How do I go to there?
November 9, 2010 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Started playing soccer and ultimate frisbee this past summer. Even though I can keep up physically, I've realized I have no clue where to position myself. Can you help me with my game? I would really like to play more offensively, but I don't know how!

I've noticed that in both sports while I'm decent at defending - following my mark, staying between my mark and the ball/disc - I am never in a position to play offensively. Even though my passing and throwing skills are okay, I never get the ball or disc unless I'm defending and trying to take it away from someone else. It's nice to prevent the other team from scoring, but I want to help my soccer and ultimate teams score! What kind of strategies can I use in order to recognize primes places to run to so I can receive the ball/disc?
posted by mlo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Soccer specific, but applies to ultimate some, too.

Getting forward you should be trying to find space that meets 3 criteria.

1: Teammate with ball can get you the ball
2: No other teammates in that area
3: You can score, or at least help continue the offensive assault

As you get a better sense, you can start look a few passes ahead, but you'll rarely go wrong if you just make yourself available in space.
posted by timdicator at 9:06 AM on November 9, 2010

You don't say what level the ultimate teams are at, but I guess you're not running plays or it would be more obvious what to do.

The big unintuitive thing in ultimate is that you want to be running towards the thrower, not away (like in football). If you are sprinting towards the thrower, it'll be maximally hard for the defenders to intercept or knock down the pass to you.

So the standard ultimate tactic is: Most people jog out a decent distance forward from the thrower (except for a couple who hang around to get dump-off passes). Then one at a time they sprint towards the thrower trying to get open for a pass.

Even if your team isn't running plays like that explicitly, if you follow that general formula you will get open a lot. It's tiring, though!
posted by dfan at 9:12 AM on November 9, 2010

In ultimate - be aware of where the disc is, who is about to catch it, and make a cut into a space they can throw to. Cut early enough that when they turn round and look up field you are already moving, but not so early that you are already in the middle of the space (and thus there is no space to throw the disc into).

If you can master the timing of these "continuation cuts" if will be a big help to your team. Once the disc as be caught and immediately passed to the next player upfield a couple of times, the defence is on the back foot and the O team has control.

More generally, practice faking so you can get a few steps ahead of your mark. If your eventual cut doesn't work, make that cut a massive fake and go the other way (e.g. if you bust long and the disc doesn't come, cut back towards the disc - chances are your mark will be worried about you going long again and stay behind you).

Also know that some players are great on D and some are great on O, but fewer are great on both. Depending on what team you play for, how seriously they play, and whether they have any kind of semi-organised O or D lines, you might just be a good D player. But as they say, O wins games, D wins tournaments...
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:15 AM on November 9, 2010

What level is the soccer you're playing, and how are the games arranged (for example: is it 11 players per side, is there are a referee or are these more informal games, etc.)? A previous question was I'm playing in a men's soccer league this summer! What should I do first? which might contain some useful pointers.

The best advice for soccer in general is to get into space and know what you will do with the ball if you receive it. If you're in a good shooting position, that's fine, but if not, knowing where your next step is helps a lot. The better you keep the ball for your teammates the more likely they are to pass to you in future as they'll know that it's going to help the move. Also, if everyone's going to the same place - say the ball's near the opposition goalmouth and there's a bit of a scramble to win it - then drop off a few metres so you can pick the ball up easily if it gets hit clear. Unless you have a great understanding with your teammates, you rarely want to be in the same places that they are.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by smcg at 9:16 AM on November 9, 2010

"Once the disc as be caught" = "Once the disc has been caught"
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:20 AM on November 9, 2010

Communicate and get open for short passes.

Try to get open (away from your mark, with line-of-sight to the guy with the ball, close enough that the guy with the ball can accurately pass to you). Call for the ball if you are open (yell "on your left/right" or "drop back" or even "i'm open") When the ball is passed to you (or even before), sprint toward it and get control of it quickly, then pass it on to someone else quickly, ideally up the field.

If you're playing a position (center, defense, forward, etc. for soccer), try to stay in that position relative to other players, even if it means you're too far away to get a short pass immediately. In ultimate, i'm less sure but think you want to run through the open space, calling for the disc, but keep moving so someone else can run through.

Also, expect to have the ball for only seconds at a time, for less than 1/<> of the game.
posted by sninctown at 9:22 AM on November 9, 2010

I think one of the best things you can do with soccer is watch good players play. I'd suggest making a habit of going to your preferred torrent site and downloading Match of the Day every weekend; it's a BBC show that features extended highlights of that Saturday's fixtures, as well as passable analysis of play, with a (necessary, in football) focus on positional awareness.

You could also head over to to get a sort of broader sense of how football works as a positional game. It's all just about using space.
posted by cmyr at 9:29 AM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: For ultimate, the basic structure is a 'stack' of players arranged vertically up the field from the guy with the disc. The players take turns cutting towards the disc holder. when it's my turn to cut I usually fake a deep cut, then quickly change directions and race back towards the disc holder. That tactic usually gets me in the open for a pass... Most important is to keep the throwing lane clear, once you have cut in, make sure you clear out quickly to give someone else a chance to make that same cut.

Now, if you want to do a deep cut for the long pass, make sure you cut IN first to draw the defender in, and then cut back out to a corner of the end zone. Go for the corner that the thrower can hit well, for example if he's a righty set to throw a backhand, go for the left corner. A lot will depend on if the defense is 'forcing' the throw, if they are, cut to the forced corner, or if the thrower is good and can break the force, try for the other corner.

I gather you're playing pickup ultimate? Ask the people you play with, I've always found ultimate people to be very friendly and excited to talk strategy and tactics.

There are some guides online:
Beginner Strategy

Good luck! ULTIMATE!
posted by joecacti at 9:39 AM on November 9, 2010

(I'm assuming you're playing ultimate at the level where there's a break side and an open side, and your team is in a stack. This will be true of anything from league play on up, but may or may not hold for pickup games.)

Are you open and not getting the disc, or are you not shaking your man?

If you're having trouble getting open, then, yeah, work on your fakes. Make fast, sharp cuts -- no bananas! And always, always fake, even if it's just a juke in the opposite direction.

If you're open but you're not getting the disc, then it's your timing or your field sense. You want to start your cut BEFORE the guy with the disc starts looking to throw (or even has the disc). If you're in the middle of play, start your cut when the guy you expect to get the disc from makes his move. In the most common offense, where you're cutting from the back of the stack, the guy behind you will run down field a bit, and then come back to the disc. When he switches direction, you start your cut, down and then back. You want him to be able to throw to you as soon as he gets the disc, before his defender has a chance to set the mark.

I handled a lot, so my field sense was always pretty awful. Know your teammates and what throws they have. Most handlers I know (me included) found it hard to resist an open deep cut from a speedy teammate. Does the guy with the disc have a break throw? Cut to the break side. Your defender's on the open side, so if your teammate has that throw, you will probably be open, and you'll be giving your team the entire field to work with, especially if you guys were trapped on the side.

Don't be afraid to ask the more experienced players for advice. The handlers will be happy to tell you where they want you, and the cutters will be able to give you advice on how to get open. You could also ask someone on the sideline to keep an eye on you and tell you why you're not getting the disc.
posted by natabat at 9:42 AM on November 9, 2010

Response by poster: Soccer and ultimate are both recreational; soccer is adult league while in ultimate we've played people as young as high schoolers.

My experience and skill level in both are pretty low. I played through park district during middle school for soccer. For ultimate, I played with friends in college.

Soccer is 7 on 7 with a referee. On our team, and the experience level is that most people played through high school (we're in our mid-twenties).

Ultimate has some people playing since high school and through college. We have a couple really really good players. We mostly run stacks.
posted by mlo at 9:47 AM on November 9, 2010

If you want to get a little more serious about ultimate, Ultimate Techniques & Tactics is a pretty good book. Additionally, a few things to think about on offense:
  • It is not the the point of every cut to receive the disc. If you move the defense in a way that allows a teammate to get open, you're doing your job but may not realize it. Offenders in motion are almost always harder to defend.
  • When you don't get open or are open but don't get thrown to, don't just stand there. Either clear back to the stack, or make a new cut in a different direction.
  • Fakes are important, but they're wasted energy if they're predictable. If you always fake in one direction, then cut the other, defenders will catch on, so make sure to see what your defender is doing and react appropriately. If they are backing you and there's space open under (or vice-versa) no fake is necessary. "Take what they give you" is the offensive mantra of some of the most successful teams of all time.

posted by Cogito at 10:41 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Soccer is a bit of a tricky one, because at the level it sounds like you're at you can't be in the best positions - because it requires your team mates to be able to pass with precision and pace (and this isn't you specifically - as a recreational player myself, and most recreational players, we just don't have the skill set. David Beckham can rake a long diagonal pass halfway down the pitch to an advancing winger, but we can't).

You want to be in front of and to the side of the player passing, and running into space. This can be turning inside your marker, cutting in diagonally, going wide, whatever. In front and/or to the side, and in space. The ball shouldn't be played to the player, but to the space he's running into, so that he's running onto the ball. The classic "pointing in front of me as I run with an open palm" gesture will come in handy here.

However, with less people in a restrained space you also get a more technical game. So you might find that actually being relatively static, but easily able to receive the ball (i.e. with your back to the goal, blocking out a defender) can be helpful, as you can hold up play then release another man. Triangles are also good, allowing you to receive the ball in space, dart forward a bit, before offloading the ball.

Things you can work on include adjusting your body position as you get the ball (i.e. your first touch). Rather than controlling the ball and then knocking towards where you want to go, you control it into where you want to go, using your momentum and the momentum of the ball to buy you a yard or two of space in which you can do whatever you want. If you watch football on TV (Premier League, La Liga, Serie A etc.) you can watch defenders do this when they knock it about at the back (everyone does it, but defenders are in loads of space when they do it so you can see precisely what I mean. Rio Ferdinand is especially notable. Forwards tend to be a bit quicker, so you don't get a great view of precisely how they've done it unless you get a replay).

In your spare time, work on keepy-uppies (i.e. juggling - but with both feet (and both sides and top of your foot), thighs, chest, head etc.), and also being able to shift the ball to where you want it to go when you receive it (practice kicking it hard against a wall, turning the way you're "running" as it comes back to you and controlling it in that direction) in a tight space. This will help you maximise your opportunities.
posted by djgh at 11:43 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

For my money, attacking play in soccer is all about giving yourself space. Watch a player like Messi, he's frequently moving himself as far away from other players on the pitch as possible. Even if he's not in a position to score, he's giving himself space, time, and options. Time to settle and look up to find your best option is incredibly important (especially when you don't have masterful ball skills). Don't feel incredibly tied down to your position (as long as your teammates are the same and can cover for you defensively). I generally play as an attacker, and my success comes from giving myself space, diagonal runs, and moving from one side of the pitch to the other even when I don't have the ball. Many defensive players will be lax in marking you if you've just arrived in their area. If you're moving around a lot, many defenders will assume someone else is going to be marking you. Finally comes following up shots or making yourself available at the far post. You will be amazed how many goals come from rebounds or fluke bounces that come to you if you make yourself available. Give that little extra to get yourself close to the goal when your team is up there. Sometimes the ball WILL fall for you, and a lucky goal is just as a good as a pretty one.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:08 PM on November 9, 2010

For soccer, one of the difficulties I consistently see with newer players is in transitioning from offense to defense and back again. Especially in 7v7, this happens really quickly and you pretty much have to constantly run. Basically, everyone on your team is on defense when the opposition has the ball, and everyone is on offense when your team has possession. This means you man-mark, goalside of your mark, when the opposing team has the ball. When your team wins back possession, move away from your mark and into space (usually meaning going wide and forward of the player with the ball, or sometimes giving a drop pass). And keep moving and trying to lose your mark so you can be open for a pass. Also, look around at your teammates so you know where you will pass the ball if you get it. You don't tend to have a lot of time to hold the ball in 7v7. When your team loses possession, immediately pick up a mark again.
posted by JenMarie at 1:51 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: I've been playing soccer since I was a kid, and I think the one thing that I figured out as an adult that I wish I had been taught when I was starting out is that the game is much more about space (and the creation and exploitation thereof) than it is about what is going on with the ball. Barring the occasional outlier of a fancy dribbling move, you can't do anything positive with the ball in the absence of space. And even the fancy moves are really about creating a sliver of space so that you can then do something positive with the ball.

The upshot is that even if you aren't great with the ball, you can still make a very positive contribution to your team if you understand how to manipulate the available space on the field. It seems like you already get that in a defensive sense, since defense is all about positioning yourself to deny space to your opponent. If you can turn that thinking inside out, you can begin to understand how to create space on offense. Doing this is primarily about making runs. You can either move yourself into free space to potentially receive the ball, or (and this is important and something that beginners are often slow to grasp) to pull a defender out of position and open up a space for one of your teammates to run into.

Timing is obviously very important here. It's kind of an art, but it's something you begin to see more and more clearly with experience. Playing 3 or 5-a-side pickup is a good way to get a lot of practice at it, as space is really at a premium and you have to have really good movement to open up lanes for chances, and you also get a lot more opportunities to try than in a full-sided game.

I find that thinking in terms of space also helps when you get the ball. It simplifies things, as you can just follow the general rule of playing the ball in a way that will give you or your team the most space to work with. You often don't have to get too elaborate to do this. Sometimes the simplest little touch in one direction or another, or even not touching the ball at all will open up much more space than doing something fancy or difficult. If you get a chance, watch some recordings of Spain or Barcelona from the past couple of years, and especially keep an eye on their central midfielder, Xavi. He doesn't do much of anything flashy or special at first glance, and yet he's at the center of almost every positive move they make. He's an absolute master of creating and manipulating space. We obviously can't all be Xavi, but you can more than hold your own with limited skills and athletic ability if you can learn to anticipate and think the game in the sort of ways his play exemplifies.
posted by jdunn_entropy at 4:12 PM on November 9, 2010

I should have found this for the original post, but here's a highlights video that isolates pretty much everything Xavi did in a fantastic game for Barcelona against Arsenal last season.

Notice both how simple many of his touches are and how seemingly disproportionate the amount of space/time they buy him is. Also check out how the players he is passing to are getting open. Some are running into open space out wide or behind the defense(and this is where holding your position even when the ball isn't nearby helps out, as it keeps the defense stretched to cover the whole field), some are part of constantly regenerating little passing triangles where players make simple movements into space to make themselves available for the next pass, and some are players making a secondary run after an initial run by someone else has moved a defender out of the way to open up space. Those are you three basic ways of getting open/creating space in the absence of overwhelming Ronaldo/Messi style speed and skill.
posted by jdunn_entropy at 4:35 PM on November 9, 2010

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