What Are The Principles Of Play?

The Principles of Play have been around for many years, and for as long as the rules of football keep it as an 'invasion game', where one tries to score and the other team try to stop them scoring, they will be around for many more years to come.

The Principles of Play are fundamental 'rules' that help teams be most effective whether they are in or out of possession, and are split into two main groups

Attacking Principles

  • Penetration
  • Creating Space 
  • Support
  • Movement 
  • Creativity 

Defending Principles

  • Pressing
  • Delay
  • Compactness
  • Cover and Balance
  • Control and Restraint (patience)

Separating the attacking and defending phases it the 'Transition', either from attack to defence or defence to attack.

Transition, as its definition states, is the period of changing from one state to another. In football's case, it is the moment when possession changes from one team to another. 

Why Use The Principles of Play?

Understanding the Principles of Play well, will enable coaches to support the development of their players as they learn this fundamental strategies to deploy in practice during games.

Sessions and coaching practices should always be designed with the Principles in mind, and under-pin what is being taught to the players. Players who have a solid knowledge of the Principles will be able to call on this information in the heat and pressure of a match-related situation.

Coaching Considerations

  • Deny: Prevent the opposition having space, passing options, shooting opportunities etc.
  • Delay: Slow down opposition to enable recovering reinforcements to arrive.
  • Dictate: 'Tell' the attacking team where to go based on defensive movement and structure.
  • Quality of forward passes to team mates, to space, through the lines.
  • Creating space as an individual, unit or as a team. 'Make the pitch big'.
  • Supporting the player on the ball; to the side, ahead, behind.
  • Movement into a clear passing lane.
  • Be creative with combinations, dribbles, and passes.
  • The angle of approach when press.
  • Preventing forward passes.
  • Defenders 'mirroring' the ball, using channels as a reference.
  • Recognise opportunities to win the ball.
  • Patience; 'stand up', 'stay on your feet'. 

Adapting for Youth Players and Teams

When coaching the Principles of Play, always consider the age and technical ability of the players. For example, when coaching pressing, it may be that you need to begin coaching your players how to individually put pressure on and close down an opposing player with the ball, rather than working on how units might deny space.

Likewise, when working in possession, starting from a player first approach, then unit, then team.

Principles of Play Practice Examples

Here's an example of coaching practice that focuses on the Principles of Play that you can try with your team.

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Principles of Play sessions

To learn more about the Principles of Play, check out our online CPD course here

The Principles Of Play
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