Choosing the right tactics for your soccer team is one of the most important decisions a coach has to make. It is also the most difficult decision and the one second guessed most often. Tactics start with the overarching game philosophy, such as possession soccer, fast transition, counterattack, high pressure, in other words the fundamental style of the team. From that flows a choice of formations or systems of play. This in turn drives the tactical elements of practice. Lastly, the next opponent will cause some fine tuning during game preparation.
There are two fundamental ways soccer coaches can approach this for their team:
- Have a style/tactic/formation that is immovable. It defines who the coach is and rarely changes. This requires the coach to have the ability to choose players that fit their system and to have time before the season to practice it. It requires patience. It is suitable for professional or competitive amateur teams where the time and money exist. Sometimes it can take two seasons to get there. Examples of coaches who fall into this group are Klopp, Mourinho, Guardiola, Klinsmann.[separator top=”20″]
- Base your style/tactic/formation on the player personnel available, the competition you’ll encounter, and the time you have to train. This is suitable for teams with short pre-seasons and little flexibility in player recruitment. Certainly non-competitive teams (recreational, house league), school teams and to some degree college teams fall into this category.
Good coaches realize the situation and adapt to develop what’s best for the team. I have a general disposition towards a fast transition game, generating scoring chances quickly and working on converting chances to goals. Time of possession is less important. However, I have adapted based on players and competition. For example this past summer I coached a youth team that had more skill than the other teams (by sheer coincidence as the players were assigned by the league). If we had played “my regular” game we would have run up the scores, which I don’t like. So we played a lot of possession soccer and viewed it as an opportunity to practice passing and communication during the game. On the other hand when I coached a college team with inferior talent and experience, we decided to play a defensive, fast break attacking game. We didn’t mind the other teams having possession outside of our defensive third. Once they entered our defensive third we applied pressure and closed down passing/shooting options. We then had a goal of getting to the other end in seven seconds completing the fast break with a shot on goal. We had some very successful seasons.
The advice then is to do your homework as coach. Understand your preference. Take inventory of your season schedule, your competitive environment, and your players’ capabilities. Then select your style/tactics/formation and practice it with your team. A good overview of formations can be found in our book Systems of Play.