Attacking Transitions – The Basics

Transitional moments are an understated, underrated and under-coached part of the modern game. How a team sets up after winning or losing the ball can make or break a team. As a result, today we dissect the basics of attacking transitions.

Attacking transitions can be defined as the moment of time between gaining possession and going on the attack right away. In more complex terms, it is the reshaping and restructuring of the team to set up for the attack after winning the ball. Attacking transitions are also closely connected to the concept of counter attacking. That is, the notion of counter attacking simply involves quick attacking transitions. Integral elements to attacking transitions include the decision of when to dribble vs. when to pass, width, verticality and speed. In this article, we will touch on all of these aspects, with example diagrams to a team’s first introduction to transitions at the 7v7 stage, playing 2-3-1.


After winning the ball and going on the attack, one of the first decisions to be made is whether to dribble or pass. Players need to be aware of their surroundings, scan the field and make the best decision based on what they see. This question is more of a mystery rather than a puzzle, as any one situation may be unique. But in general terms, here is a guide on when to dribble vs. when to pass, allowing the team to have the best chance at setting themselves up for the attack.


• Pressure is being applied.
• Other players are in more advantageous positions.
• All or several defenders can be taken out of the picture with a pass.
• The ability to advance forward has been eliminated.


• There is space in front of the player / no pressure is being applied.
• No players are in advantageous positions.
• Defenders are backing off and appear more concerned about the other options.
• No space is available forwards, but a quick change of direction will open up new options.


After winning the ball and going on the attack, teams need to stretch the opposition and get wide. By doing so, the opposition defenders (who should hopefully already be unbalanced) will have a difficult decision to make about how wide they get in response. If the opposition cover the space out wide, the ball carrier will be able to exploit space in the middle. If the opposition neglect to cover the wide players, the space out wide will be available to exploit.


Although things like width and changes of direction have their place during attacking transitions, verticality will allow a team to exploit space faster than any other kind of movement. In the decision of whether to dribble or pass, either decision should be made with the intent to go forward whenever possible. A backwards or sideways pass/movement will only slow the team down and allow the opposition more time and space to get back and defend. In a similar vein, after winning the ball back, a team must activate speed in order to take full advantage of the situation. This should come from both the ball carrier and the surrounding players moving off the ball in a vertical direction.

In the diagram above, you can see all four front players attempting to go forward. The wingers have made movements off the ball into the wide area where they can receive, and the striker has made a movement upwards to try and stretch the back-line. The ball carrier has read the situation to play the ball over to the left, where the defending team is more unbalanced. Even though this is a diagonal pass rather than a vertical one, it is still the best decision in the moment to open up new avenues for the team in possession. From there, the attacking team should be able to cause chaos for the unbalanced defending team. For more on movement off the ball see Support in Attack.

So there it is! The basics of Attacking Transitions for any team, with diagrams and examples for a team’s first introduction to the concept at the 7v7 stage. It doesn’t matter how old the players are, every coach should be looking to teach their players how to effectively go on the attack immediately after winning the ball, furthering their development in the process. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

Be sure to check out more in this series….
-> Playing Out From The Back – The Basics
-> Pressing From The Front – The Basics

You might also enjoy….
-> Support in Attack
-> Attacking Transitions (9v9)


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