Read "Should You Push Up When You Attack? Or Should You Defend Deep?" The term "push up" refers to fullbacks or midfielders moving forward toward the halfway line. In certain formations and if your team has speed and stamina, you should "push up" when you attack or any time the ball is near the other team's Penalty Box, even if the other team has the ball, so you can support your attack or put pressure on the ball. To build an attack (especially on a large field) it is an advantage to have everyone, including the defenders, shift with the ball. This allows your team to keep "shape" so there is "support". Moving the fullbacks up also has the advantage of keeping the other team away from your goal because they will be "offside" if they go past the last defender before the ball passes him. This keeps the attackers out of scoring range, but defenders must be quick to fall back if the ball gets past them. This is why some teams use a "Sweeper". A Sweeper is a very fast player with good endurance who is not afraid to make contact to stop the ball & clear it. The Sweeper will play slightly behind the fullbacks or as a Center Fullback with a "Stopper' in front of him. (The Stopper doesn't have to be as fast, but must be tough and able to stop the ball). The Sweeper will run down any through balls or breakaways and kick the ball out of bounds over the side line to slow down the other team's attack so your team will have time to recover. If your fullbacks are slow and you want to push them up when you attack, consider using a Sweeper. An alternative is to use a "stacked" soccer formation such as a 3-2-3-2 , a 3-2-2-3 or a 3-1-3-3 and "Defend Deep", as described in "Formations" and "Attacking Plan".
Once a team is "pushed up", the FB's won't automatically fall back when they lose the ball but may stay pushed up to apply pressure & try to steal the ball back. This is kind of like a defensive "press" in basketball & it is hard to dribble thru these FB's when they are pushed up. The way to break thru & beat the "press" is by playing "through balls", "give & go's" & "passing to yourself". If your opponent's FB's are pushed up, it creates the opportunity for a fastbreak counterattack. In recreational soccer it is best to not push up if you play on a long field and the other teams Forwards are faster than your Fullbacks. An alternative is to use a formation that creates more depth, such as a 3-2-3-2 and to "defend deep". This is described in detail in "Formations" and "Attacking Plan". (See "Attacking Plan", "High Line", "Last Defender", "Through Ball" "Pass To Yourself", "Give & Go", "Formations", "Defending Deep", "Styles of Play", "Sweeper", "Stopper" & "Defending to Win").
Note for U6 and U8 Coaches about Whether to Push Up or Defend Deep:
If you are a U6 coach, don't worry about tactics, just have fun.
If you are a U8 Rec coach, you are probably better off to Push Up your Fullbacks to the Halfway Line when you attack instead of Defending Deep and having your Fullbacks stop on the Penalty Box Line. There are 2 reasons: The first reason is because your opponents probably can't attack as a team so the threat of giving up a lot of goals on breakaways isn't great. The second reason is that many U8 Rec coaches probably can't train their Midfielders and Forwards to drop back to a position to win cleared balls when their goal is under attack. Defending Deep only works if the Coach can train his Midfielders and Forwards that when their goal is under attack they MUST come back to a position where they can win cleared balls. If the MFs and Fs don't drop back to win the cleared balls, it is a disaster because the team Defending Deep can never clear the ball out of its Defensive Third and the opposing team will win all the balls your Fullbacks try to clear.
Remember, every situation is different and your decision should be based on your players and opponents, but if I coached a typical U8 Rec team, I would start by Pushing Up my Fullbacks when I attacked. IF I faced a great team that was scoring on breakaways, then I might consider Defending Deep, BUT I would only Defend Deep if I was able to train my MFs and Fs to drop back to a position to win cleared balls when our goal was under attack, because otherwise we would never clear the ball out of our Defensive Third. As I mention below, I might consider splitting the difference and Pushing Up halfway to the Halfway Line because that would stop most of the breakaways and your Fullbacks wouldn't be as far from your MFs and Forwards, so it would be easier for the MFs and Forwards to win cleared balls.
Of course, keep in mind that there are lots of variations of Defending Deep and Pushing Up and being "Pushed Up half way" and "Defending Deep half way" are the same thing - your Fullbacks would be halfway to the Halfway Line in either case. Pushing Up halfway to the Halfway Line would stop most of the breakaways and your Fullbacks wouldn't be as far from your MFs and Forwards, so it would be easier for the MFs and Forwards to win cleared balls. If you coached a U8 Rec team you would probably tell your Fullbacks that their job is to kick the ball forward or to slow down the attack until your midfielders can recover to help.
You can probably get away with Pushing Up slow Fullbacks to the Halfway Line until about U9 or U10 most of the time. The reason is that most soccer teams simply don't have the skill to counterattack until U9 or U10. But by U9 or U10, if you Push Up slow Fullbacks against a well-coached team, you will give up lots of goals on breakaways. So, you will be able to beat poorly coached teams, but not well-coached teams.
If you have the speed to do so, Pushing Up your Fullbacks is definitely preferable. If you Defend Deep, Push Up your Fullbacks to at least to the Penalty Box Line - don't leave them on the Goal Box Line, that won't help you much and they will be in your Goalie's way.
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