My Kids Aren’t Allowed to Kick the Ball – The Importance of Soccer’s Attacking Lingo

My kids are entry-level aged. They love playing soccer, racking up hours of 1v1 games and shooting competitions each day.

Our living room has become a makeshift soccer field.

Before my younger son joined the game, my older son and I used to split our play between a long, narrow hallway and the living room. I liked that we had to sell our dribbling moves in tight space. Sell the move with your body mechanics, use of space, and change of pass or lose the duel.

You’re probably thinking, “didn’t the title say his kids aren’t allowed to kick soccer balls? It sounds like they play all the time.”

You’re not wrong.

When we play, which is quite often, the goal is to provide a multifaceted experience for my kids.

  • Building our relationship through play
  • Implementing Tom Byer’s Soccer Starts at Home Philosophy
  • Training their minds for enhanced and prolonged focus
  • Developing their love of the game
  • Giving them a strong technical foundation in the game at the entry-level
  • Teaching them the language of the game

While there’s certainly more we could add to the list, we’ll stop here to focus on that last point. The core idea is that our language shapes the way we experience the outside world. Language is an extension of thought. Thought is not only the product of intaking sensory data and conceptualizing information. That’s the intake. From an epistemological perspective, we must also reverse the point of relation.

When we speak about a specific topic, we’re often speaking about how we relate to it. We’re inherently building structures with our use of language and reinforcing our engagement with things, actions, and ideas.

But what does this have to do with soccer and youth development?

To get back on the farm, let’s take an example from my kid’s living room soccer games. If I say, “kick the ball,” my instruction of encouragement boils down to a simple task. Just kick the ball. No additional ideas are conveyed. Pretty simple, right?

That brings us to the next question. As we play with our kids, train our players, or even help someone learn a new task at work, are we reducing our language to the action itself or building in additional concepts for a more holistic interpretation?

We don’t say, “kick the ball” because I see the instruction as lacking in purpose and intent. I want them to pass or shoot/finish. Intent is implied because there's an second person or object inherently involved. Even at the entry-level, my wife and I want to build a rich soccer vocabulary that incorporates soccer IQ with technical action, because language impacts thought, which then impacts how we interpret our environment.

“The past decade has seen a host of ingenious demonstrations establishing that language indeed plays a causal role in shaping cognition. Studies have shown that changing how people talk changes how they think. Teaching people new color words, for instance, changes their ability to discriminate colors. And teaching people a new way of talking about time gives them a new way of thinking about it.” Lera Boroditsky, How Language Shapes Thought

Knowing the impact of language on thought, sharpening our soccer language can play an important role in developing our own interpretation of the game, as well as positively impacting our local, national, and global soccer cultures.

With that in mind, here’s the attacking lingo Chris Mumford and I decided on for The Soccer Parenting Handbook.

Attacking Lingo

1st/2nd/3rd Attackers

1st Attacker has possession of the ball, 2nd attacker is the immediate support player who’s directly involved in the play, and the 3rd attacker is indirectly involved.


A dribbling scenario pitting one player against another. Take note of specific encounters. If there’s space behind the defender that the attacker can dribble into, only then do we have a true 1v1 battle.

3rd Man Run

Remember that 3rd attacker? A 3rd man run is when the 3rd attacker makes an aggressive, up-field run off the ball while the 1st and 2nd attackers connect passes.


When an attacker engages a defender, the most common dribbling moves you’ll see are lateral and diagonal chops and cuts, either with the inside or outside of the foot.


A quick and direct attack against a vulnerable defense. Efficiency of time and action is essential.


A pass into the box from the wider regions of the field. Crosses can come early (higher up the pitch), cut backs from the end line, target either post, or originate from the half spaces.


Intentionally letting the ball run between the legs so that it continues on to a teammate. Think of an intentional nutmeg.


Another word for a fake, common with dribbling moves.

Final Ball

The pass that leads to an attack on goal. Think of it as a transition from “attacking the opponents” to “attacking the goal.”


A shot from close range that prioritizes placement over power.

First touch/Directional touch

First touch is self-explanatory, but it’s important to remember that, if a second touch is desired, first touches are often best when taken either in the direction of the next action or as a means of deceiving the opponent. That’s opposed to stopping the ball directly under foot.


A passes to B, who passes back to A.

Hospital Ball

A poorly hit pass that endangers a teammate by inviting a strong challenge from an opponent, such as a studs-up tackle.

Inswinger vs Outswinger

Crosses that swing in towards the goal or out away from it.

Man On

A common saying to communicate pressure from a defender.


Sliding the ball between an opponent’s legs.

Off the Ball Movement

Movements off the ball to manipulate an opponent’s defensive shape or the act of claiming space that is beneficial.


Teammates positioned outside of the opponent’s pressure who are offering passing options.


An overlap is a run around a teammate into a wider area. Underlaps are runs around a teammate into a more central part of the pitch.


Breaking the opponent’s defensive press/structure.

Rest Defense

Rest defense is a team’s structure while they’re still in possession. A strong rest defense allows teams to limit the opposition’s counterattacking opportunities.


Using one’s body to protect the ball from the opponent’s tackle.

Side On

Orienting one’s body so that the player’s back faces one of the two sidelines to maximize the angle of the field a player can see at any given time.

Square vs Diagonal

Square passes are lateral, diagonal, well, you get it. Diagonal passes are often safest and most dangerous because they move the opponent horizontal and vertical axes. Square are often dangerous because, if the ball is stolen, the defender has already bypassed two opponents.

Switching play/Switching the Point of Attack

Moving the ball from one wing to the other. The general principle is to build up in one area to create space in another. Switching play into the largely unoccupied far side of the field is a great example of this concept.

Through Ball

A pass that is sent through the gap between two opponents, sending a teammate behind the opposition’s defensive line.


As opposed to “man on,” calling out “time” tells your teammate there’s no immediate threat forcing them to release the ball.

Sharpening Thought and Language

Some of the terms are incredibly basic, some are more advanced. Whether you’re using the terms for your own benefit, enhancing the soccer vocabulary of your little ones, or developing the language your players use, sharpening thoughts and language lends to greater soccer IQ and interpretation of play.

Infuse your language with purpose and intent. Give the players a working vocabulary that helps them interpret play at a higher level. In doing so, you’re encouraging constant learning, a love of critical analysis, and a greater appreciation of experience.