Movement Off the Ball In Soccer: How To Coach It

One sure thing in soccer is that players spend a lot of time moving and most of that time is without the ball. This highlights a need for players to understand movements they can make to help themselves and to help others. This article will look at the importance of, the off-ball movement.

Why is movement off the ball are important?

  • Movement creates space and time for the individual or a teammate
  • It disorganizes teams and makes it difficult for them to mark players
  • Clever movements allow for a smother build-up when trying to progress the ball forwards
  • It can make play more predictable if players scan and read the movements of others to progress the ball forwards
  • Movement can be combined with rotation to overload different areas of the playing area
  • Off the ball, movement creates options and support for the ball carrier

Movement plays an essential role in smooth build-up play, gaining time on the ball, and progressing attacks. The rest of this article will focus on explaining some of the technical detail behind the list highlighted above.

Movement Off the Ball In Soccer

I would like to propose three categories of movement that players often use.

Horizontal Movements: These are movements across the field, these can be movements from outside of the field to inside or from inside of the field to outside. They are good at allowing the receiver to step onto the ball and progress it forward

Vertical Movements: These movements occur when a player moves up or down the pitch. Useful when a player identifies a space to get on the ball in front or behind a defender. This movement can be good for drawing players out of position or taking players out of the game.

Diagonal Movements: These movements occur diagonally and the player would be moving into depth or running in behind an opponent. These movements are great for disorganizing because the mover will cross various positions as they run which can make them hard to track.


Why do soccer players need to move?

There are usually two basic reasons why a movement is made in soccer. Firstly, a player wants to get on the ball because they have spotted an opportunity to progress it. The second reason is to create space for a teammate. A movement towards the ball can attract defenders thus creating space elsewhere on the field.

The quality of pass into the mover is a vital component of the movement process. Any movement provides the passer with two basic options. The passer can pass the ball into the feet of the mover. Alternatively, the passer can play the ball into the space the mover has vacated. The ball carrier must become an expert at reading the intention of their teammates.

When a player moves into depth then chances are they will be marked. The ball carrier needs to identify a safe pass to the receiver. A pass towards the receiver’s front foot is safe. This is because the receiver can shield and protect the ball from a defender.

Passes into space should allow a mover to step onto the ball. Passes into space help to progress the ball forward quicker. Sometimes the mover has to go and meet the ball. If this is so, then the weight of the pass should be playable the first time.

Movements for Self

Quite often an individual will use a combination of vertical, horizontal, or diagonal movements. This will be the player’s attempt to lose their marker. Double movements are used by players who want to lose markers. The player will move in one direction first and then attempt to get on the ball.

Double Movements: The attacker moves away from the ball first in an attempt to draw or drag the defender out of position. If the defender takes the bait and follows the first movement. The attacker makes their second movement vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. This will help the player to get on the ball or make space for a teammate.

Timing of Movement: This becomes important because the mover needs to get the timing right if they want the defender to think the first movement is for the ball. This often requires a little bit of deception on behalf of the player.

The mover needs to use disguise, they can drift away from the ball not looking interested. The player can move quickly towards it or they can move explosively away from the ball and then back towards it. These types of movements help to deceive the defender. If the movement is too early the defender finds it easier to read the mover’s intention.

Ideally, the mover needs to make their move late or move quickly when the defender looks away, sets their feet, etc.

Losing Your Marker

Losing a marker can be tough. There are times when the mover needs to think about their positioning to make the defender’s job harder. Coaches should encourage players to position themselves behind and between two opponents. This makes the defender’s job difficult.

The defender must constantly look for the attacker. The attacker waits for the moment when the defender looks at the ball. When they do the mover makes their move toward the ball.

Another way to lose a marker would be to step into the defender. Whilst stepping in the player can give their marker a discreet shove. This is closely followed by a quick movement to then step away from the defender. The discreet shove is enough to open up a space at the side, in front, or behind the defender.

Timing and scanning are important here. The mover needs to shove and move at the right time. They are waiting for the ball carrier to be ready to release the ball.

Attract Some Pressure

A final way to lose a marker could be staying on the ball. The mover will go towards the ball carrier in view of the defender. They will receive the ball and wait for the defender to come towards them (draw them in).

Once this occurs the space will have opened up where the defender came from. The mover who is staying on the ball has drawn the defender in. At this moment the mover sets the ball to a teammate and exploits the space behind the defender.

Self movements should be coaches to players. They will help the players to understand how to create time and space for themselves to receive the ball. The tips above will help to disorganize the opponent. They can also help the ball carriers to read the intention of the movers.

Movements for Others

Sometimes players are required to be unselfish and make movements for the team to open up spaces that allow them to progress the ball. Quite often these movements require explosive physical movements over short and long distances. Players can use rotations can be used to disembark a defender, create space or get an overload of attackers in a certain area of the field.

Rotation: The best way to think about rotation is the movers doing opposites. A rotation is a collective movement where two or more players are involved. So doing opposites could mean that one player is moving in short towards the ball at the same time another player runs long and in behind the opponent.

The short and long movements are good for players’ relationships such as a wide player dropping deep and fullback running forwards or one striker moving deep and another running in behind. If players are going to execute these things well then they must scan each other’s movements before making their own. This ensures that both players do not do the same thing and get in each other’s way.


Three Player Movements

If a rotation involves three players then the movements need to be more coordinated. Players involved must move in the same direction. Clockwise or anti-clockwise movements where the three players run in the same direction around to the next position.

When this occurs the opponent can become disorganized quickly. This offers the ball carrier three passing options to hit. The angles and distances between these players are important.

A three-player rotation could happen between a fullback, wide player, and central midfield player. Let’s say a central defender is about to pass the ball. The fullback might push high towards the wide player. This triggers the wide player moves inside towards the central midfield position. The central midfielder can move into the fullback position.

Rotation at speed should offer the ball carrier an option to use one of these three players.

The example above is where the players move in a clockwise format. The players could also move anti-clockwise. The fullback can move into central midfield. The wide player can drop in as a fullback. This allows the central midfielder moves out wide.

There are other examples when this could occur on the field and coaches can just think about which players they would like to present rotations to based on how they want the team to play.


Diagonal Movement

Diagonal movements are also really useful for disorganizing teams or creating overloads for the attacking team. This is because the defender marking the diagonal runner must decide if they want to track the run or not. If the defender decides not to then the attacker will get the opportunity of an overload. If the diagonal mover has been tracked then a space where the mover was tracked from may be available.

An example of a diagonal run could be. A wide player running in behind an opponent’s midfield to receive a ball from a fullback. A striker who makes a diagonal run into the channel to get on the end of a through ball.



Movement off the ball is vital to the game of soccer. Players need to practice both movements for themselves and movements for others. Each type allows either themselves or a teammate to get time and space on the ball.

The success of the movement is often down to three things. The quality of the pass. The timing of the movement and the player’s ability to scan before receiving the ball. These things help the player to read the intention of the ball carrier and the reaction of the opponent.

This information can help the mover to decide if their movement is for themselves or another teammate.

Finally, the detail in this article should support coaches in helping their players make the correct movements or guide coaches on things to look for when trying to help their players. The detail coaches provide to the players will be different depending on their needs so the coach must look for this and try to support their players with what they need to be successful in this area.

Three Practices to Develop Movement


This is a 1 v 1 practice with 2 target players in white. The two central players compete for possession. The central players must receive the ball in one half and cannot pass the ball to the opposite target until they are over the halfway line. The ball can be returned to the targets at any point but targets cannot pass to targets. The central players must use self-movements to lose their marker and get faced up to play forward.


This is a 2 v 2 practice in the central area with 2 target players in white operating on the outside of the playing area. The central players must complete for possession and combine to work the ball from target to target, the ball must be over the halfway line before it can be passed to the other target. Targets cannot pass to targets but they can receive the ball back as much as required to create opportunities to progress the ball forwards.

Ideally, the players must not be in the same half when they have possession of the ball, so they must constantly move to free themselves up to get on the ball. The ball must have been touched in each half of the playing area before it is passed to the target players.


The game is played as a 3 v 3 in the central area with 2 white target players operating on opposite sides of the practice. The practice aims to play from target to target. The playing area is split into 4 sections. The team in possession must rotate positions and try to lose their markers to get on the ball the ball must be received in each half before it can be passed into the opposite target.

The possession team can set the ball back to the targets to retain the ball. The team in possession can only have a maximum of two players in the same square at any one time. But the attacking team should be encouraged to move and rotate. If a player empties a square another player should try to fill it. Self movements and rotations will help the attackers to free themselves up to play forwards.

Related Questions

Should I coach a full session just on movement? You could coach the full session on movement if feel that your players need a full session on this. Alternatively, you could select 2 – 4 players within the normal session and try to coach movement. Coaching this way allows the coach to have a greater focus on a few players rather than everyone.

Are there any other popular types of movement? Yes, overlaps and underlaps are very useful to create overloads, this is where a player runs from behind the ball carrier to the outside or inside of them to receive a through pass off the ball carrier. These movements are great for creating overloads in attack and making it difficult for defenders to track.

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