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Soccer Positions: A Complete and Easy to Understand Guide


Soccer positions guide - post header image

The game of soccer has been around for almost 2,000 years. Over these years the positions of the players on a soccer field have dramatically changed. Today, there are many factors to fully understand everything about soccer positions – from knowing the placement of each position on the field to learning how to train for each specific position.

Throughout this guide, I’ll clearly explain everything you need to know.

So, what should you know about each soccer position?

To understand soccer positions, you must be familiar with: 

  • The position numbers
  • The importance of each position
  • The placement of positions on the soccer field
  • Field formations and where your position will be
  • Skill sets that are critical for each position
  • How to choose which position to play
  • What makes someone great at their soccer position
  • How to properly train for each position

Soccer can be tons of fun if you know what you are doing in the field. This article will go over the critical aspects of each position that you must know to dominate the soccer field. 

Soccer Position Numbers

In soccer, There are 11 positions on the soccer field and a number is assigned to each position. You’ll see them clearly displayed on the back of a soccer player’s jersey.

This started in the 1920s to allow individuals to identify where players were on the field. In the table below are the 11 soccer positions and how they are usually numbered:

Position NumberPosition
1Goalie or Goalkeeper
2Right Fullback or Wingback
3Left Fullback or Wingback
4Center Back
5Center Back or Sweeper
6Defending or Center Midfielder
7Right Midfielder and Winger
8Center Midfielder
9Center Forward or Striker
10Attacking Midfielder or Center Forward
11Left Midfielder and Winger

[source for the above infomation]

Soccer Position Roles and Their Importance

As with many sports, specific positions are assigned in soccer to make sure that each team can protect the soccer ball and defend their goal to the best of their ability.

The positions assigned in soccer are split into 3 main groups:

  • Defenders
  • Midfielders
  • and Forwards

Defenders

soccer defender roles

The soccer defenders’ main goal is to stop the opposing team from making attacks and scoring goals. They are positioned within their own half of the field and work together to ensure the other team doesn’t progress.

There are four main defensive positions in soccer. They are:

  • Goalkeeper – The goalkeeper defends the goal from the other team’s offensive players. The goalkeeper is the only player that can use their arms and hands to block the ball as long as the ball is inside the penalty box. If they step outside the penalty box or a member of their team passes them the ball, they cannot use their hands. 
  • Right and Left Fullbacks – The right and left fullbacks defend the sides of the field at the back and focus on blocking the opposing team’s wingers or right or left midfielders. It is better if they are lighter on their feet to move quickly up and down the field to help with various plays.
  • Center Back – The center back is another defense position that covers the center of the field just in front of the goal. Their purpose is to prevent the opposing team, or the ball, from reaching the goalkeeper. 
  • Sweeper – The position of a sweeper is one that is not used that often. However, when it is used, their job is to defend the goal as a line of defense between the goalkeeper and the other defenders. They must fill the gaps left by their teammates in order to protect the goal. 

Click here to go to my article 21 Qualities of a Soccer Defender and find out more about what it means to be a defender in soccer. Or click here to go to my article all about Defensive Soccer Positions and go even deeper into this area.

Midfielders

soccer midfield roles

In soccer, the midfielders are stationed in the middle of the field, between the forwards and defenders. Their main job is to be a part of the attack and keep the ball pushing forwards towards the goal. The midfielders are often known as the “engine room” of a team as so much of the energy and action of a game comes through them and is created by them.

There are four types of midfielders on the field, and they are:

  • Defending or Holding Midfielder – A midfielder, also known as a halfback, runs up and down the middle of the field between the defenders and forwards, connecting the team from the back to the front. They do lots of running during the game as they move the ball to different parts of the field. The defensive midfielder must focus on retrieving balls from the back of the field while setting up the ball for the forwards to attack. I recently wrote an article – 17 Qualities of every Great Defensive Midfielder – which you can check out by clicking here and find out much more about the role of a defensive midfielder in soccer.
  • Center Midfielder – As one of the most essential roles, the center midfielder plays both offense and defense on the field. They set up plays for their team and move forward or backward, depending on where the ball is. They are the key to linking the team together as a whole by making many important decisions on the field. They need to have excellent ball skills. They are known for making long shots on the goal and assisting in others.
  • Right and Left Midfielder or Wingers – These midfielders play on the edges of the field drawing out the other team’s defense and making room for the center midfielder and attacking midfielder to move in the center. They will often encounter one-on-one ball action between themselves and the opposing team’s fullbacks as they work to cross the ball toward the center of the field to their teammates. Because they must dribble fast, pass the ball, assist in shots, and score themselves, wingers need to be incredibly fast and excellent at using the ball. 
  • Attacking Midfielder – Attacking midfielders spend most of a game focused on shooting and assisting the forwards. Like the center midfielder, the attacking midfielder must have great technique and accuracy when using the ball. They often take control of offensive plays and support the attack when possible.

Click here to go to my article the 11 Essential Roles of a Midfielder to find out more about what it means to be a midfielder in soccer.

Forwards

soccer midfield roles

Forwards are the chief goal scorers of the team, as they are placed close to the opposing team’s goal and don’t have many defensive responsibilities. Forwards typically score more goals than anyone else on the soccer field because of their strategic position.

There are two types of forwards found on the field:

  • Striker – The striker’s role is to shoot on goal. They are positioned in front of the field and will always be looking to receive passes from their teammates in an attempt to score a goal. They must be quick and able to outrun the other team’s defense and profit from their mistakes. 
  • Center Forward – The main role of the center forward, like the striker, is to score goals. Center forwards are known for control of the ball in the air, having good dribbling skills, and working as a distraction for the striker. Often wearing the number 10 jersey in a game, click here to go to my article explaining the significance of the number 10 in soccer.

Positions on the Soccer Field

soccer position zones

The next step in understanding the various soccer positions is making sure you know where each player is positioned on the soccer field.

Each player may play in multiple spots on the field depending on their coach’s decisions, the formations the team uses, or whether they are playing a more defensive game or a more offensive game. 

If you are the goalkeeper you will spend most of your time by the soccer goal, at either end of the field and withing the penalty box or area – the 18-yard area that includes the goal area and is also centered in front of the soccer goal.

If you are a sweeper you will be positioned on the edge of the penalty box directly in front of each soccer goal.

The right and left fullbacks and center back are positioned just outside the penalty box. The attacking team’s forwards try to make their way into the penalty box to attempt to score a goal while the defending team tries to keep the ball and opposing players as far away from the penalty box as they can. 

Midfielders spend the majority of their time playing in the middle third of the field, positioned between their attackers and their defenders.

The striker and forwards aim to spend most of their time at the opposing teams’ end of the field by their goal and penalty box. 

The Importance of Each Soccer Position

Each soccer position has a vital role in the game.

As stated earlier, goalkeepers are crucial because they are the last line of defense in protecting the goal. A goalkeeper also plays an essential role in communicating with teammates by getting the ball out of the goal box and back to their teammates.

Check out my article on the 8 Rules for every Goalie by clicking here and find out much more about the role of a goalkeeper.

The right and left fullbacks take necessary measures to protect the sides of the field and make sure the ball doesn’t get past them. They also make important passes to their teammates mostly down the sides of the soccer field.

The center back has the job of making sure the penalty box and goal is protected.

If used, a sweeper is crucial because they add an extra layer of protection to the goal. They block shots, pass the ball, and move the ball forward back to their teammates. 

Midfielders have the critical role of connecting the team. Because midfielders play the center of the field, they can move forward and play offense or pull back and play defense. This is very important because they set up plays for their team and are constantly making important decisions on the field that can link the team together to be able to operate as one unit. 

Forward players and strikers are crucial because they are the players that will score most of the goals for a team. Without forwards or strikers, it would be much harder for a team to win.

Soccer Formations

soccer formations

Formations describe how all the players, except the goalkeeper, are positioned on the field. The goalie is omitted from this as they are always in the same position on the field no matter what.

The numbers in a formation start with the back of the field, or defense, followed by the midfield with the last number representing the forwards. Occasionally a coach may divide up the formation into four sections to identify an extra player between the defense and midfield or midfield and forwards. 

Depending on each team’s strengths, skill sets, and goals on the field, there are different formations they can choose to play. 

Some configurations focus more on attacking while others set up in more of a defensive form. Knowing the difference between the two and which ones are most commonly used can help you understand how the players will be positioned on the field.

Defensive Formations

Putting pressure on the opposing team is the main goal of defensive formations. These formations are most likely to be used when the other team is expected to have the ball for the majority of the game, and more intensity is needed from the defense to stop the attack. There are several defensive formations a coach can choose from, but the three most popular include:

soccer formation 3-4-2-1
  • Formation 3-4-2-1. When looking for a formation that puts pressure on the opposing team, this is the one to choose. It is set up like the 3-4-3, except it pulls two of the attacking forwards further back to offer more defensively. On the field, you’ll have your striker, followed by two forwards on each side, then four midfielders, with three defenders in the back.
soccer formation 4-5-1
  • Formation 4-5-1. This formation pulls players toward the back of the field to take on a defensive stance. With four players on defense and five placed in the midfield, this leaves the team with only one player in the offense. This formation might be a good one to use if the opposing team is expected to dominate possession.
soccer formation 5-2-2-1
  • Formation 5-2-2-1. This formation is made up of one striker leading the team with two offensive midfielders, followed by two defensive midfielders and five defenders. Because more of the players are pulled to the back, this is also a very defensive formation. 

Offensive Formations

On the other hand, offensive formations aim to put more pressure on the opposing team’s goal to score. These formations will utilize the forwards and midfielders in strategic locations to set up an attack that hopefully leads to a goal.

Three of the most commonly used and popular offensive formations in soccer includes:

soccer formation 4-4-2
  • Formation 4-4-2. This is the most popular soccer formation, especially for beginners. It focuses on creating a good balance of players on the field. The team has two center forward players, with four midfielders behind them, followed by four defensive players at the back. The midfield players in this formation can form a straight line, known as a flat midfield, or create more of a diamond shape, known as a diamond midfield.
soccer formation 3-4-3
  • Formation 3-4-3. In this formation three forwards attack the goal and are reinforced by four midfielders. This leaves only three defenders to help the goalkeeper protect the goal. This formation can be a bit risky because of counter attacks, so midfielders will want to make sure they understand their roles really well.
soccer formation 3-6-1
  • Formation 3-6-1. The center forward takes the lead in this formation. It can be tricky to coordinate as a team, so midfielders will want to make sure they can work together to support the center forward and back up the defender behind them. The roles of the midfielders will be broken down into two offensive midfielders toward the front, two wing-backs near the sides, and two defensive midfielders near the rear.

[source of above information]

Critical Skill Sets for Each Position

Critical skills

Every player on a team needs to start with commitment and dedication to the role. They must work together as a team and support each other on and off the field.

However, as each player gets into their specific roles, there are certain skill sets that each of them needs to focus on to really excel. 

  • Goalkeeper 
    • must master the correct positioning in the goal 
    • must develop their kicking, punting, jumping, ball handling, and catching skills
    • must have excellent hand-eye coordination and footwork, 
    • must have quick reflexes 
    • needs to be able to anticipate what is coming by reading the opponent and following the ball 
    • must communicate effectively with their teammates.  
  • Right and Left Full Backs 
    • must be light on their feet and able to move quickly 
    • must master skills such as short passes, dribbling, tackling, speed, endurance, acceleration, agility, concentration, discipline, composure, anticipation, and confidence.
  • Center Back
    • must be good at short and long passes, heading the ball, dribbling, jumping, tackling, strength, concentration, aggression, and anticipation.
  • Sweeper 
    • known for their fitness and speed 
    • must have precise timing for tackles, quick decision making, good communication with the team, excellent passing and dribbling technique
    • must be able to anticipate moves 
  • Defending/Holding Midfielder 
    • Must be in excellent running shape
    • must perfect long and short passes, tackling, and jumping and heading the ball 
    • Must master other skills like endurance, acceleration, strength, discipline, anticipation, and acceleration. 
  • Center Midfielder 
    • must have excellent ball skills 
    • must be in good shape to undertake excessive running
  • Right and Left Midfielder or Winger 
    • must master ball control, long passing, shooting, dribbling, speed, acceleration, agility, creativity, confidence, composure, and aggression.
  • Attacking Midfielder  
    • Must have proper technique and accuracy in their ball control
    • Must develop short passing and shooting skills
    • balance, acceleration, speed, creativity, composure, and confidence are also essential attributes. 
  • Striker 
    • must be good shooters
    • must be quick, unpredictable, and in good shape 
    • must have a great first touch(click here to go to my article explaining what “first touch” refers to in soccer.)
    • dribbling, acceleration, balance, agility, confidence, and composure are critical. 
  • Center Forward 
    • must focus on correct technique when using the ball, dribbling, shooting, and passing 
    • must maintain composure throughout the game 
    • must be quick thinkers, as well as creative by staying one step ahead of the opponents
    • speed and precision are a must 
    • must have a great vision with good decision making by understanding the game and the best plays to make 
    • self-confidence, patience, acceleration, balance, and agility must also be focused on. 

To see my recommendation of the Top 10 Soccer Drills click here.

How to Know What Position to Play

which soccer position to play

If you’re reading this article looking to decide what position would be best for you, then this is the part you’ve been waiting for.

When deciding on which soccer position to play, there are many factors to consider. First and foremost, you want to make sure that you find a position that feels comfortable and brings out your strengths as a player. However, keep in mind that other things will also impact your playing. 

Here are 8 things to consider when deciding what soccer position is best for you:

  1. Become familiar with the formations that your coach will use for your team. Different configurations will affect where you stand on the field. 
  2. Recognize what it is you like to do most while playing soccer. Are you quick on your feet and love to score? Would you rather hang back by the sidelines making passes? What you like to do is one of the most significant factors in deciding on your position. 
  3. Try out different positions to get a feel for what you prefer. Most soccer players have played more than one position during their careers. It is hard to know if you have found the right one unless you’ve tried several positions, if not all of them, at some point. 
  4. Avoid positions that you know you won’t like. Knowing what you don’t like can be an excellent first step. If you are terrified of the responsibility of being in the goal area then don’t position yourself there. At times, players can become so focused on disliking a position that they will never give it their best when playing that role. 
  5. Consider becoming a forward or striker if you are quick and love to score. As mentioned above, forwards and strikers must be fast and have excellent aim. If that’s you then try out this position.
  6. Try out midfield if you enjoy making passes and assists. Midfielders will have the ball at their feet often as they run up and down the field, helping their team transition into offensive mode. They work on keeping the team together by distributing the ball and organizing plays. 
  7. Become a defender if you love the thought of protecting your goal and stopping the plays of your opposing team. Defenders must hold their own and have lots of confidence. They excel in reading the game and predicting the movements of the other team. 
  8. If you want to be the last line of defense and have excellent hand-eye coordination and reflexes, then goalkeeper might be a good option. Goalkeepers must make quick decisions as they read the field and communicate with their teammates. 

What Makes Someone Great in Their Soccer Position

Plenty of things can factor into what makes someone a great soccer player, especially in their chosen position. However, there are a few key things that must be focused on. If a player can master these aspects of the game, along with the critical skills needed for the position they play, then they can become a great soccer player.  

  • Know your position. This might seem obvious, but find the right position for you and stay there. At times, players stray from their position to go after the ball or make a play. At that moment, it might seem like a good idea. However, it could leave their area of the field vulnerable and result in the opposing team taking advantage. 
  • Have discipline on and off the field. Great players respect their coach, the referees, and the rules of the game. They never act out without first thinking it through. This also carries over to their life off the field. Discipline in diet, training, and other healthy lifestyle choices is critical. This audio-based fitness app could be a great addition to your daily routine to stay fit and healthy while on the go.
  • Concentration is key in perfecting your position. To be good at your position, you must be able to focus on the game and your role. Players that get distracted easily can cost their team the game. 
  • A soccer player will never be successful if they don’t have the right attitude. Be motivated and passionate about the position you play and the team that you are on. 
  • Soccer is all about teamwork. A player will be successful in their position if they can work together with their team and coach to maximize each person’s role and responsibility.

How to Become Great at Each Position: Training Tips 

Becoming a great soccer player is more than just choosing a position that you like. Each role comes with specific training that can help you excel in the field. This video below shows how hard soccer forward Christiano Ronaldo trains.

If you want to perfect your soccer game, focus on the following training tips:

  1. Forwards
    • Practice your first touch of the ball.
    • With various speeds and angles, work on turning and shooting or passing the ball.
    • Practice shooting with both feet.
    • Learn how to take control of the ball in the air.
    • Practice crosses and assists so you can place the ball exactly where it needs to be. 
    • Strengthen your cardio, speed, and endurance.
    • Practice footwork and dribbling skills.
  2. Midfielders 
    • Practice long and short passes.
    • Work at your technique in controlling and handling the ball. 
    • Practice dribbling and shooting.
    • Strengthen your cardio and endurance.
  3. Defenders
    • Work on long passes and clearing the ball out of the penalty box.
    • Practice heading the ball and blocking shots.
    • Know how to receive the ball from your goalkeeper and send it upfield. 
    • Practice dribbling and footwork.
    • Practice crossing the ball to other players.
  4. Goalkeeper 
    • Work on blocking penalty kicks.
    • Practice jumping, diving, and other blocking positions.
    • Work on following the ball always. 
    • Practice punts and throws. 
    • Perfect your footwork and ball handling.
    • Build explosive strength.

I’d also recommend checking out an online soccer coaching course such as Renegade Soccer Training (click on the “Get Our Programs” link on their website to see what they offer). This course is designed to dramatically improve your game while allowing you to be able to train at times that suit you and your schedule.

Conclusion and Recommendations

There are many important aspects of soccer to consider, especially when discussing each position.

When a player can play their position correctly and cover the right areas of the field, then the team will find great success in their game. Take your time in deciding what position is right for you then focus on practicing and developing the skills needed for that position.

More Info

If you’re interested in specifically finding out about Youth Soccer Positions then click here to go to a guide I wrote all about it.

If you’re looking for recommendations on what soccer gear to buy then head over to my recommended soccer equipment pages by clicking here.

Ben

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Sign up to the yoursoccerhome.com newsletter here or check out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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