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There are coaches in soccer that live and breathe tactics and love to teach strategies to their players. However transferring the knowledge to the athletes in an understandable way poses a big challenge and can even make a decent coach struggle. Bad organization and even worse display of tactic documentation is one of the main reasons for failure, especially on an amateur level.

Managing tactics in soccer

At once it happens fast, too fast. The team is trailing and then there is a red card for the best defender, on top. The next scene starts with the coach making wild gestures. He’s shouting the new tactical instructions all across the field, which ultimately brings even more confusion to the own players. They hear some of the coach’s terms for the first time. A team can be as talented and technically adept as it gets, if they are not up to par on the tactical part of the game, they will most likely lose that game.

The first soccer tactics and formations were developed as early as the late 19th century and ever since that time coaches keep puzzling over new tactics. You would think that up to the present day the tactical quality of soccer would be extremely high, across all skill levels. Unfortunately that mostly only applies for the highest stages of professional soccer. The lower the level of play, the more tactical aspects of the game get neglected. On an amateur level the tactical education of players mostly doesn’t go beyond basic knowledge, like starting formations. Most coaches’ organization of tactical documents is bad and a lot of players have never seen a well-wrought set play on a piece of paper or let alone on a digital display. Neither have they received any kind of tactical game plan from their coaches. It might not apply to all coaches, there are a bunch of exceptions out there, just as other sports have shown for many years how to develop players on a tactical level.

Scouting opponents and preparation of tactics – more than half the battle

In American sports, like American Football and Basketball, video analysis and scouting of opponents is the basis of tactical game plans and is an inherent part of training, for several decades now. The main difference to soccer is that it seems like those sports have developed some sort of tactical culture across different nations and skills levels. Even for American Football youth teams in Germany tactical training is a consistent part of their weekly routine. Almost every week players get a playbook from their coaches. Those documents are filled with tactics for the own team and scouting reports of the upcoming opponent. Game situations and tactics will be analyzed, planned and determined with the help of digital tools. So why is soccer lagging miles behind in the tactical area?

"While other areas like soccer boots or ball get over-optimized in a way, tactical aspects of the game are almost completely ignored."

Game situations in soccer can be highly complex – 11 opposing players that can basically move across the field in hundred different ways. Preparing for such tactical scenarios comes with a high amount of extra effort. But it seems, that while physical abilities, shooting techniques, balls or even soccer boots get over-optimized in a way, tactical aspects of the game are almost completely ignored. And yet it is more a fundamental problem of preparation than a technical one. Digital tools, like video analysis and the management tools, that counteract the problem of tactical complexity, definitely are in existence. But not only coaches who are shy of tactics should be rethinking, because it is a crucial ability to present strategies to players readily understandable.

Develop a game-day tactic plan

There is no perfect guideline to creating a tactic plan. However the first step, after establishing a basic strategy, is to make “scouting your opponents” the foundation of your tactical assignments:

  • What are the opponent’s weaknesses?

  • How is the team adjusting to immediate defensive pressure after a change of ball possession?

  • What is the adjustment after falling behind?

Once the coach has found answers to those and other crucial questions, the development of a game day tactics plan can start. Note – sometimes it can be beneficial to think outside the soccer box. In this manner, different strategies should be prepared that will work for your team in different situations, for instance when falling behind or being outnumbered due to a red card. Possible changes of tactic assignments during the course of the game can be coded with different terms. Corners and free-kick variations should be set up and documented as well. The entire game day tactic plan should be handed out to the players, in order for them to prepare sufficiently for the upcoming opponents. Doing this is crucial, because there is no point in preparing tactics as a coach, if the knowledge is not transferred to the players. In many sports, a so called “Walk Through” is an integral part of each training session before game days. Coaches and players will walk through any possible game situation and tactics on the pitch, for the first 20-30 minutes of a practice.

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By now, anything you need for your tactical planning, can be found on The link to our features comes with a conclusive advice.

As different as some sports may be – Creating free spaces and trying to lead the opponent’s defensive flow into the wrong direction, is something most team sports have in common. Many successful coaches are constantly trying to get inspired and to transfer strategies and entire plays from other sports. Who knows, maybe you will find your new corner or free-kick set play, while watching American Football, Basketball or even Field Hockey. The German football association (DFB) can serve as an example, when they once again hired a non-soccer person for a leading position, in November 2015. The long time field hockey national coach Markus Weise became the head of concept development for the new DFB soccer academy.


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