Playing Out of the Back in Soccer

Playing out of the back is a possession-based tactic that allows a team to maintain control of the ball by passing forward from their defensive third of the field. The players keep hold of the ball while playing out of the defense and up the pitch.

This is in contrast to tactics where, for example, the goalkeeper may kick a long ball, trying to bypass the defensive third and going directly to midfield or further.

Like all offensive tactics, the mission of playing out of the back is to create scoring opportunities.

playing out of the back in soccer

What Does It Mean to Play Out From the Back?

Playing out the back, also known as playing out from the back, requires a well-coordinated team from goalie to striker.

Some soccer strategies involve a team clearing the ball away from their own goal as quickly as possible. However, playing out the back involves tactically moving the ball forward through short, fast, accurate passes. Instead of one player booting the ball far up the field to another, the players move intentionally into spaces to make short passes and receive the ball until they’re in a scoring position.

Why Do Teams Play Out the Back?

Playing out the back is becoming increasingly popular at all levels of play. Some of the world’s most popular clubs, including Barcelona and Munich, utilize playing-out-the-back tactics. Manchester City is commonly regarded as the best team to use this tactic. Their success sparked interest among soccer clubs of all ages.

Teams play out the back to maintain possession of the ball as they move it forward. Skillful, premeditated passes are less riskier than booting the ball up the field and hoping your player wins possession.

The Benefits of Playing Out the Back

Playing out from the back in soccer can offer numerous benefits to a team.

The following are a few of the most common reasons why teams choose this tactic:

  • Creates more direct and intentional passes to the front players
  • Allows the team to make the field “bigger” by spreading out farther, making defense difficult
  • The team can dominate possession and dictate the game’s flow
  • Offers opportunities to draw in the opposing team and play past them
  • Gives all players opportunities to improve their skills

Playing out the back is advantageous for some teams and not for others. A significant disadvantage is that it can be disastrous when a team executes this tactic poorly.

Possession can quickly change when players pick the wrong pass, drop too deep, or put themselves in the wrong position. Playing out the back can create scoring opportunities for the team with possession, but it can also create scoring opportunities for the opposition when done incorrectly.

How to Play Out the Back

Playing out the back is a simple tactic in theory. However, it can be much more challenging to execute.

The No. 1 rule to remember when playing out the back is to spread the defense wide, allowing the center backs to send the ball to the full-backs who play their way out up the field.

The goal is to maintain control of the ball out of the defense while advancing up the field and into scoring range.

Below, we outline several effective tactics for practicing playing out of the back.

Methods for Practicing Playing Out from the Back

There are several ways to get your team started playing out of the back effectively. The following are a few of our favorites to help players understand their roles in moving the ball up the field and scoring.

Learning the Foundation

Foundational practice is essential for players to become comfortable and confident playing out from the back.

The players involved in the first portion of this tactic are the goalie, center-backs, and full-backs or defensive midfielders. All the players must be comfortable passing accurately, receiving the ball, and knowing where to make the next pass.

A few basic practice drills can help players become more confident and accurate with passing and receiving. A passing circle or passing “rondo” exercise with one or two defenders in the middle can help improve skill and confidence.

Practice Positioning and Setup

After warming up, you will want to practice positioning and setup for game scenarios. A common position is a diamond setup with the goalkeeper as one point of the diamond, to center backs to the side, and the center midfielder dropping back to complete the diamond.

This “defensive diamond” gives the goalkeeper several clear and short passing options. The center-backs and midfielder can then accurately pass the ball out of the defense to full-backs, midfielders, and forwards. The goal is for players outside the defensive diamond to create space on the field for more passing options and scoring opportunities.

Practicing for Game Time

Game realistic practices are the best way to instill confidence in a game setting. Playing out from the back is a complicated tactic that requires skill, confidence, and accuracy for correct execution.

Practice Unopposed

Begin by practicing out from the back ball movement without opposition. This is simply starting the ball with the goalkeeper and practicing numerous passes to move the ball up the field. It is not an exciting practice method, but it gives players the foundation needed to continue to the next step.

Practice With Some Opposition

Advance to a more game-like scenario by using defenders to apply pressure to the goalkeeper, center-backs, and other players as they try to advance the ball up the field. Adjusting the numbers on the offensive or defensive team can change how easy or difficult this practice is.

Create a Conditioned Match

The closest a practice can get to a real soccer game is a scrimmage. Create a match-like scenario, but with the condition that any time the ball must restart play, it has to begin with the goalie. This will offer numerous opportunities to practice playing from the goalkeeper up the field with short, accurate passes.

Additional Tips for Playing Out the Back

Playing out the back isn’t as simple as it sounds. The following are a few additional tips to help your team improve their out-the-back playing skills.

Encourage Confidence

Confidence is essential when playing out the back. All players must be confident in their passing and receiving skills. This confidence comes from continued practice.

Don’t Fear Marked Players

The opposing team is going to attempt to mark your players. There is no rule stating you should never pass to a marked player. The key is to perfect your passing skills, so you can send sharp, quick, accurate passes that go where they need to go, even if a defender is present.

Play One or Two Touches

Quick touches are the key to playing out the back. Use one or two touches to move the ball quickly before defenders have time to get into place.

Start Young

The No. 1 best way to boost players’ confidence when learning to play out the back is to start them young. The sooner players begin perfecting them out of the back play, the more confidence they will have in real-game scenarios.

Know the Next Pass

There’s no time to snooze when playing out the back. A player should always survey the field and know where they want to place their next pass before they even receive the ball.

Any time spent looking around the field for the next open player is time the defense has to predict the pass and get into place.


Playing out the back in soccer is an increasingly popular tactic. It offers skilled teams the opportunity to precisely move the ball up the field and into open space for scoring opportunities.

However, this style of play is only effective for skilled teams, as it requires quick thinking, accurate passes, excellent receiving skills, and coordination among all players. The best way to improve your team’s out-the-back playing skills is to start practicing as young as possible and continue that practice consistently as the team advances.

Learn more about soccer tactics