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The Trace Guide to Building Out of the BackBy Adam Wood
Writer, researcher and soccer coach. Devotee of The Beautiful Game. Lifelong learner and community-building advocate.


The Trace Guide to Building Out of the Back

Young soccer players are all action, all the time. They want to dribble. They want to go forward. They want to score.

Often, parents (and some coaches) reinforce that attacking instinct by urging players to “Boot it!” forward to fast attackers — away from your goal, away from danger. And there is, of course, a time and place to be direct and play the vertical game: when your team is under immense pressure or penned into their own half, for example.

Playing the long ball is only one of the options available to a goalkeeper!

But soccer is a game that rewards patience. As the level of play increases, it demands patience. Keeping the ball for an extended string of passes, switching the ball from left to right (and back again) and recycling possession are crucial abilities for a team looking to create space against well-organized defenses playing a low or standard block. And that means soccer teams need to be able to build their attacks from the back.

The Trace moment below, featuring United Futbol Academy in Georgia, shows how and why building out of the back can directly lead to goal-scoring opportunities. Straight from kickoff, the team plays the ball all the way back to their center-backs. The back line is patient and composed with the ball, and a string of passes take the ball coast-to-coast across the width of the field. The opposition defense doesn’t transition quickly enough, and a winger receives the ball in a pocket of space, turns upfield, and plays a fine ball behind the backline. His teammate receives the ball in stride and finishes with aplomb.

The Basics of Building Out of the Back

The principle itself is simple: make the field as wide as possible by keeping possession through your goalkeeper, back line and midfielders. This often starts with playing the ball short (finding the easy pass) from goal kicks, throw-ins and when the ball is in the goalkeeper’s possession. Players then look to move the ball from side to side (often through horizontal or backward passes) until they are able to create a good opportunity to progress the ball forward to attacking players in pockets of space.

Building attacks from the back gives your team an opportunity to restructure and stretch the field, rather than get stuck in a cycle of backward/forward movement as the ball pinballs from goalbox to goalbox. It can also frustrate and exhaust the opposing team as they constantly chase the ball. Tired defenses lose focus. Frustrated defenses make mistakes. And a team that uses the ball intelligently, with patience and composure, can find more and more space to capitalize on.

This guide will help coaches, players and parents understand the principles of building out of the back. Read on for one valuable drill that will help your players develop the habits, skills and patience to possess the ball in their own half.

Play with your head up to find the best option available

8v6 Building Out of the Back Soccer Training Exercise (for 11v11)

The Fundamentals

Where does the play start? From goalkeeper’s hands or feet (can be goal kicks)
What is the objective? To retain possession and create quality opportunities to progress the ball into the middle and/or attacking thirds of the field
Who is involved? Goalkeepers, Defenders, Midfielders
Why is it important? Keeping the ball in your own half lures the opposition into chasing the ball. This creates space between the lines for attacking players to exploit.

The Setup

The field: One half of regulation 11v11 field. Ball starts with the goalkeeper’s hands or feet.
The numbers: Attacking team sets up in a 1-4-3 formation with a 6 (holding midfielder), 8 (central midfielder) and 10 (attacking midfielder). Defending team sets up in a 4-2 formation
Scoring: Attacking team scores on three mini-goals spread evenly (left, central, right) on the halfway line. Defending team scores on full-size goal after winning possession

The Play

Central defenders should drop into wide areas, near the corners of the penalty box, allowing wide defenders (fullbacks) to progress into more advanced wide areas (hugging the touchline). This creates pockets of space where the central midfielders can receive the ball.

Tips:

  • Focus on the transitions between attacking and defending. When we lose the ball, we want to get as compact as possible. When we win the ball (or when play restarts with the goalkeeper), we immediately stretch the field.
  • The goalkeeper is vital to successfully building from the back. They must stay engaged and always be an option for the pass (particularly from central defenders)
  • Discourage flat (horizontal) passes, which are easier for the defending team to anticipate and exploit. Players receiving a pass should be ahead of or behind the ball whenever possible.
  • Communication is key! This exercise is great for central defenders and goalkeepers to practice constant communication — particularly to the central midfielders, who need to know if they have the space to turn or should play the way they face.

Possible Adjustments:

  • If the attacking team is not having enough success, remove one defender.
  • If the attacking team is having too much success, remove the three mini-goals. Move the most advanced midfielder (the #10) to a horizontal channel behind the halfway line. Attacking team scores by finding a pass into the #10’s feet, who moves laterally to create a passing lane.

Trace Testimonial

“It’s been incredible in helping me to work out individual and collective field positioning when building out, both offensively and defensively. It also allow me to give players real a focal point to work off. Trace has been a great way to really teach players to understand the differences between attacking and defending team shapes, both widthwise and lengthwise.”

Bryan Wallace, head coach of Liverpool FC B06 and B03 Academy in Orange County, CA

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