An American Soccer Player’s General "Rules of the Road"™



New soccer players, in particular, need overall guidance on general team tactics.  This includes positioning, ball work, and team functions.Accordingly, for new players and new coaches alike, Coaching American offers up the following General “Rules of the Road” for on-field play. This list goes hand-in-glove with teaching positions and positioning and can easily be adapted to reflect a coach’s personal preferences and style.

  • Don’t needlessly put yourself on the ground, except for slide tackles. If you go down, get up immediately.  Stay on your feet.  Don’t go “flying.”
  • The designated players take throw-ins. Otherwise, if the opportunity presents itself, the closest player to the ball makes the throw in order to take advantage of a “quick strike.” Near the attacking goal, it can be the player with the longest throw.
  • If you are called off of the ball, you are obligated to leave it for your teammate.
  • When two teammates are both going for the ball, the player going toward the attacking goal, or away from the middle of the field, has preference.
  • When hearing communication regarding “right” and “left,” no matter which way you are actually facing this always refers to the sides of the field in your team’s attacking direction.
  • If no one tells you that you are free to work with the ball, you should assume that you are being challenged by an opponent. If your teammate is free to work with the ball, you are obligated to tell him.
  • If you are free with the ball, dribble upfield until you attract attention, then pass.
  • The simplest pass is generally the best.
  • Raise your hand when open for a pass at distance.
  • A general order of precedence for passing would be:
      1. Up-field, away from goal, toward the nearest sideline, when in the defending end
      2. Through ball or cross, when in the attacking end
      3. Forward diagonal pass
      4. Forward pass down the sideline
      5. Square pass
      6. Back pass
  • Create as many opportunities for passes for your teammates as you can.
  • Don’t pass a ball to a teammate who is not looking at you.
  • When someone receives a pass, there must be at least four passing options created immediately for the person with the ball. These should include:
      1. Long or cross
      2. Medium diagonal
      3. Square
      4. Back
  • A player presenting a back pass option to his teammate must be at least 10 yards behind the ball.
  • A player making a back pass must properly turn, screen the ball, and make a firm pass.  It must not just be left in place where it can be intercepted.
  • Never assume that a teammate sees that you are open, or that he knows that there is an opponent behind him. Constant communication and reinforcement of information is mandatory from every player on the field.
  • Switching positions in the normal flow of play is encouraged.
  • When an unmarked teammate is dribbling at you from behind, do not hold your position, promptly break left or right depending on which direction is likely to create the best passing option.
  • You must learn how to play all of the positions.
  • One of the ways to learn the game is to think of the field as a “game board” and the players as the “pieces.” Strive to know how the pieces interact and picture in your mind how they move about in relation to one another. When the picture changes, you must move around accordingly.
  • You should always be evaluating:
      1. What place should I move to on the field to best benefit the team?
      2. What are the opponents’ weaknesses that can be exploited?
      3. What are our weaknesses that need to be covered?
  • Defense means getting your body between the opponent and the goal.
  • Offense means ultimately getting off a shot on goal.
  • Determine the weather and the playing conditions of the field and adapt to them.  (See:  Soccer-Field Conditions.)
  • Do not pass or “swing” the ball in front of the goal in your defensive third of the field unless you are absolutely certain there is no danger of the ball being intercepted.
  • When back-passing to the goalkeeper, make sure the path of the ball would take it outside of the goalpost.
  • Remember that the last play on defense is the first play on offense and to make the ensuing pass as perfect as possible in order to maintain possession for the team.
  • Designated players generally take free kicks.  Quick kicks are only used to take advantage of a situation.
  • Use the “‘Smith System’* Applied To Soccer”™:
      1. Aim high while dribbling – look long, deep, or wide first before bringing your vision down nearer the ball
      2. Keep your eyes moving – don’t lock in on one thing only to miss a developing opportunity or problem
      3. Get the big picture – strive to see what everyone, teammates and opponents alike, is doing
      4. Make sure others see you – do not assume that a teammate knows you are open for a pass or available to help in coverage
      5. Leave yourself an out – don’t allow yourself to get trapped in a corner, along the sideline, or triple teamed

    *Adapted from the Smith System of Defensive Driving

© Copyright, John C. Harves