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Communication on the field of play

If you attend a high-level soccer match for the first time, you'll be struck by the amount of chatter among the players on the field. Much of this talk is almost incomprehensible to newcomers to the game. The table below provides an introduction to the terms you're most like to hear during a match; be warned, however, that while some terms are more or less universal, others are less so, and may vary from one region to another. When in doubt, ask!

Other than on-field communication between players, this table does not address the large technical vocabulary of soccer, a guide to which can be found in the glossary which is part of the FAQ on the Laws of the Game.

NB: The following abbreviations are used in this table: "M" indicates that the player's own name should be substituted; "N" indicates that a teammate's name would be used; "#" that a number (for example, an opponent's jersey number or a number of players) would be used.

The terms defined here are divided for ease of use into five categories:

  1. Defensive tactical instructions

    These are terms used to indicate to teammates what to do in situations that arise when the opponents have possession of the ball (note that some of these may apply regardless of field position, while others are specific to the defending third)

  2. Attacking tactical instructions

    Used when we have possession, these terms provide advice to teammates on how best to use possession of the ball; as with defensive terms, some of these may apply regardless of field position; some are used to communicate directly with the player on the ball, while others are more general in nature

  3. Combined play

    This sub-group of attacking instructions is restricted to situations where normally only two players are involved, and especially to those where the possibility of a combination (such as an overlap, takeover, or give-and-go) is "on" but may not be recognized or taken advantage of unless specific advice or encouragement is forthcoming

  4. Warnings and advice

    Some of these are primarily defensive in nature, some more closely connected with attack; some arise mainly in periods of transition; many are directed to teammates and opponents alike

  5. Encouragement and support

    A few terms recognize teammates' efforts, whether or not they succeed
The most basic terms have been indicated by a red dot ().
Tactical instructions (defensive)
Attacking | Combined play | Warnings | Encouragement
Away Used by GK to instruct teammates to clear the ball immediately without attempting to control it
Clear See "away"; not recommended by some coaches because it can be confused with a shout of "keeper"
Close down Asks 1st defender to reduce the pressurizing distance to force the 1st attacker's eyes down on the ball
Contain See "jockey"
Double [up] Tells teammate to assist in double-teaming the first attacker (i.e. defenders combine to win the ball)
Drop off Retreat toward
Goalside Get between the opponent and our goal
Got you You can go forward; I'll cover your position
Help [him/her/N] Asks teammates to provide defensive support for an unsupported 1st defender
Hold [him/her] See "jockey"
Into touch Tells recovering defender to play the ball into touch if possible rather than trying to control it
Jockey Tells teammate to delay the attacker until defensive support arrives so he can tackle
Lock in See "double"
Lock on See "mark"
Make a wall Used by GK to tell teammates to line up between a dead ball and the goal before a free kick; see also "# in the wall"
Mark "#" Used to tell teammate to mark a particular opponent
Mark up Used to tell teammates to be sure they have taken responsibility for marking an opponent man-to-man, especially on free kicks and corners
No foul Used when opponent is shielding in a field position where we do not want to give up a free kick, i.e. in our defending third
No turn Get tight to the opponent to keep him facing his own goal
Pressure See "close down"
Shift (right or left) Moves the defensive formation to mirror the movement of the ball
Squeeze in See "tuck in"
Stay Don't leave your mark
Stick See "tackle"
Switch off Used to exchange marking assignments as opponents criss-cross (exchange positions)
Tackle You have support now and can attempt to tackle the opponent in order to win the ball
Take ball Used to ask teammate to take 1st defender role so you can track your mark
Track [him/her/#] Follow (continue to mark) the designated opponent as he or she makes a run toward our goal
Tuck in 1. Asks weakside defenders to take up a position closer to the middle of the field; 2. Asks teammate to provide support to 1st defender
Two here Advises teammates that you are marking two players, and requests assistance
Wall [# in the wall] Used by GK to specify the number of players he wants in the defensive wall on free kicks
Tactical instructions (attacking)
Defending | Combined play | Warnings | Encouragement
"N's on" He or she is open for a pass
All the way 1. You can take the ball all the way to the opponents' goal; 2. It's a 50/50 ball, but you can win it if you go in hard
Bring it See "carry"
Byline Tells teammate to carry the ball to the goal line before playing it back
Carry You have room to dribble forward; stay composed don't play a low-percentage pass
Check Come back toward the teammate with the ball
Corner Play the ball toward the corner
Cross Play the ball across the field toward the opponents' goal
Far & wide See "spread out"
Far post 1. Tells teammate to go there for a cross; 2. Tells 1st attacker where to direct the cross
Have it Take a shot rather than looking to pass
Home See "keeper's on"
If you like/want/need (me) See "support" (2)
Keeper's on Play back to the keeper
Leave it See "let it run"
Let it run/go Tells teammate to "dummy" a pass, i.e. let the ball continue on to a more distant player rather than receiving it himself
Look at N He's open to receive the ball
Man coming You will be under pressure very soon
Man on [hard] Warns of immediate pressure from a blind side
N's gone He is making a run to space behind the defense
Near Post 1. Tells teammate to make a run to the near post; 2. Tells teammate to cross the ball to the near post
Open up Tells receiving teammate to take "open" body position so as to be able to see as much of the field of play as possible; normally suggests that ball should be received across body to the far foot.
Right away Play the ball as soon as possible
Send [it] 1. Instruction by overlapping teammate to tell player on the ball to release it; 2. Suggestion to play "over the top" to a teammate making a run behind the opponents' defense
Shoot Take a shot now
Spread [out] Spread out so as to ensure maximum depth and width on attack and stretch the opponents' defense ("use the whole field")
Switch Play the ball to the far side of the pitch in order to switch the point of attack to the "weak side"; see also "switch off"
Switch field See "switch"
Stretch out See "spread out"
Support You can take on your defender; if you lose the ball, I'm here to win it back; if you want to play back, I'm here
Take it down/in You have time to control the ball (normally used as player is about to receive a difficult or high pass)
[Put it] through Look to split the defenders with a pass into space for a teammate making a run off the ball
Time You are not under pressure; get your head up and assess your options
Turn Used to tell a teammate receiving ball with back to opponents' goal that he can turn and go forward
What you see You are not under pressure from your blind side
Wing Look to play the ball wide
Yes You can play to me now: I'm ready to receive
Combined play
Defending | Attacking | Warnings | Encouragement
1-2 Suggests a wall pass or give-and-go
Drop Asks for a drop or heel pass, i.e. a pass made directly behind the player on the ball
Feed me Used by a player making a run into space behind defenders to request a through or lead pass so he can catch up to it and continue his run to goal
Flick Requests that the ball be "flicked" on by the receiver to a running teammate, either with the front foot (in the case of a pass played on the ground) or with the head (typically on a throw-in)
Go Tells teammate to sprint forward and look for a return pass
Give-'n'-go See "1-2"
Heel See "drop"
Hold or hold it Used by overlapping teammate to tell player on the ball not to release it until he has passed him
Line Play the ball to me down the touchline
Set me up Play the ball back to me on my preferred foot so I can play a long ball forward
Square Indicates support in a position to one side of the player on the ball
Touch [me/N] Play the ball to me (or to a named teammate) with your first touch
Wall pass Asks for a pass on the ground which will be returned with the first touch as the teammate who made the first pass makes a run past a defender
Warnings and announcements
Defending | Attacking | Combined play | Encouragement
"M's ball" Used by field players to call for the ball to teammates will get out of their way; use in preference to "Mine!" which some referees will penalize as unsporting conduct
"M's up" Used by field players to warn off teammates as they go up for a header
Cover 1. Used by 2nd defender to tell 1st defender he has support; 2. Used to tell teammate to become 2nd defender
Easy Stay composed; don't panic; don't boot the ball away
I got ball I will take the 1st defender role
Keeper GK uses this to call for the ball so teammates will get out of his way
Mine See "M's ball"
Move Keep your feet moving; don't get caught ball-watching
No Don't play the ball to me, because I'm too tightly marked and the pass would be intercepted
Out See "push up"
Pull up See "push up"
Push up Asks fullbacks to move up the field to leave opponent in an off-side position and/or support our attack
Step out/up See "push up"
Trap 1. See "push up"; 2. See "double"
You Tells teammate he or she is in a better position to play the ball than you are (used when two teammates are converging on a ball); NB: rather than asking teammates to take responsibility, it is better for one player to take responsibility by calling for the ball
Support for teammates
Defending | Attacking | Combined play | Warnings
Unlucky The idea was right, even if the outcome was not what we wanted (e.g. teammate's shot hit the post or keeper was forced to make a spectacular save)
Well done Recognizes good effort
Well in Recognizes a strong challenge
Well up Recognizes a strong effort in the air

Updated 15 March 1999
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