Before you fill up that water bottle and strap on your shin guards, it’s important to know your basic soccer positions.
Often in youth soccer, especially at the youngest age groups, players will clump together and crowd their teammates or just chase the ball. This is a normal part of learning the game.
However, once players start to understand the job they have on the pitch, what zones they are responsible for and how their teammates’ jobs relate to their own, you will begin to see the athletes move and work as a team, functioning more like a well-oiled machine. The beautiful game will emerge!
While there are a variety of very specific soccer positions based on age group, number of players on the field, formation and outdoor vs. indoor games, there are three general areas of focus: defense (goalkeeper, defenders), midfield and offense. This is a general breakdown of those primary roles:
Also known as the goalie or keeper, their position is right in front of the net. Goalies are typically the last line of defense to keep the opponent from scoring. This is the only position allowed to use hands and arms to block shots and pick up the ball during gameplay, but this only applies within the designated penalty area. A goalie cannot use their hands to play the ball if a teammate passes the ball directly to them during gameplay or via a throw-in.
- Protect the net
- Block shots with any part of the body
- Direct and organize the defense
- Find opportunities to move the ball forward on the field
- Punt and usually take goal kicks
The defenders are the players situated in front of the goalie. In general, a defender’s primary area of play is the defensive third of the field, closest to their own net.
- Protect the goalie
- Block shots
- Stop the other team’s offensive players from passing, receiving, shooting and scoring
- Find opportunities to move the ball forward on the field via passing
- Take throw-ins
- Sometimes take goal kicks
As you may have guessed, midfielders play mostly in the middle of the field. For this reason, they are also known as halfbacks. Their field position is in between the defenders and forwards. In the well-oiled soccer team machine, midfielders are the gears that keep the defensive and offensive lines connected and moving smoothly. This key role often sees the most action and moves the most during a game. Midfielders play both defensive and offensive roles and must be accurate passers.
- Transition the ball between defenders and forwards
- Keep the ball in the opponent’s area
- Stop the other team’s attacks
- Maintain possession and pass the ball
- Take free kicks and other shots on goal
- Sometimes take throw-ins
These players are on the front line of the playing field, closest to the opponent’s goal. They are usually the fastest on the field and must possess good ball control and scoring ability as the team’s attackers.
- Score goals
- Maintain possession in the opponent’s area
- Usually take kickoffs and corner kicks
- Stay in front of midfielders and in an offensive position
- Avoid being offside
Establishing set positions within a team should not be the sole focus at the youth level. It’s best to try out different positions to find the one that feels best for you or your child. The key is to develop a complete understanding of each role, which will help contribute to a well-rounded game. After all, a player who is a great defender at U8 or U9 might become an amazing striker at U14 or U15. Even keepers will benefit greatly from learning strong foot skills, defending in the open field and making accurate passes — both in one-on-one situations and over long distances.
Remember, even the pros practice regularly. Using soccer nets and training equipment at home or with your team can make a huge difference in your game.
Feeling comfortable with your basic soccer positions? Then gear up and get ready to take the field!