A System of Play may be described as the "framework" for the tactical plans of the coach. It is the basic shape or formation of a team which governs the player's attacking and defensive roles through distinctive areas on the pitch being assigned to each player.

In modern day soccer, the different systems can be understood by a combination of numbers. A popular example being the 4-4-2 system where the three figures represent the different zones (defence, midfield and attack) and numbers of players assigned to these zones, 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 attackers. These groups of players are often referred to as units, e.g. the defensive unit.

When choosing a particular playing system, the coach must take many different factors into account. As well as the type of match, and if it is home or away, there are other factors such as the weather, pitch size etc which all play an important part. For more information on factors affecting the quality of playing performance, visit our external factors section.

Otherwise, it is the quality and type of players available which will ultimately decide the coach's choice. For example, midfield players are often known to have to run greater distances than defenders thus a higher level of fitness is required to play in this position. Also, good heading ability is a prerequisite for defenders thus a coach will want give important defensive roles to his players who are strong in this particular area. As well, the tactics chosen by the coach will affect his choice of playing system, for example teams who press high up the field to regain possession may need to play more players in midfield areas.

Basically, we can as well list the characteristics that modern playing systems should have:

1. Players should always be equally divided over the pitch to maintain team balance and stop themselves being outnumbered in dangerous areas.

2. The largest number of players possible around the ball to prevent teams dominating possession and increase the chance of their team winning it back.

3. The maximum possible participation of every player in both attack and defence and each player must have equal responsibilities.

4. Maximum flexibility of the system, players should be able to swop roles along the length and breadth of the pitch and as well allow each player the freedom to express their skills and abilities in the best possible way.

Overall, the coach will want to choose his the players who are best suited to a particular match. The better prepared the player, the more chance the chosen playing system will be successful. However, one must never forget that at the end of the day it is not the playing system which wins games but the players themselves ! No system will cover for poor technique or bad marking !

For more articles on playing systems, down click here.