Soccer is one of the oldest games, dating back many years, almost 2,000 years. And, over time, players and positions on the soccer field/ pitch have changed dramatically, the game constantly changing and adapting through time periods.
Even today there are still many things to understand and learn about soccer positions, it is no walk in the park to understand, and there is a great deal of information to take in if you want to consider starting up a career or even an interest in playing.
Everything from the placement of each individual and position on the field, to learning the training methods required for each role, and everything in between.
Here we will walk you through everything you need to know, whether you are looking at starting your soccer career or if you are just a fan who wants to learn more about how things work for the players and the pitch.
Playing soccer can be exhilarating, great fun, and a great sport to indulge in, even more so if you are familiar with what you are doing in the field, and if you know what your fellow teammates are doing too.
We will go over the critical aspects that will help you gain this understanding.
- Positions, numbers, and how they relate to each other.
- The importance of each role.
- Positions played.
- The importance of each position played.
- The formations in a game of soccer.
- The skill requirements that are needed for each role and position.
- How to choose what role you want to work towards playing.
- How soccer legends became so.
- How to become a soccer legend.
- Overview of soccer and the positions played.
Positions and Numbers- How They Relate
Let’s start by having a look at the 11 positions in soccer. There are a few names that are allocated to each position, so we will note these too.
Each position is also assigned a number, these are usually visible on the back of the soccer player’s jersey, for example, the goalkeeper is assigned the number one.
The habit of adding numbers to the player’s jerseys has been common practice since the 1920s. Doing this made it easier to identify which players were in which role and also which players were on the field and where they were.
The numbers are not just allocated to a player or role but also a position on the field, we will explain this more in detail later.
THE NUMBERS AND THE POSITION
The Position/ Role
The Allocated Number
Position/ Number 1
Right Fullback (Wingback)
Position/ Number 2
Left Fullback (Wingback)
Position/ Number 3
Position/ Number 4
Center Back (Sweeper)
Position/ Number 5
Center Midfielder (Defending Midfielder)
Position/ Number 6
Right Midfielder (Winger)
Position/ Number 7
Position/ Number 8
Center Forward (Striker)
Position/ Number 9
Attacking Midfielder (Center Forward)
Position/ Number 10
Left Midfielder/ Winger
Position/ Number 11
A good way to get used to understanding the numbers is to watch a soccer game and to try and recognize the positions, numbers, and roles as a collective.
Getting used to this technique of identification in this sport is a great step that is important in furthering your understanding of how the game and the players function on the field.
The Roles and Their Importance
In any sport, some positions act differently on the field, some team members specialize in attacking the opposition and scoring, whereas others will specialize in defending their goal and preventing the opposition from scoring. This can be seen in many sports, such as basketball, football, ice hockey, and more.
In soccer there are three main groups that the players and positions are assigned to, these are known as; the defenders, the midfielders, and the forwards.
A good way to imagine these three sections/ groups is to imagine you are a bird looking down at a soccer field. Split the field into thirds, if you were to look at a team whose goal was on the left-hand side/ left-hand third of the playing field, then you would find the defenders on this side of the field, to defend their goal.
Then in the middle third, you would find the midfielders, rather aptly named. Then on the right-hand side of the field, nearest to the goal of the opposition, you would find the forwards.
Now we will look into these three groups in a little more detail, and look at what positions you will find in each group.
In the Defense
Here we will look at the defenders. These players are positioned on the side of the field, in which their goal is, as protectors.
The role of a defensive position is to stop the oppositional team from making attacks and scoring goals. This set of players are all positioned within their half of the field and will work together to make sure that the other team does not progress and beat them in the match.
In the defense, there are four main players/positions for soccer; goalkeeper, right/ left fullbacks, center back, and the sweeper.
About the goalkeeper
The role of the goalkeeper is to defend the goal from the other team’s offensive team players.
The goalkeeper is known well amongst people who do not even have an interest in the sport, due to them being the only player in each team who is allowed to use their hands/ arms.
Though they can only do this if the ball is inside the penalty box. If the goalkeeper is to step outside of the penalty box or a member of the team is passing the ball to them, then they cannot use their hands.
All about the right/ left fullbacks
The next defensive players are the right and left fullbacks, they defend the side of the field at the back and maintain their focus on blocking the opposition teams wingers, or their midfielders.
These players are best to be light on their feet and able to move quickly and down the field to assist in multiple plays.
This position may be considered one of the easiest positions to play on the soccer field, but that is a perspective you should decide for yourself through experience on the field.
Learning about the center back
Yet another defensive position is the center back, this is a player who ranges their focus on the center of the field, in the area just in front of the goal.
The purpose of this role is to prevent the opposition, or the ball from reaching the goalkeeper. This role is somewhat like a last line of defense before the goalkeeper.
The position of a sweeper is a role that is rarely used anymore in the sport. However, when it is used in the game, the role of the sweeper is much like a center back, but slightly more versatile.
They are used to defend the goal and as a line of defense between the goalkeeper and the other defenders.
They protect and roam a larger span of the field than some of their teammates, filling in the gaps left by other players to protect their goal and prevent the other team from scoring.
Next we will look at midfielders. Going back to the analogy of being a bird looking down at a soccer field, these midfielder players would be in the central third of the field.
They are stationed in the middle of the field, tucked between the forwards and the defenders. Defenders are what you might view as, the engine room of the team.
This is because they generate a lot of the energy and action in the game. They are responsible for being a part of the attack to continue pushing the ball towards the goal of the opposition, to beat their opponents, and win the match.
Much like with the defensive role there are four types of midfielders you would find on a soccer field; Defending/ holding midfielder, a center midfielder, a right and left midfielder/ wingers, attacking midfielders.
Talking about defending midfielders
A midfielder who can also be a halfback is a rather energetic player. They run up and down the middle of the field between the defenders and the forwards.
They connect the team from the back to the front. They probably run the most of any player during the game as they move the ball around, to different parts of the field.
A defensive midfielder has to have a defined focus on retrieving the ball from the back of the field, whilst simultaneously setting up the ball for a forward attack. Being a defender is a bit like having eyes everywhere ready to deter or initiate an attack.
Being a center midfielder
The center midfielder is an absolutely essential role. The center midfielder plays as both the offense and defense on the field, a two in one role.
They are responsible for setting up plays for their teammates. And they also move backward or forwards, depending on the position of the ball.
This is a role that is seen as being a glue for the team, linking the team together as a unit, by making decisive and essential decisions on the field, they must be speedy thinkers.
They must also have plenty of ball-skill. These players can often be found to make long shots on the opposition's goal or assist in other shots against the goal.
Considering right and left midfielders
These midfielders will often play on the edges of the field. This is a role that can be considered to be a space-maker.
They draw out the other team’s defense and create space for the center midfielder and attacking midfielders to move in the center of the field.
These players can often be seen to tackle with the ball against the opposition's fullbacks in one-on-one action. This is common when they work to cross the ball towards the center of the field towards their teammates.
These midfielders must be able to dribble fast, pass the ball with precision and speed, assist in shots and even score themselves. It is a very multifaceted role and means that they must be very fast and skilled with a ball.
What about the attacking midfielder?
The attacking midfielder is a very coveted position, traditionally the number 10 player on the field. These players will spend a majority of the game focused on shooting, scoring, and assisting the forwards.
A great deal of adored and infamous soccer players have made some of their greatest achievements in this role. They are much like the center midfielder in that they must have expert technique and accuracy when they are dancing with the ball.
It is not uncommon to see an attacking midfielder take control of offensive plays, often supporting the attack when it is possible.
Finally, we look towards the far section of the field, the last third, closest to the goal of the opposition. The forwards are the chief goal scorers of the team.
This is simply because they are placed close to the opposing team’s goal and they do not have many if any defensive responsibilities.
These are the players that traditionally score the most goals during a game, more than any other player on the field, basically just due to their strategic position on the field.
In comparison to midfielders and defenders, there are much fewer roles that are forwards, whereas midfielders and defenders have four roles that encompass their sections of the field, forwards only really contain two main roles.
Learning about the Striker
The striker is a fairly self explanatory role. They are there to score goals. They are positioned at the very front of the field, before the opponent’s goal.
They are always looking to receive passes from teammates so that they may attempt to score a goal. This role requires quick thinking and speed.
They have to outrun their opponents, the other team’s defenders, and profit from any small or large mistakes made by the opposition so that they can score.
Last but not least, the center forward
The center forward is a role that is fairly similar to that of the other forward, the striker. They too have the primary aim of scoring goals.
They must always be on the lookout for a possible pass from teammates so that they can take a shot at the opponent’s goal. These players also need to possess a unique skill set, speed, dibbling, and excellent skill and control of the ball being in the air.
They must also be able to play the role of bait, becoming a distraction for the opposing team, to the benefit of the main shooter, the striker.
What positions are there?
So, we have already spoken briefly about the positions and where they are on the field, using the idea of having a birds-eye view of a soccer field.
The next step in understanding the positions and how soccer works are to understand all of the various positions and to know where each player is positioned on the field. While we already understand that defenders are closest to their goal, and forwards are furthest away, we now need to know exactly where each player is positioned on the field.
Before we jump in with all the specific details, know that each player may play in multiple spaces on the field, as this depends on the coaches decisions, the formation that the team decides to use, or if they are choosing to play a game primarily on the offense or on the defense.
There are many factors that tie into the positioning of each player, so this is something you must consider as we work through this information and if you decide to play for a team yourself.
The position of each role.
The Goalkeeper - If you are the goalkeeper then you can expect to spend most of your time by the goal at either end of the field, as well as inside the penalty box. This area is about 18 yards of space which includes the goal itself and it primarily entered directly in front of the goal itself.
The Sweeper - As previously states this role is not very commonly used anymore. However, if you do play the role of the sweeper you will be positioned directly on the edge of the penalty box, immediately in front of the goal.
The Right, Left, and Center backs - These players are positioned just outside of the penalty box. They are laid out evenly between the goalkeeper and sweeper and the midfielders as a widespread line of defense. This is the position that awaits the attack of the opposing team’s forwards as they attempt to make their way to the penalty box to score a goal. These players will attempt to keep the ball and the opposition away from the penalty box.
The midfielders - The midfielders are just as you would expect, in the middle of the field. Positioned between the attackers and defenders. The position found most central to the field is the central midfielder, however, this does depend on the formation, play time, and decisions of the coach.
Strikers and forwards - These players spend most of their time at the end primarily occupied by the opposition. By the opposition's goal and penalty box in the aim to score. The striker is often set as being the closest player to the penalty box. However, again this depends on the many factors that can affect the formation of the team.
The importance of each position
So we know the players, the positions, the numbers, and where they are placed on the field. Now we should focus on the importance of each position, it can be worth asking those intense questions such as, ‘why do there need to be all these players?’ This is where we answer this for you.
The most obvious position of all is the goalkeeper, they are crucial, simply because they are the final defense of the goal. They are also essential as they communicate a lot with teammates into getting the ball out of the goalbox and back to their team.
Now, the right and left fullbacks are also important as they take the necessary measures to protect the sides of the field and ensure that the ball cannot get past them, they often also make important passes to their teammates, often these are down the sides of the field. Then there is the center back, this position has to ensure that the penalty box and the goal is protected.
On the occasion that a sweeper is used, then this is a very crucial position, they add an extra protective layer to the line of defense. Blocking shots, passing the ball, and moving the ball forward out of the goal range and back to their teammates. Although this position is not always used, when it is it is vital.
Net, looking at midfielders, they are also crucial, they connect the team, as midfielders play the center of the field they can move forward and be on the offensive line, or pull back and play a defensive line. This is a very important part to play as they often set up plays for their team and they are constantly making important decisions that mean a fluid operation of the team as a collective.
Forward players/ strikers are also about as important as the goalkeeper, for the exact opposite reason. They score the majority of goals for the team, without these players winning a game would be much, much more difficult.
Remember how we mentioned that positions and such vary depending on the formation of the team?
This is what we look into here, formations are dependent on many factors, most of all though they are decided by whether or not the team is going to play an offensive game or a defensive game.
A formation can change the whole set up of the team, the only person who will not be affected by a formation change is the goalkeeper- their position is always the same.
Numbers in a formation will start with the back of the field (the defense), then followed by the midfield with the final number representing the forwards.
On the odd occasion, a coach may divide the formation into four sections rather than three, to add an extra player between the defense and midfield, or even between the midfield and forwards. It is very dependent on the strengths, skills, and goals of a team, as there are different formations that can be played.
Some formations are more aggressive than passive on the field. It is advised to learn the difference between the formations, as this can help you understand which are most commonly used and how it affects the positioning of the players on the field.
A defensive formation puts pressure on the opponent. These formations will likely be used when the other team is most expected to have the ball for the majority of a game, therefore more intensity will be needed from the defense to prevent attacks and goals from being scored.
There are a few defensive formations that can be chosen by the coach. Although, there are three main ones that they may choose from.
The first formation that may be played is formation 3-4-2-1. This is set up a lot like 3-4-3 except that it pulls two of the attacking forwards a bit further back which offers another line of defense. It will have a striker at the front, two forwards on either side, four midfielders, and then three defenders.
The next defensive option is 4-5-1. This is a widely defensive stance. It pulls more players towards the back in a line of defense. It also leaves a singular player on the offense. It may be the best formation if the opposition is expected to dominate possession of the ball.
Finally, 5-2-2-1 is also a defensive form. This is made from a leading striker, with two midfielders on the offensive, then two defensive midfielders further back, and then five defenders. As there are a great deal of defenders here this is also a suitable formation when expecting the opposition to be heavy on the attack.
On the Offense
While a defensive formation focuses on preventing the other team from scoring, an offensive formation focuses on pressuring the opposition's goal to score.
These formations utilize the forwards and midfielders in attack strategy positions that aim to lead towards more goals. Like the defensive, there are three most commonly used formations for this by a team's coach.
First of all, is the most commonly used soccer formation, 4-4-2. It is often used for beginners or starting teams. It is also advantageous as it creates an even balance of players throughout the field.
It will have two center forward players and four midfielders behind them, as well as four defensives at the back. There are even two midfield positions available within this formation, they can form a straight line, which is often called a ‘flat midfield’, or a diamond styled shape, known as a ‘diamond midfield.
Another option, however, less used, is 3-4-3. It has three forwards in the attack, with four midfielders behind and three defenders to guard the goal.
While this leaves the goal more susceptible to attacks, it grants a lot of field coverage and is good for offensive plays. It is best used for midfielders who understand their roles very well.
Finally, is the formation 3-6-1. This formation may look strange when seen, it has only one forward, often the striker, with a backup of 6 midfielders behind them as a defensive line, behind them will be 3 defenders guarding the goal.
The midfielders in this scenario must be skilled at working together to support the forward and capable of backing up the defenders behind them.
What skills are needed?
If you are thinking of taking up a career in soccer then you will need to decide on which role is best for you.
A good way to figure which role is the best for you is to look at the skill sets needed for each role and decide which you fit best.
If you already have an idea of what role you would ideally like to play then you can have a look at what is usually required of that role and progress on adapting yourself to the role you aspire to play.
We have compiled some information here to help you on your journey to becoming a suitable soccer player in the role that you aim to play.
- A goalkeeper has to master the correct positioning in the goal to help them block any attempts to score best.
- They have to develop their kicking, jumping, ball handling, punting, and catching skills.
- Quick reflexes are a must.
- Good communication skills- communicating with teammates is key in this role.
- Reflexes, you must be fast to react when a ball is coming your way.
- Hand-eye coordination is imperative, any good goalie has this skill.
- Ability to anticipate your opponent and their ball movements- foresight in the game can help you be ready to tackle what is coming.
Right and left fullbacks
- If you want to be a fullback you need to be light on your feet and ready to move… fast!
- Mastery of skills is imperative, such as; short passes, tackling, speed, acceleration, agility, discipline, composure, confidence, dribbling, and endurance.
- Wanting to be a centre back means a need to become masterful at both short and long passes, heading the ball, strength, concentration, aggression, anticipation, and of course tackling, and dribbling.
- Being a sweeper means being known for fitness and speed.
- A skill for timing tackles and fast decision making.
- Stellar communication with the team.
- Ample ability at passing and dribbling.
- Want to be a center midfielder? You need excellent ball skill.
- Will need to do excessive running.
Right and left Midfielder
- Ball control is the key for this role, passes, shooting, dribbling are key, as are speed, acceleration, creativity, and composure.
- This role requires balance, creativity, composure, and confidence.
- Develop your short passing and shooting skills also.
- Build proper technique and accuracy with the ball.
- Good at shooting.
- Unpredictable and quick.
- Dribbling, acceleration, and agility are imperative traits.
- Learn and master first touch.
- Master correct ball technique.
- Quick thinking skills are critical.
- Decision making skills.
- Speed and precision are required for this role.
- Ability to stay composed under pressure.
How to Choose Your Role
You can choose which role you wish to play based on your skill sets as seen above or you can choose it based on what the role has to offer you. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you figure things out.
- What do you enjoy most about soccer? Is it that you love to score and are quick on your feet? Or do you rather make passes?
- Have you considered giving each position a try, to see what works best for you?
- If you love to score, think about being a forward or a striker, would one of those be best suited to you?
- Are there any positions you know you do not like? If you don’t like it, avoid it.
- If you enjoy assisting your teammates, why don’t you think about being a midfield player?
- If you love being on the defensive, consider being on the defender side and what role best suits you there. Do you like holding your own and feel confident in your skill?
- If you have great hand-eye coordination and reflexes, why not try for a goalkeeper? If you are always catching things that fall off the shelf in the corner of your eye, maybe that's something telling you, you were meant for being a goalkeeper.
What exactly makes a soccer legend, legendary?
What makes a player great? That is easy to figure, in any position you must know your position, and have discipline on and off of the field.
Stay concentrated, don't let your mind wander.
Stay confident, even after a few losses, success is all about confidence.
Be a team player, being a team player is key for any team sport, but here you have to be.
The Final Score
Whatever your soccer dreams are, remember practice makes perfect, know your skills and work as a team.
When you get into the team and practice, know your position, make sure you take your time deciding, practice your ball work, and enjoy yourself.
Any sport is best when you enjoy it and feel confident in yourself and your team.