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It Depends: The Only Correct Answer in Soccer

In my daily interactions with coaches, players, and parents, I get asked many questions and requests for advice. Many people ask me what they should do in a given situation or circumstance.

For coaches, they will ask things like how to best design a training session.

Players will ask things like where on the field they should position themselves.

Parents will ask things about whether or not their child’s club is doing is the right thing.

In order to give all of these people the correct answer, I always answer with one simple statement:

“it depends.”

Why This is the Correct Answer

The truth about what is actually best in a given situation is rarely ever black and white. Everything lies in the grey and depends on the context of the situation and the needs of those involved. Extremes do not work. To say that we should always do something or never do something is always going to be wrong (of course, the irony of this statement is not lost on me ;) ).

Often, if we try something and it doesn’t work, the opposite also tends not to work. Instead of making a 180-degree change, perhaps what’s best is 45 or 90-degree adjustment.

Unfortunately, many people will answer a question with “it depends” as a cop out. They will say it but never actually explain what factors a decision depends on.

Below, I will give some specific examples to clarify how to make a decision based on the many factors and contextual considerations on which a correct decision depends.

For Players

A common question: “Where should I be positioned as the covering defender?”

The answer: IT DEPENDS.

Many coaches will tell players that they need to be 6-8 or 8-10 yards away, but this is not the case in every situation for every player. The answer depends on various factors.

Where on the field is the player with the ball and the defender who is pressing them? At what angle is the pressuring defender approaching? Where on the field is this happening? Is there another attacker that the covering defender needs to track or mark? How much space is behind the covering player? How fast or quick is the covering defender? How quickly is the game or player with the ball moving?

In the end, the covering player needs to be positioned in a way that he/she can fulfill these three rules:

  1. Confront the attacker if he/she beats the 1st defender

  2. Cut off or win a through pass

  3. Close down a supporting attacker if he/she has passed the ball

So, depending on the overall situational factors, the correct position of the covering defender will depend on the place that the defender needs to be to cover all three of these roles.

For Coaches

A common question: “Should I use isolated technical training with my team?”

The answer: IT DEPENDS

How often does the team have training together each week? How long is the overall season? How serious is your team about improving their abilities as soccer players (will they enjoy such training)? At what stage of the development process are your players in (age, ability level, etc.)? How will the session progress from that stage of the session plan – will these isolated skills be incorporated into a decision-making scenario? How much time do you have in your training session? How effectively will you as the coach be able to teach and correct technique? Are your players motivated enough to do additional work on their own time? Are there ways to incorporate it in training otherwise (i.e. while subbed out of a game)?

Depending on the needs of your players and what is the best use of your time, the answers for each coach and for each team will be different. Determine what is most important and what defines success for your team (not winning games), then decide what is the best use of your time and how such training can be incorporated, or if it should be at all.

For Parents

A common question: “What is the best team or club for my child?”

The answer: IT DEPENDS

What is your child looking for in the experience? Is your child serious about pursuing the game or do they most value spending time with their friends? How much time do they want to dedicate to playing soccer? How much time does your family want to spend driving to and being at practices and games? How much money do you want to spend? What types of values do you want your child to learn through soccer?

Depending on the answers to these questions, the right fit for each child and family is not necessarily the same.

Making the Right Decisions

Ultimately, in order to make the right decisions for ourselves, for our players, and for our teams, we need to first identify and understand what is most important in a given situation. Then, we need to identify the contextual factors that affect what’s most important. Based on the outcome of all these factors combined, we need to then decide what will help us achieve our goal in the best way p


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