The offside rule

“A player is ‘out of play’ immediately he is in front of the ball and must return behind the ball as soon as possible. If the ball is kicked by his own side past a player, he may not touch or kick it, or advance, until one of the other side has first kicked it, or one of his own side has been able to kick it on a level with, or in front of him.” The offside rule c.1862

One of the biggest concerns of coaches whose teams are about to move from small-sided football to nine or 11-a-side is the introduction of the offside rule.

But it really isn’t as complicated as some people would have you believe and it’s no more difficult to teach than any other youth football topic.

The offside rule (Law 11)

A player cannot be offside from a goal kick, a throw-in, a corner kick or if she is in her own half of the field of play.

If none of these apply, a player is in an offside position if she is nearer to her opponent’s goal line than the ball and the second last opponent (usually the last defender) when the ball is kicked – not when she receives the ball.

If the attacker is level with their second last opponent when the ball is kicked, she is onside.

Key point: It is important to understand that is not an offence to be in an offside position. The referee will only penalise a player who is offside if she is in “active play”, i.e., if one of the following three conditions are met:

1. Interfering with play

This means playing or touching the ball. Attempting to play the ball does not count – she must actually play or touch it.

2. Interfering with an opponent

This means obstructing an opponent’s line of vision, impeding her movements or by making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.

3. Gaining an advantage by being in that position

This means playing a ball that rebounds to her from an opponent, the post or the crossbar. If she does not play the ball from this type of rebound, then she is not penalised for being offside. Nothing else counts as “gaining an advantage”.[1]

How to teach the offside rule

The above explanation of the offside rule is for your benefit. It’s not written in a child-friendly way and I wouldn’t even try to teach nine or 10-year-olds the rule by just reading it to them. You have to show your players what it means to be offside.

Step 1

Explain the basic rule in simple terms by using a tactics or dry wipe board. Show examples of when a player is and isn’t offside.

Step 2

Develop your players’ understanding by walking through the same examples on the field. Allow all your players to take turns in being the attackers and defenders.

Then introduce the concept of “active play”.

But don’t just tell your players “this is offside” or “this isn’t offside”. Ask them to tell you if a player is offside or not and why they think that.

And don’t forget to emphasise that the most important part of the offside rule is the phrase “in the opinion of the referee”.

This makes the offside rule very simple: If the ref says you’re offside, you’re offside!

How to help your players avoid being caught offside

I use an a 4v4 or 5v5 small-sided game (SSG) called “You’re the Ref!”

It’s played on a 40×30-yard pitch with small goals and a five-yard end zone marked out in front of the goals across the full width of the pitch.

A player can only score if he/she receives a pass in the end zone from a team mate, but the player who passes the ball must be outside the end zone when the pass is played.

For the first few minutes, use assistant coaches or parents who understand the offside rule working as assistant referees on the sidelines. Their job is to call players who infringe the rule. Then ask two of your players to take a turn as assistant refs. This not only makes them think about the rule, it also helps them understand how difficult an official’s job actually is!

[1] Keith Hackett, Observer Sport, Sunday, 23 March 2008, retrieved from The Guardian

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Short corners

The traditionally taken corner kick in youth soccer, particularly for very young players, rarely results in a goal. That’s because it’s very difficult for children to anticipate the flight of a ball coming directly at them through a crowd of players in such a way that they can make contact with it.

So instead of encouraging your corner taker to knock the ball in hard and fast, why not try something a little more subtle instead?

Short corners (where the ball is passed to a player standing a few yards away from the ball who either plays it back to the corner taker or crosses/shoots himself) are often very effective.

Or you could try passing the ball back to one of your midfielders who is standing by the half way line. This player will probably have a lot of room in front of him and can get within shooting range before he is challenged.

Remember Manchester United’s famous short corner against Chelsea in the 2008/9 season? Wayne Rooney pretended to change his mind about taking a corner and signaled to Ryan Giggs to do it instead.

As he moved away from the corner flag, Rooney touched the ball, putting it into play. Chelsea’s defence were expecting Ryan Giggs to take a conventional corner but he ran with the ball towards goal and crossed it for team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo to score with a header.

This tactic might be worth a try but it will only work once!

Positions? Don’t bother…

If you’re new to coaching young soccer players, then you might be uncertain about when to introduce the concept of playing in set positions. As a broad guideline, U8s really don’t need to be constrained by having to play in fixed positions. At that age they should be practising their ball skills, dribbling, shooting and tackling all over the field and they will not learn very quickly if they are waiting for the ball to come to their own little patch of grass.

Don’t worry too much about coaching set positions at this stage. Sure, you might get some flack from parents and some amused looks from other coaches who have managed to plant their players in specific parts of the pitch but hey….your kids are having fun! And that is surely the most important thing. There’s plenty of time for positional play and tactics when the players get older.

A spin off from letting your players have the freedom of the pitch is finding that one or both of your defenders have the potential to be star attackers and vice versa.

Just make sure your players know that when the other team has the ball, they are all defending and when you have the ball they are all attacking.

And don’t forget the goalkeeper. Make sure she gets her chance to play outfield. Rotate all your players through the position of goalkeeper and you will reap the benefits:

1. The outfield players will appreciate how hard it is being in goal

2. You will have a pool of reserve goalkeepers for you to draw upon when your regular one is absent.

My advice? Let your players run around and enjoy themselves while they can.

Marking the danger man

One of the most important defensive football skills which players should learn (even quite young children) is how to mark an opponent so he cannot receive a pass or, if he does, is closed down so quickly that he cannot do anything with the ball.

There are two types of marking:

1. At set pieces, such as free kicks and corners.

2. Marking a particular player for the whole duration of the match, usually in an attempt to stop them from scoring.

It could be argued that the second type of marking is “anti-football” and it is unfair to remove two players from the game in this way.

Certainly, it is hardly in the spirit of the game to encourage a young player to touch, nudge and try to annoy/upset an opponent. But as long as coaches and players keep to the rules, marking is a perfectly legitimate tactic and it needs to be taught.
How to teach marking

The idea of marking at U10 level is abstract at best, so I suggest that you wait until your players are at least 10 years old before attempting to teach them how to mark opponents.

When you start to teach the technique of marking, you will soon come across two problems: at set pieces, young players tend to watch the ball rather than the person they are supposed to be marking.

And when marking players in open play, children can be told that they only have to mark an opponent when the other team has the ball but they often find it hard to react quickly enough when their team gains or loses possession.

Both of these problems can be overcome by lots of practice but don’t expect your players to “get it” immediately.

Marking at set pieces

1. Corners and free kicks

Defenders should be “goal side” (i.e. stand between the goal and their mark) and also be slightly in front of the attacker. This position will help the defender to beat their attacker to balls played along the ground. It will also give the defender enough room to move backwards and challenge in the air for high balls.

Note: not every defender should be assigned someone to mark. One defender should be left free to attack the ball or pick up an attacker who has got away from his marker. The fluid nature of this role makes it suited for the more experienced of your players.

Who’s in charge?

Goalkeepers (even the very young) should be encouraged to organise their defence at corners and free kicks close to the penalty area. They are in the best position to see who needs marking and they should be allowed to instruct their team mates accordingly.

2. Throw ins

Markers should stand close behind the player they are marking. If they stand next to them or in front they risk having the ball thrown over their head.
Marking in open play

As I mentioned above, asking one of your players to stop an opposition player from playing by sticking to her like glue is a dubious tactic in youth soccer. It’s the sort of thing a WAAC (Win At All Costs) coach would do.

In my opinion it isn’t right to remove two players from the game in this way, especially if the marking player just follows their mark all over the pitch regardless of which team has the ball. It’s poor, unimaginative coaching and it spoils the game for both players.

If you decide you need to stifle a particular opposition player, you should make it clear to the marker that she only needs to mark when the other team has the ball. And that’s where a problem arises.

In youth soccer matches possession is often lost and won and lost again every few seconds. This makes it very difficult for a child to know when to mark and when they don’t have to.

My advice? Don’t bother with marking in open play.

No go!

This game encourages your players to use the full width of the pitch.

Age group: U8s to U14s

Set-up: Divide your players into teams of four or five.

Create a playing area with a goal at each end for every two teams.

The size of the area depends on the age of your players. For U10s, 40 yards long by 30 yards wide is about right.

Cone off a 10-yard square or a 20 yards long by 10 yards wide No-Go area in the middle of the pitch.

How to play: Play a small-sided game (SSG) with the condition that players are not allowed to enter the No-Go area but the ball may pass through it.

If a player does set foot in the No-Go area, award a free kick to the other team at the point where they entered the area.


Award a bonus point for a successful pass through the No-Go zone.

All attacking moves must include a pass to a neutral player who stays inside the No-Go zone.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Throw in frenzy

This game encourages quick throw ins and movement off the ball.

Age range: U7s and upwards.

Difficulty: Medium.

Set-up: Create a 40×30-yard playing area with a goal at each ends. Using flat cones, mark out two five-yard squares on each side line. The boxes should be placed about 10 yards from each goal.

Divide your players into two teams of five or six. Goalkeepers are optional.

How to play:

First, demonstrate the right way to take a throw-in.

  • Two players from each team are put into the boxes at the end they are attacking. The remaining players play in the main area.
  • To score, a team must pass to one of the boxed players, who catches the ball or picks it up and quickly looks to take a throw-in.
  • The attacking team tries to create a goalscoring opportunity from the throw-in before the defending team can get organised.
  • Award one point for a goal scored in open play and two points for a goal scored immediately after a throw-in.
  • Rotate the players in the boxes at regular intervals.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Vision on!

Objective: To encourage quick decision making, playing with head up, switching play.

Age group: U7s and upwards.

Number of players: Eight plus two adult assistants.

Equipment required: Flat cones to mark the playing area, training vests to differentiate the teams, four small goals, one ball.

Set-up: Use a 30×20 yards playing area with two goals at either end.

Divide your players into two evenly matched teams.

Place an adult assistant at either end of the pitch, behind the goals.

How to play: Each team defends and attacks two goals.

  • They can score in either of the goals they are attacking, providing there is no one standing behind it.
  • The assistants work up and down the end lines, positioning themselves behind the goal they think is going to be attacked next.
  • There are no goalkeepers.
  • Play for 10 minutes or until a set score is reached.

Variations: Limit the players to two or three touches.

Players can only score from their first touch.

Add a halfway line. To score, all the players in the attacking team must be in their opponent’s half.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Team shape

This is one of the very few soccer drills that I use with my older teams.

I’ve found it a very useful way to practise passing and receiving skills while at the same time maintaining a basic team shape.

Experience: intermediate (U10s) upwards.

Set-up: split your squad into teams of three, four or five. Two teams per 30 yards long by 20 yards wide playing area. The playing area(s) have a goal at each end.

Put one team in each half. Position them so that teams of three are in the shape of a triangle, teams of four are in the shape of a diamond and teams of five are a diamond plus a goalkeeper.

How to play: the objective of this soccer drill is for the players to move forwards, passing the ball between each other while keeping their shape.

Start by having the players pass the ball between themselves while they are stationary. The soccer drill should begin with a pass from a player in a defensive position or the goalkeeper, if you have one.

Progress to walking pace, (the two teams walk through each other), and gradually increase the pace until your players are passing and moving through each other at match speed.

Soccer coaching points:

  • Every move should finish with a shot on goal.
  • All players must touch the ball before a shot is taken.
  • Passes can be made in any order.
  • Encourage wide players to stay wide.
  • Start again if a pass is misplaced and the ball goes out of bounds.
  • Keep it short – this soccer drill should only last for 10 minutes, maximum. Any longer and your players will get bored.


  • Challenge your players to get to the goal in 15 seconds.
  • Give your players numbers and call a number while they are moving. That player must be the one who shoots.
  • Players only have three touches, two touches, then one touch.