How to get your soccer players to communicate?

I was recently watching a soccer game in a league that allows only players over 40 years old to play. Many of them are still in great shape, but you can see that their coaches have created soccer players to communicate. I could see that they were in the right position all the time and they made the right decisions every single time, in offense and in defense. However, what surprised me the most was that it was louder than when the youth teams are playing. There was no cheering, but many of the decisions were done in a collective manner. I kept hearing “up”, “step”, “drop”, “square”, “line”, “cross”, “man on”, “hold”… They are all one-syllable instructions that they give to each other and often the receiver blindly follows the instruction.

For comparison, I saw a U9 game where the players are usually silent when out of possession, and when attacking they yell “Pass! Pass! Pass!” or “Alex!!” or “What are you doing?!”. It was winter, so many soccer players were too cold to move, let alone talk. I can see that the coach was not happy with the lack of quality communication, but the players didn’t know what to say. The words that the experienced players used were very small vocabulary, but they basically made up a different language for them. Everybody knew exactly what they meant, when to say it, and how to react if they heard it.

The way to coach soccer players to communicate is to teach them the common language of soccer players. A dozen phrases that they need to learn are sufficient and often common across languages. It is a methodology to teach the following phrases in defense: “up”, “step”, “drop” and “hold”. When attacking the magic words are “square”, “line”, “cross” and “back”. The bonus lesson is to coach using the hands so that even if the stadium is full of tens of thousands of screaming fans, the players can understand each other what they need from each other. Teaching the same dozen words for years requires so much patience that the soccer coach deserves a monument.

Defensive Commands for Soccer Players to Communicate

The defense in soccer, and any collective sport, is about teamwork and coordination. Some players are better at defending 1v1, but the secret is to work together. Keeping the formation and defending as a unit means that we are limiting the amount of 1v1s that we need to defend and we force the opponents to get into tight spaces where they will be outnumbered. On other occasions, we force them to stay offside or far away from the goal. For that, they need a way to communicate quickly and synchronously. In soccer, I have been coached and I start coaching with 4 words – Hold, Up, Step, and Drop. They can be called by anybody during a game and often are yelled by multiple people. However, while learning, it is important to dedicate somebody to do that. Usually one of the central defenders does that, but also the keeper can do that, as they see the entire field. Also, this is the reason why center-backs are often captains of their youth teams.


The only way we can hold a compact defensive line is to… well hold it as a line. The way this happens is that the wide defenders stay a step or two ahead of the central defenders, as they have more freedom to be aggressive. However, the line is defined by the central defenders. So, regardless of the opposition, if they say “HOLD”, then everybody holds. The reason why we do this is because we narrow the playing field of the attackers. We want them to be forced to operate in limited space. As the space between the last defender and the goalie is offside, it is not available. If the instruction is to play with a high pressing line, the last defender stays high and gives the hold instruction. Similarly, if the tactics require low block, that’s the place of giving the instruction.


When trying to high press the opponent, it is important to keep the defensive line high. That limits the playing field between our attackers and our defenders. The smaller the playing field, the harder it is for the opponents to keep the ball because we give less space and less time. This means that our defensive line should push high together, step by step. To achieve this, our last defenders yell “STEP”, to push a few steps ahead. The time to do that is when there is a back pass from the opponent, as that is the time when our attackers will also press. The organized pressing is not going to happen on its own, so we need to start with a verbal cue.


The opposite of pressing higher is to drop deeper on the field. You might wonder why would we do that, giving more space to the opposition. Say we are pressing high, but the opponents get through our line of attackers with a dribble or a pass. That might mean that we are in a situation where the opponents might have a numerical advantage or at least equality. In that case, we want to play cautiously and drop closer to the goal and to each other. So, the last defender yells “DROP” to bring the players back closer to the goal. During that time, the attackers and midfielders would sprint back to reinstate the numerical advantage in front of our goal.


The command is for our defender to sprint forward several steps. This one is more often used when we have cleared the ball or regained possession close to our goal. For example, there is a corner and we cleared the ball forward. If all of our defenders sprint out high, then the opponents stay in an offside position. That forces the opponents to pass even further back instead of forward, giving us an advantage. Similarly, if our keeper gets the ball and everybody is in the penalty area, then they might want the players to push high quickly, to get available targets for a long pass and a quick counterattack. At that point, they yell “UP” to their players, while obviously staying close to their goal.

Individual instructions

The 4 instructions above are all collective instructions where one player decides what the entire defensive line should do. However, sometimes we need to help with individual decisions. They cannot be done with individual soccer technical practice, but teamwork. So, often times people say “hold“, “cover” or “delay” when they want players to not try to get the ball, while the team comes back into good defensive shape. Similarly, they would yell “step up” or “challenge” when they want the defender to attempt stealing the ball, while others provide cover.

More advanced instruction is when the attackers do movements that might confuse the defenders. With overlapping or underlapping runs, it is important for players to communicate and not just assume. We have “stay with ball” or “I got ball”, to choose who stays with the ball and who follows the player running. Similarly, it is important to hold the offside line, so sometimes when the opponent does a strong run, we say “leave him/her” to create an offside trap.

Offensive Instructions for Soccer Players to Communicate

When it comes to offensive instructions, it is important to understand that they are less strict. For example, if one player is always in offside, but never gets the ball, then it’s not offside. Or if a player keeps running wide and we want them to be close, it doesn’t have to ruin that attack. The attack is much more forgiving to bad mistakes and lack of communication. That doesn’t mean that teamwork is not needed, but it doesn’t have to be as vocal as defending.

Lines of Passing

The three simple directions to pass are forward, sideways, and backward. Often the opposition is pressing us strongly when we have the ball, but that often means that they don’t press the others. So, communicating clearly can help. For straightforward that we use “LINE”, as simple as that. For sideways pass we use “SQUARE” or “SWITCH”, and if we want a strong pass, usually close to the goal we say “CROSS”. Finally, to pass backward, we yell “BACK” or “DROP”. If we assume that players without the ball have more time to see the field, it makes sense to trust them more than the players with the ball. This is important if we have a player that moves into a particular space, such as a carrilero drifting to the side.

Man On!

A special case when in possession is for us to warn the player with the ball, or about receiving the ball, that there is somebody behind them. Nobody has 360 vision, even if we turn every other second to check. There are always blind spots that good defenders can exploit. So, we yell “MAN-ON” to indicate that somebody is coming from behind, presumably from the blind spot area, trying to get the ball.

Hand Gestures

What I have seen is that kids rarely point to where they want the ball. This is because when they just start passing, they always want it to their feet. However, as they keep playing and run sprints, that changes. There are basically only 3 options – straight to their feet, close to one of the feet, or far in front because they are running in that direction. Also, young players don’t use their hands because they think they give away secrets to the opposition or because they look silly. However, what happens is the pass comes backward and they have to run back for it. Or it comes to their weaker foot and they struggle with it.

Drills for Soccer Players to Communicate

When it comes to defensive communication, there is one main drill to coordinate the communication. They have to hold a line and not engage with the attackers. The attackers keep possession, shifting the ball left and right, back and forward. During that time, one defender gives instructions to the defensive line. We know that those instructions will be STEP, HOLD, DROP, and UP. Just 5 minutes of that on every session and within a month it will become their habit. Don’t get me wrong, they won’t make the right call, but they will keep talking. Our goal is to get the soccer players to communicate and this is how we do that.

For the offensive communication, we turn to our favorite drills – rondos! We will explain the commands, but we have to keep reminding them to use them. When it’s 11v11, it can be overwhelming, but on 6v4 or even classic 4v2 rondo, they can use both the commands and the hand gestures.


Communication is the glue that holds a new and old soccer team together. The players have to talk in a common soccer language. Fortunately, the basic is the same and it’s so simple that they can all learn it within a day. However, to become second nature to them will take some time. Hopefully, we got you a blueprint on how to start your soccer players to communicate and steps on how to get them to become better at it. They’ll get better over time, so give them the tools and let yourself be delightfully surprised.