3.


Attackers will try to break down defenses 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 starts in the 1st stage of development.

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