6 Best Tactics For Pickup Soccer

Expert section: Mate Kontra – I’ve been playing soccer all my life at a high level, however, I was always finding time to play pickup with other people on the side. Playing at the US Academy Level, I was really good at translating what I learned from my coaches to pickup soccer, which is what made it so fun. Today I would like to share a few tips and tricks from my experience playing pickup soccer, so you can enjoy it as much as I did!

Soccer Photo

Pickup soccer is a very individualistic way to play soccer and is made without any boundaries in order to have the most fun playing the game, usually without any tactical preparation.

Most people (such as myself) usually go into the game thinking about all of the skill moves they will do, and every way they can nutmeg their opponents before they score.

However, this tactic is ineffective when you’re up against more experienced, which is very common, things get a lot more difficult.

So today, I will share with you 6 great tactics that you and your friends can use to toy around with your opponents the next time you’re at the pitch.

Related article: What Gear Do You Need for Organizing Pickup Soccer?

Pickup Soccer Players Around a Soccer Ball
‘Pickup Soccer Players Around a Soccer Ball’ (#1 Envato – YuriArcursPeopleImages)

6 Great Tactics You Can Use In Pickup Soccer

In the following sections, I will be listing these tactics from easiest to most difficult in to help you navigate the article better.

Please, don’t be intimidated by the “more difficult” tactics, it only takes for you to try them at the pitch to realize how easy they really are.

Since some of these tactics do require a certain level of technical ability, I highly encourage you to check out our article on how to improve your technical skills in soccer.

1: Wall Passing (1-2 passing)

The most straightforward tactic that can be used by absolutely anyone is something called wall passes, or others may call it 1-2 passing (one, two passing). 

As the name suggests, the principle behind wall passing is to have the ball come back to you after you pass it, similar to hitting the ball at a wall. It bounces back to you.

However, to make it more straightforward, I have broken this tactic down into 3 easy steps. 

Wall Passing
Soccer Players Passing The Ball (#2 Envato – Wavebreakmedia)

Step #1: Identify an open teammate

First, you must find a teammate that is open, and who is ready to receive the ball from you. 

Make sure that they don’t have any opponents behind them who are about to take the ball from them, and also make sure that you verbally tell them that you want the ball back. 

This can be anything along the lines of, “Ball back!” or “Again!”. 

Step #2: Identify open space

Next, you need to find open space where your teammate can pass you the ball back. 

Finding open space can include running around an opponent and receiving the ball once you passed the opponent, or just simply passing the ball back and forth to make your opponents hesitate.

This is an important step in being successful because if you aren’t able to find and run into open space fast enough, then your teammate might not have any passing options and you risk losing the ball by passing to them.

Step #3: Change of pace

For the final step of wall passing, it is crucial to have an explosive change of pace.

This means that you want to get to sprinting speed as fast as you can, obviously towards the open space that you identified in the previous step. 

This is especially important when you are running around your opponent to receive the ball again from your teammate because you pretty much engage in a foot race for the ball at this point. 

Don’t worry though, because most of the time when you have the ball and a person is defending you, they will be facing toward you. 

This means that if you complete a wall pass and run around them, they will first have to turn around and then also make up the distance from behind you when you are already sprinting away from them, and they are only getting up to speed. 

You can be sure that this is an effective tactic because in any soccer game you watch on tv or in person, ranging from youth to professional leagues, there isn’t a single game that goes without wall passes. 

2: Keeping Possession

The fundamentals of keeping possession of the ball are that the opponents can’t score when they don’t have the ball, and they are also getting more and more tired while chasing the ball, making it easier for you to find open spaces that they were too slow to cover up. 

This tactic requires players to have a lot of patience, and the ability to pass the ball back toward their own goal when there are no forward options. 

Passing Patterns In Soccer
Soccer Tactics Board (#3 Envato – Saiith)

More advanced Possession

To take it a step further, you can even adopt a 1-touch passing style to speed up the play.

This will enhance the benefits of the possession based tactic because as the opponents get tired while chasing the ball around, they will have even less time to recover to their positions because of how fast the ball is moving around the field. 

Be sure to check out our other articles on this style of play, to have a better understanding of how to use this style of play effectively.

3: Passing Overhead

Soccer Player Passing
Soccer Player Kicking Overhead Pass (#4 Envato – drazenphoto)

Passing overhead sounds simple enough, however, it is a bit more difficult to execute than tactics such as wall passing or keeping possession.

Otherwise known as “dropping it behind the back line”, this tactic requires players to play the ball in the air behind the opposing defenders so the forwards can run onto the ball and advance the attack.

There are a couple of situations where I would recommend using this tactic in pickup soccer:

  • You have fast attackers on your team
  • Opponents are pressing your defenders when they have the ball
  • Opponent defenders are too high up the pitch

All of these situations drastically increase your chances of completing an overhead pass because they all make it easier to exploit the space behind the opposing defenders. 

So if any of the previous scenarios are present, passing overhead could be very effective, and I strongly recommend doing so.

4: Triangle passing

Triangle passing is very similar to wall passing, but with 1 extra player. 

Essentially, triangle passing requires players to focus on constantly making triangles around opposing players, kind of like a rondo (or monkey in the middle). 

This gives players very fast passing options because if the opponents cover a passing direction, you can just pass to the other person in the triangle.

Let me give you an example. The Third-Man Run.

Women's soccer practice
Soccer Players Playing Rondo (#5 Envato – drazenphoto)

Third-Man Run passing combination

The Third-Man Run is a passing combination that I use very often because it is easy to do, yet unpredictable and extremely difficult to defend. 

This tactic requires 3 players to be included in the passing combination and can be broken down into 3 simple steps. 

Step 1: The 1st player’s task

The player who has the ball essentially acts as if he is about to complete a wall pass with another player, so as soon as this player passes the ball, they start sprinting toward open space so they can receive the ball again. 

Step 2: The 2nd player’s task

The second player now has the option to pass the ball into open space, back to the player who passed the ball to them in the first place. 

However, to make the play unpredictable, the 2nd player passes the ball to a third player, setting them up for a 1 touch pass to the first player who made the run into open space. 

Step 3: The 3rd player’s task

The only thing left to do for the third player is to pass the ball into open space where the first player made their run, so they can receive it and progress the attack forward. 

The only reason I put this tactic so far down the list compared to wall passing is that it requires you to be constantly aware of your surroundings and where your teammates are.

This skill isn’t difficult to learn, however, it does generally require you to have a little bit of experience playing in a team environment. 

5: Interchanging Positions

Switching positions during a game is really simple in theory, but it requires some coordination with your teammates to be successful at it. 

This should always be done by midfielders, occasionally by attackers, but never by defenders because that provides no advantages.

Switching Positions In Soccer
Senior Soccer Players (#6 Envato – Woodsymoss)

Midfielders Switch

In order to be useful for the team, midfielders are constantly running around the pitch looking for spaces where they can receive the ball and progress their team forward.

For this reason, they often find themselves out of their original position which requires the other midfielders on the team to cover for them, switching their positions around. 

They may not even consciously switch positions when they do it because it is so natural for them.

Attackers Switch

It can be very beneficial for attackers to occasionally switch positions for a few reasons.

First, it will confuse the defenders and they will be required to communicate with each other instead of the rest of the team, which can create gaps for the attackers’ teammates to exploit. 

Second, the attackers will have an easier time taking on defenders in 1v1 scenarios because the defenders aren’t familiar with their moves yet. 

Last but not least, this will open space in front of the opposing defenders, which the attackers can then use to receive passes from midfield, or even the defenders. 

This should only be done when your team has the ball, and it is either with the goalkeeper or the defenders because that will give you the most time to complete the switch.

6: Attackers dropping deep for passes

Dropping deep to receive passes is a very common tactic used by attackers at higher levels because it creates a lot of open space behind them that can be exploited by their teammates. 

This is a prime example where the third-man run passing combination can be effective from the triangle passing tactic. 

Essentially, the ball starts with the defenders. Then, an attacker from the same team runs into open space toward the ball to receive it. Once the attacker receives the ball, they pass it to a teammate as quickly as possible.

The player who received the ball from the attacker can now pass the ball to a third person who was making a run into open space behind the opposing defenders, while all of this was happening. 

I do admit, this last tactic may be a bit advanced for pickup soccer, but I promise there is absolutely nothing more fun than pulling this off with your friends.

Attacker Asking For Ball
Attacker Asking For Pass (#7 Envato – monkeybusiness)


The most valuable piece of information I can give you in terms of tactics for pickup soccer is to have fun. After all, fun is what pickup soccer was made for!

Nevertheless, these 6 tactics that I have shared with you today are still extremely valuable, and even more fun when you can pull them off. 

Wall passing is a great start to incorporating small, creative plays into your style because it will help you progress into learning how to keep the ball for your team. 

Keeping possession is also a very useful tactic that can be incorporated by the whole team, and will naturally teach you how to outplay your opponent by instinct, without having to even think about it. 

On the other hand, passing overhead can be a great option to catch your opponents off guard, especially when you have fast attackers, or your opponents are keeping a high line and pressing your team

Next is triangle passing, which is a tactic that can be extremely versatile in keeping possession or playing forward, and is probably the most useful tactic on this list. 

Interchanging positions is something that defenders should never do, midfielders should always do, and attackers should occasionally do to confuse the opposing defenders, and gain the upper hand. 

Dropping deep to receive passes is probably the most complex strategy on this list because it also requires a lot of awareness and communication with teammates in order to be successful at it.

As always, all of these tactics listed above are nothing if you aren’t having fun. Good luck in your next game, and have fun!

Image Attribution & Licensing

Featured Image: ‘Soccer Tactics Planning’ by Shaiith (Licensed via Envato Elements)

#1: ‘Pickup Soccer Players Around a Soccer Ball’ by YuriArcursPeopleimages (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

#2: ‘Soccer Players Passing The Ball’ by Wavebreakmedia (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

#3: ‘Soccer Tactics Board” by Saiith (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

#4: ‘Soccer Player Kicking Overhead Pass’ by drazenphoto (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

#5 ‘Soccer Players Playing Rondo’ by drazenphoto (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

#6: ‘Senior Soccer Players’ by Woodsymoss (Licensed via EnvatoElements)

#7: ‘Attacker Asking For Pass’ by monkeybusiness (Licensed via EnvatoElements)