Support in Attack (9v9)

Triangles and diamonds in possession

Although players are constantly thrust into 1v1 battles on a football pitch, attacking is something that the whole team needs to engage in as a unit. As a result, players need to learn how to support each other in attack, even if they are not directly involved with the play. This article will explore support in attack for young players, with a special focus on 9v9 teams.

KEY FACTOR: OFF-THE-BALL MOVEMENT

The most important thing that a player can do to support another player in attack is engange in off-the-ball movement. On the football pitch, standing still rarely gets you anywhere. But players need to learn how to support with their movement and not move just for the sake of moving. Off-the-ball movement is actually so much more complex than just the sheer act of moving. It’s about understanding how, when and where to move, how to get into a position to receive, how to give the player on the ball as many options as possible and even how not to get in the way of the player on the ball.

When moving off the ball, players should generally keep the following guidelines in mind:

1. Face the ball, or maintain an open body shape to receive

Be prepared to receive in a position to go forwards or backwards with or after the first touch (half-turn). Never turn your back to the ball.

2. Remain in a position to receive, either in space or square on. 

Incorrect positioning to receive the ball

Players around the ages of 7-10 often have a hard time with this one, running as far away from the ball as possible without remembering that their teammate cannot possibly kick it to them that far away.  Players younger than 7 (as we all know) will get so close to each other that they step on each others toes and passing becomes not even an option.

However, even players at the 9v9 level can still misjudge how far their teammates can pass the ball. As this article focuses on younger players, the positions of the left-back and central midfielder above are not advantageous as it is very unlikely the right-back will be able to clip a ball over to the left-back or get the perfect angle on a through-ball for the central midfielder. Instead, they should adopt positions closer to the ball, in front of the opposition defenders, as evidenced below. 

Receiving in front of the player

3. Create space away from opposition defenders. 

Create space away from the defender

It is usually not advantageous to hide behind opposition defenders. Instead, players should look to get in front of the defender or to the side of them, where they can receive with space to roam into.

4. Create space away from the player on the ball

Two players running into the same space

Recognize the path that the player on the ball is running into and create space in an alternate direction. This creates confusion in the minds of defenders on whether or not to track the runner or stop the player on the ball.

Create space away from the player on the ball

5. Give the player on the ball many options for short passes 

Diamond Shape in Possession

Although creating space away from the player on the ball often allows the player on the ball to have more room to run into, players should also think about coming toward the ball to receive and giving as many options for short passes as possible. Short passes are often far less risky than longer passes, and can often be the most advantageous way to advance forward without losing possession. Even professional teams who adopt a long-ball approach still predominantly utilize shorter passes.

When teams successfully move off the ball as a unit, the player on the ball should always have a forwards, backwards and sideways option nearby. 

6. Movement does not always have to be forwards

No passing options

Dropping to receive, thus creating a backwards option for a pass, is an equally useful movement skill as the art of forward runs. When moving backwards, players should always be facing the ball and should virtually run backwards, rather than turning their back.

Triangle passing at the back

7. Movement is also beneficial in creating space for other players

Players should recognize that creating space for themselves to receive is not only beneficial for their own ability to receive but also for others in their ability to receive. For example, sometimes moving away from the ball, rather than closer, can create space for a teammate in a more advantageous position to receive instead.

Lack of support in possession

In the example above, our left-back’s movement towards the ball has caused the opposition right winger to shift inside, where they are now in a position to cut off a pass not only to our left-back but also our team’s central midfielder. By moving away from the player with the ball, our left-back can draw the opposition right winger away, thus creating space for our central midfielder to now be in a position to receive.

Support in Attack example


KEY FACTOR: TRIANGLES AND DIAMONDS 

Triangles and diamonds in possession

In possession, creating space through shapes is a helpful tool for young players to learn how to better support each other in attack. Beyond the ease at which it aids learning, learning how to create triangles and diamonds on the pitch can also be greatly beneficial for a team’s success.

Among many benefits, triangles and diamonds give teams…

  • More options for passes
  • A variety of different angles for passes, ex: forwards, sideways and backwards
  • The ability to play short or long
  • Space away from the player on the ball
  • A greater ability to keep possession of the ball
  • A greater ability to combine with quick and short link-up play in the final third

KEY FACTOR: COMMUNICATION

Communication (as always) is essential when players are supporting each other in attack. As discussed in Communication in Youth Soccer, players need to understand when to communicate and when not to communicate. Often times young players will get eager for the ball and call for it when they are not in a position to receive. Sometimes this act of communication even results in a loss of possession. Players need to be mindful of when they are communicating and how they are communicating.

Some great cue words for players (and coaches) to use include:

  •  “Show” / “Come to”
  • “Get wide” / “Create space”
  •  “Play short” / “Play long”
  •  “See insert player’s name”
  •  “Time” vs. “Man-on” / “Back”

For more on these cue words among others see Communication in Youth Soccer.

For coaches, cue words like these are great because the players still own the decision of what to do, using your feedback as a reference point. For players, they are also helpful to adopt as they are short and succinct, allowing players to make quicker decisions.


So there it is! Support in Attack for 9v9 teams. Although 1v1 situations happen all over the field, attacking is ultimately something that players have to learn how to do as a team. Unlike defending which is often more reactive, attacking often needs to be proactive, through things like communication, movement and the creation of shapes. By following some of these steps your team can always be prepared to cause trouble for the opposition in attack and retain better control of possession. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

Be sure to check out the rest of this series below…

  1. Pressing From The Front (9v9)
  2. Playing out from the Back (9v9)
  3. Switching Play (9v9)
  4. Defensive Transitions (9v9)
  5. Attacking Transitions (9v9)
  6. Communication in Youth Soccer
  7. Progressive Possession (9v9)
  8. Support in Defense (9v9)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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