Growing up playing soccer, I could never understand why my coaches would force us to spend so much of our valuable practice time doing passing drills.
In my young brain, soccer was all about shooting. That’s how you score goals after all. As I grew and gained a more complete grasp of the game,
I started to understand the importance of what my coaches had us doing all those years.
In a game, one pass can make all the difference. One great pass can slice through your opponent and lead to a goal.
One poor pass can put your team in a dangerous situation and immediately put your team under pressure.
When the margins are small, there is no room for mistakes. For youth players, world-class professionals, and everyone in between, passing is the difference between winning and losing.
Passing can be done with all parts of the body to direct the ball to your teammate. One of the most inventive ways seen to pass was Ronadiniho using his back to create an assist.
Ways to pass a ball;
- Inside foot: Using the area above and inside of the big toe.
- Outside foot: This creates a spin on the ball to swerve the ball around players
- The Laces: A powerful volley can be performed with a straight leg swing.
- Spin: If the toes get underneath the ball with some force you create a backspin
- Back heel: Connect the heel with the ball to reverse play.
- Header: Often used for clearing and shooting, but can be a creative passing move.
- Body: Use any part of the body to deflect the ball into the path you desire.
What does passing mean in soccer?
Simply put, passing is a way for players to move the ball around the field by keeping it away from the other team.
Doing this successfully means keeping the ball amongst your teammates and creating goal-scoring opportunities.
The act of passing and advancing the ball into the attacking third requires more than just movement of the ball. Players must be thinking ahead to find the right space to be in.
Great players will think multiple moves ahead to where the ball should go long after it’s left their foot.
Passing the ball allows teams to move around defending players in a way that dribbling does not. It’s a faster, more efficient way to move the ball and often more difficult to defend than dribbling.
Properly weighted and crisp passes make for seamless movements around the field and can wear down your opponent.
Why do soccer players pass so much?
In soccer, one of the best ways to have control is to have the ball as much as possible. If you have the ball, the other team does not.
If you have the ball, you can score and the opposition cannot. When you pass, you retain possession and dictate the play.
Controlling the variables is one of the surest ways to reach a favorable outcome.
When two teams are competing, anyone can win on a given day. Ultimately, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will most likely come away victorious.
For someone who does not quite understand the game, a simple pass might look less than spectacular. Not every spell of possession leads to a goal or even a scoring opportunity.
Sometimes a player will pass the ball backward, away from the goal they’re trying to score on, in a seemingly counterproductive fashion.
Alternatively, for a soccer fan, watching a team with the ability to pass well is like watching art happen right in front of your eyes.
A soccer aficionado can see that the team keeping the ball is looking for ways to break down the defense.
Why’s passing so important in soccer?
Stretching teams out and finding even the smallest gaps in order to score takes patience and skill.
Once they find the opening they’re looking for, the build-up is completed with a final ball finished into the back of the net.
If you can control the game by keeping the ball, does every team play this style?
For fans and coaches, one of the most exciting parts of the game is determining how to match up against your opponent’s style of play.
Teams who play a more possession-based system might see a lot of the ball during a game.
Their tactics can be nullified by a strong defending side who uses long balls over the top to get behind the backline and apply pressure to the opposing defense.
Passing vs counter attack
Manchester City (an extremely strong passing side) met this fate against Leeds United in April 2021.
If you were to simply look at the stat line without the score, you would likely assume that Manchester City won the game.
However, despite having 72% of the possession and outpassing Leeds 621 passes to 252 passes, Manchester City lost the match 2-1.
Most would not describe Leeds as a passing side – at least not in the same way as City.
On the day, they were able to find the right passes to get behind the Manchester City defenders and score enough goals to win the game.
Leeds knew they would likely only have a few opportunities on the ball and they had to take advantage.
Their passing was more direct as they looked down the field to find their forward players in dangerous areas.
Types of passing in soccer
Passing is the art of soccer, one sublime pass can cut a defense into two – but so also can a simple 5 yard pass.
A variation in creative passing will make your side unpredictable and hard to best.
Here are some types of passing in soccer;
- To feet: Ready for your teammate to play quickly.
- Back pass: A pass to the goalkeeper and the GK cannot pick up the ball.
- One-touch: When the ball is played to you, you only have one touch to pass it on.
- Two-touch: You take one touch to control the ball and another to pass it on.
- Cross: A ball passed into the goal area, either high or low.
- Square pass: You play the ball from the left to right or vice versa across the field.
- Short pass: A short pass would be less than 10 yards.
- Long balls: From 30 plus yards to cut out a number of players or advance quickly.
- Across field: From winger to winger – wide back to wide back, the width of the field.
- Down the line: This is a pass that’s along the wing, on the same line as the byline.
- Through ball: A pass between the opposition defense for an attacker.
- Tiki-taka: Quick and short simple passes between teammates.
- Back post: A ball played from the sides towards the far goal post.
- Pass shot: A softly placed shot at goal, with accuracy being key.
Everyone in the game has their own philosophy on what the best style of play is. It might depend on your opponent that day or the personnel that you have at your disposal.
Some coaches may love to be very direct and take a very “smash and grab” approach to the game.
Their players may not have the speed or physical strength to play long balls over the top or crosses into the box.
In this case short, quick passes might be the best option.
Tiki Taka – Short Passes
Teams who break down the opposition using the “death by a thousand passes” approach have found a great deal of success in recent times.
Legendary player and coach, Johann Cruyff, is often credited with the invention of the style called “tiki-taka.”
Tiki-taka involves many short (roughly 5-10 yard) passes on the ground. Players are in a constant state of motion where traditional positioning is secondary to finding space that supports the player on the ball.Johann Cruyff
Working in very tight spaces and being creative on and off the ball are pillars of this style.
Being able to keep the ball in tight spaces and switching the point of attack, especially in the attacking third, stretches teams from end line to end line and opens holes in the defense.
The current Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola is seen by many as the one who best implements this style in his teams.
Although many refer to his playing style in this manner, Guardiola is not a fan of the terminology.
“I hate tiki-taka. I always will. I want nothing more to do with tiki-taka. Tiki-taka is a load of s–t, a made-up term.
It means passing the ball for the sake of passing, with no real aim and no aggression – nothing, nothing.
I will not allow my brilliant players to fall for all that rubbish,”Pep Guardiola
he said in the Marti Perarnau book Pep Confidential.
Pass and Move
Whatever you want to call it, this style of play is difficult to nail down. The constant movement is draining and requires players to be laser-focused for 90 minutes.
Switching off even for one moment can see the other team going the other way and have you scrambling to stop the counter-attack.
If a team elects not to play a possession-based system, this does not mean that passing is unimportant.
In fact, for a team that plays a direct or long-ball style, it could be argued that passing is even more important.
Seeing less of the ball means that taking advantage of each pass is crucial. The weight and accuracy of every ball must be spot on.
Long-ball teams may not break down teams with short passes, creativity, and quick movements. Rather, their off-the-ball runs and accurate passes stretch opposing defenders.
Often to wide areas of the field which opens up clear lanes to the goal via a cross or a ball back through the middle.
For teams like this, crosses, long balls in the air, and set pieces need to be effective because you are essentially conceding possession to the opponent.
Managers like Jose Mourinho have found an incredible amount of success playing this way. It requires players to be extremely disciplined and organized.
They must know the exact right moments to spring forward. When they do, it’s quick and precise. From a fan’s perspective, playing this way can look very unattractive.
Tactically, it’s equally difficult to perfect and should not be undermined. If the objective of the game is to win, how you get there is irrelevant.
Passing is the most important skill in soccer. There are many ways to use passing to your advantage and it’s crucial that players at all levels continue to improve their passing ability.
Players with the ability to perfectly place passes to teammates make teams very dangerous.
Regardless of which philosophy you have on style of play, passing is going to be the most important aspect. To the untrained eye, it may not always look spectacular.
When you see the tactics all come together, then a perfectly placed pass completes the build-up to a goal, it all starts to make sense.
The joy of the beautiful game is found in one fundamental skill – the pass.
I’ve played soccer across the U.S.A, Europe and I’ve coached many teams. Soccer is life for me, and with my experience in the game, I want to share my insights into the beautiful game with you.
Joel Powel – Soccer Blade