Tactical Awareness

As a collegiate soccer player, you must have a high “soccer IQ”, in other words, tactical awareness. Your ability to show that you understand the system that your team is trying to implement will make the transition into the match day squad and then starting 11 significantly smoother. College coaches expect you to have a prerequisite knowledge of different formations and styles of play prior to college. They are likely to demand that you play multiple positions in various systems throughout your four-year career so now is the time to prepare to avoid being left behind in preseason. Whether you have a strong grasp of these concepts or feel that this part of your game needs work here are a few suggestions for improvement.

Watch soccer...A LOT! Watching the English Premier League, MLS or other professional soccer matches should be your first protocol when you look to improve your tactical awareness. Professional soccer players are at the pinnacle of their sport and you can learn a lot from watching these players in action. But how do you know what to be looking for?

Below is a list of questions that you should think about as you watch soccer to improve your tactical awareness. First, pick a team. Then work through these questions:

What system is the team playing?

  • High pressure?
  • Counter attack?
  • Control possession?
  • Direct to the striker?
  • Wing play?
  • Even…”parking the bus”?!?!

Why have they chosen to play this system?

  • To nullify an opponent?
  • To play to their strengths?
  • Understand the different reasons for different systems and how they change week to week and even during a game

What formation are they playing?

  • 4-5-1?
  • 4-3-3
  • 4-4-2
  • 4-2-3-1

How do the formations change when teams defend and attack? Often formations are fluid depending on the area of the pitch the team is playing in.

Once you have looked at tactics from a team perspective, focus your analysis on individual players.

Pick a player who plays in your position

  • What is their role?
  • How do they fit into the system and formation?
  • Where do they position themselves when attacking? When defending?
  • What are their movements on the field?
  • Try to see what they do off the ball.  For example, how did the striker get into the correct position to score the goal?

Try to learn, or even idolize, what that player does. Modeling your play off a professional is a great way to improve as an individual.

Then talk about this stuff with friends, family and coaches. But develop an appreciation for different styles as you never know what style you’ll be asked to play. A college coach hates nothing worse than you telling him/her that this is what your other coach told you to do. 

Ultimately, you have a responsibility as a collegiate soccer player to understand the tactical side of soccer, not just the technical side. Improving both sides of the game is imperative to your personal development and your ability to cement a starting position.