Defining tactics: the plan behind the game (Part C)

Table 1: Tactics - definitions

Tactical Knowledge

Knowledge, either learned or based on personal experience, of typical game situations and their possible solutions.

Tactical Plan

Deciding which tactical actions to execute. These decisions are based on tactical knowledge and are made either ahead of time by the coach or spontaneously during the game by the players.

Tactical Action

Making use of basic condition as well as tactical and technical skills to turn a tactical plan into a real play.

Tactical Abilities 

The sensory abilities, mental skills and character traits required to execute a tactical action successfully; supported by good technique and condition.

General Individual Tactics

The tactical plan and action of an individual player who either has the ball or is attempting to win it. These actions are general in nature and are appropriate for players in all positions.

Special Positional Tactics

Specialized tactical plans and actions for players in specific positions (both attackers and defenders), for dealing with position specific game situations.

Group Tactics

Tactical plans and actions involving two or more players, who either have the ball (attack tactics) or are working together to stop the opposition's attack (defense tactics).

Team Tactics

Tactical plans and actions involving the majority of players on a team, to set up shooting opportunities (attack tactics) or to keep the opposition from setting up their own (defense tactics).

Set Play Tactics

Tactical plans and actions used by one or more players (attackers or defenders) to deal with kickoffs, throw-ins, corner kicks, free kicks or penalty kicks.

Match Tactics

Tactical plan and actions (for any number of players) that take into account the unique conditions of a particular match (e.g. the oppositions strengths and weaknesses, your own team's strengths, weather, ground conditions, spectators, type and importance of match, references, etc.).

Table 2: Tactics and tactics training for youth players


  • The tactical demands on young players must be limited. Children younger than 12, in particular, have shorter attention spans and a lesser capacity for abstract thinking. 
  • Because of these limitations, younger players have to acquire and expand their tactical knowledge one step at a time. It takes many years to develop a solid base of playing experience. 
  • The job of a youth coach is to present a measured and progressive training program, with exercises and objectives that are appropriate to players' age and ability at each step along the way.

Objectives for 6- to 10-year olds

Understanding basic concepts and simple tactical actions:

  • shooting and blocking shots
  • setting up shooting opportunities
  • moving up the field by dribbling and passing 
  • blocking the opposition's attacks, alone and together with teammates
  • maintaining positions (more or less)

Objectives for 10- to 12-year olds

The basics of individual tactics

  • getting open
  • marking an opponent
  • simple dribbling and faking
  • correct form and timing for tackling

The basics of group and team tactics

  • simple combinations
  • supporting a teammate in 1 v. 1 situations
  • moving up the field when your team is attacking
  • learning and executing simple tasks for assigned positions
  • correct methods for handling set plays (both attackers and defenders)

Objectives for 12- to 14-year olds

Improving and expanding individual tactics

  • assertive 1 v. 1 play
  • choosing the right technique for the situation
  • improving faking for ball control, dribbling and shooting

Expanding group and team tactics

  • using wall passes and playing on the wings
  • choosing between opponent- and ball-oriented defense

Objectives for 14- to 16-year olds

Learning correct and physically assertive 1 v. 1 play

  • developing position-specific tactics

Learning more complex group and team tactics

  • counterattack, frontal attack, game on the wings, switching the are of play
  • playing zone (ball-oriented) defense as a team, pressing and deep pressing
  • variations on set plays

Objectives for 16- to 18-year olds

Following position- and opponent-specific tactical instructions from the coach

  • playing responsibly, yet creatively, as a member of a group
  • using individual technical and conditional strengths to advance a tactical plan

Improving and expanding tactical skills as a team

  • using the offside trap
  • putting match tactics into action

Table 3: Tactics in soccer

Phase of Game Situation

Phase 1

A midfielder stands with is back to the opposition's goal, with one opponent loosely covering him. A defender kicks a pass on the ground to the midfielder's foot.

Phase of Tactical Action


The midfielder observes the incoming ball and notes the actions of the opponent covering him, as well as the actions and intended path of his teammate.


Sensory Abilities 

  • central and peripheral vision
  • timing, for calculating running paths and passing lanes
  • tactile/muscle sense, to feel the opponent
  • sense of space, position and balance

Phase 2

At this point, the midfielder has a number of options. He can:

  • turn while receiving the ball and start a solo run at the goal,
  • turn while receiving the ball and pass to the forward,
  • turn while receiving the ball and shoot from his current position,
  • play a wall pass with the passer in order to get behind his opponent.

Situation Analysis

The midfielder compares the situation with others he is experienced in the past, considers the alternatives, and anticipates how teammates and opponents will act.

Planning and Decision-Making

The player weighs the advantages and disadvantages of possible actions and chooses one.

Intellectual Skills

  • memory of past games; tactical knowledge; ability to adapt, adjust, and learn; ability to think ahead (anticipate)

Mental/Personal Characteristics

  • self-confidence; courage; composure; optimal combination of aggressiveness and calm; willingness to take risks, but also a sense of responsibility (for the success of the team); strength of will

Phase 3

The player chooses the following action: He turns while controlling the ball, dribbles toward the goal and shoots.


Using the skills and abilities listed in prerequisites, the player executes the action described in phase 3.

Coordination and Condition

  • ball control techniques, dribbling (including faking and shooting), speed with and without the ball, agility

Phase 4

Because the shot was rushed and poorly aimed, the ball goes wide of the goal and out. A promising situation has been wasted. 


The player observes (negative) result if his/her actions, examines the causes, and notes of them for similar situations in the future.

Critical Thinking Skills

  • capacity for self-criticism and rational (instead of emotional) inquiry into causes, ability to store the sequence of events in memory

Click here for Part A, Part B