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

The concept of tactics in soccer (and all the terms used to describe it) clearly is complex. Is there another soccer topic that lends itself so well to arguing and philosophizing? Understanding tactics is an important component of success in the game. It is not easy defining such a general term in a practical way that we can understand and use. 

The importance of tactics for players and spectators

Tactics are what allow players to make full use of their technical skills, their creativity, their intelligence and their unique personal characteristics. Tactics are the methods or strategies with which players employ their skills. Choosing whether to pass or keep the ball and initiative a 1 v. 1 is a tactical decision. 

For spectators, soccer is athletic theater. Spectators do not just observe the actions of the players; they also predict outcomes, envision potential successful game sequences and analyze results, especially if they have some personal experience in the game. A strong appeal of the game lies in comparing the products of one's own imagination with the real events unfolding on the field. For the big games, objective criticism and evaluation provides a pastime for millions of people, sometimes for days afterwards, and it adds to the aura of the sport. Tactics are the key to the dramatic composition of the game; they create an atmosphere of suspense and excitement between players and spectators. 

The importance of tactics for coaches

In the "theater" of soccer, the coach is like a director. Tactics give coaches a chance to play a role in the welfare of their teams, at least indirectly, through their ideas and strategies. The importance of tactics for individual coaches depends largely on their attitudes and expectations. Those who favor a "tactically refined" playing style look for a calculating tactical intelligence in their players, and they expect even younger players to maintain at least some degree of tactical discipline on the field. Other coaches believe that soccer is primarily a competitive physical contact sport, and that players need assertiveness, aggressiveness, good condition, strength of will, a willingness to get involved and an appreciation of the game in conjunction with technical skills in order to succeed on the soccer field. In defining your own relationship to tactics and tactics training, you should consider the following instruction:

  • The concept of "tactics" alone cannot cover all the knowledge, skills, actions, plans and plays that are important in the game of soccer.
  • Tactical actions, technical skills, physical condition and mental ability are intimately interconnected; each one influences the others. Players need other qualities and skills beyond the tactical knowledge they learn from the coach. It is important to take this into account in practice. Players have to learn and develop tactical skills, just like they do with technique and condition.
  • Despite the great variability in the game of soccer, there are typical situations and patterns of action that recur frequently, for individual players, specific groups of players, and the team as a whole. Coaches and players need to have the various tactical alternatives for each of these situations at their fingertips. This body of knowledge forms a system that can be classified according to the terminology defined in Table 1 (Part C, coming on Monday, 13th).
  • Every coach should know the major methods of tactics training and be able to use them appropriately, depending on players' age and ability levels. For children's tactics training, and especially for teaching tactical patterns on the field, keep in mind that children are not as good at observation or abstract thinking as adults are, and their capacity for executing a tactical plan is limited. "Less is more" is definitely the rule for youth tactics training (Part C, coming on Monday, 13th)

Click here for Part B, Part C