How to Improve Off the Ball Movement in Soccer

The average soccer player has control of the ball for less than one minute of a 90-minute game. That means about 89 minutes remain for off-the-ball movement. The most dangerous soccer players work to score goals when they don’t have possession.

Off-the-ball movement in soccer is when a player progresses on the field when they do not have the ball. Common examples of off-the-ball movement include quick changes of direction to shake up the defense, zigzag sprinting, or making a deep run.

These tips for improving off-the-ball movement will help you become the most dangerous player on the field.

Why Improve Off-the-Ball Movement?

Off-the-ball movement often goes unrecognized by fans. You may not be praised for all the deep runs or changes of direction you did to lose a defender throughout the game.

However, off-the-ball movement does lead to goals and victories. The actions taken while you do not have the ball can result in you receiving possession and heading toward the goal. Off-the-ball movement often leads to penetrative passing, counterattacks, and quick transitions.

Common Types of Off-the-Ball Movement

All players on the field have a role in the success o the team. Off-the-ball movement is most commonly performed by the players higher up the pitch. That’s because these tactics are commonly used to proceed into the danger area, receive passes, and score goals.

These tactics commonly include making sudden changes of direction or a quick change of pace. A player may burst into a sprint to leave the defender behind and receive a pass in open space.

The Seven Rules of Off-the-Ball Movement

There are seven rules of off-the-ball movement that the sport’s best coaches emphasize. Reviewing these rules often will keep concepts of off-the-ball movement fresh in your head so you can use them during even the most stressful times of the game.

1. Stay in the Defender’s Blind Zone

Your defender is trying to keep his eye on you and the ball. The goal is to force him to lose focus on one or the other.

2. Stay Between Defenders

Staying between two defenders can confuse them concerning who should be marking you. A small moment of indecision can provide the space you need to make a run, receive the ball, and make an attack.

3. Stay Away from the Ball

Excellent off-the-ball movement means being aware of where you and the ball are at all times. Many young players flock to the ball looking for their chance to score. However, the players farthest from the ball are those positioning themselves for attacks and leading the team to success.

Staying away from the player with the ball creates the space needed to attack.

4. Time Your Movement

Timing is everything with off-the-ball movement. Take your sudden change of direction or explosion of speed just as the ball is arriving, and you’ll be harder to stop. Arriving too soon gives the defense time to process what you’re doing and where you’re going.

5. Check Your Shoulders

Checking your shoulders in soccer is the act of looking around you to see where you can turn and where attacks can happen.

You should check your shoulder a minimum of two times when performing an off-the-ball movement. Check your shoulder before starting your movement and when you arrive where you’ll receive the ball.

Knowing where you are on the field and in relation to other players will help you plan your attack.

6. Move Away from Where the Defender Is Looking

One of the easiest ways to confuse a defender is to wait for them to look in one direction so you can move quickly the opposite way. An easy way to get a defender to look in one direction is to fake that you’re going that way. You can then make your move.

7. Use Your Opponent’s Body Position Against Them

A player that is standing flat-footed is slower than one that’s ready to run or change direction. The moment you notice them standing flat-footed is the time to make your move.

Additional Tips for Off-the-Ball Movement

Many additional tips can help you play off the ball like a professional. Keep these pointers in mind when practicing and during game time to improve your movements without the ball.

  • Study the defense before your game to understand their most common movements. Use that knowledge against them when game time comes.
  • Run wide when receiving the ball to spread the defense farther apart and provide more space for yourself.
  • Make an overlapping run around the person with the ball to confuse the defense. This move often creates a two-on-one situation.
  • Use give-and-go passes to push defenders off their position. This movement involves passing to another player, then making a quick move to another position to receive the ball again.
  • Communication is key. You only have a few seconds to let the player with the ball know where and when you want to receive the pass. Make these seconds count.

This drill can help you improve off-the-ball movement with just one additional player to assist you as a passer:

The Key Points of Off-the-Ball Movement

Excellent off-the-ball movement involves scanning your surroundings, creating space, timing your movements correctly, and communicating clearly.

Off-the-ball movement is one of the most underrated skills in the sport. It is what separates average players from outstanding ones. Focus on improving your off-the-ball movements in practice to score more goals and lead your team to victory when game time comes.