Principles of Play

Football Principles

 The principles of play are together with the formation, the fundamentals of football tactics. They determine the strategies, as well as the identity of the team, and help the team effectively adapt to the different tactical situations during the game. The principles of play are concepts that coaches pin down to create a mutual understanding within the team of what the team stands for and how they are going to play. Examples of common defensive principles are:

  • Being compact
  • Counterpressing after losing possession
  • Being aggressive 
  • Constant pressing

Some common offensive principles are:

  • Slow possession-based build-up
  • Fast long ball-based build-up
  • Counterattacking after gaining possession
  • Restore possession after gaining possession


The tools are the things that help players follow the principles of play. The players follow the principles through the usage of the tools. Tools such as the third-man principle, the bounce pass, and following pressure are crucial if you want your team to be possession-based. Furthermore, tools like man-to-man marking will help an aggressive team looking to constantly press, however, it will severely damage a team looking to stay compact. The compact team would use the tool of defending in zones instead.

The Importance of Principles of Play

As a coach, these principles and tools are important to recognize when analyzing future opponents. Seeing them determines your game plan and gives you an understanding of what the game will look like. Recognizing the principles is perhaps even more important when analyzing your team and players. Seeing if the team follows the principles, uses the tools, and how that dynamic works is the key to improving. If the players do not follow the principles, more clarity is needed, and if the principles are not working change of the principles of play is needed.

Principles of the Field

The principles give the team its identity. Therefore, it is essential to establish principles of the field.

  • How should the team behave? 
  • How should the individual within the team behave?
  • What are the core values of the team? 
  • What happens when there is a disagreement? 
Principles of play - locker room

Building answers to questions like these is crucial for the unification and general feeling of the group. Problems in the locker room can be highly damaging to the performance on the field. Establishing principles of the field is, therefore, a must in any organization.

The Football Analyst

Student, blogger, content creator, football analyst and football player.

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