Transition to Settled Attack – Do We Really Coach This?

We see the transition break happening so often, yet do we generate enough shots that are truly 80% chances?

On average 66% of goals scored are from broken play. Yet do we devote the time to really understand the underlying principles and basics to develop effective transition? Also one up situations provide the building blocks for attack (and therefore defence), i.e. even play is merely trying to create a 2v1 opportunity. Therefore practicing player up is fundamental to success in even play from both a shot creation and shot prevention stand point.

How does transition happen?

  • From a ground ball.
  • A missed interception.
  • A player slipping.
  • A defence interception.
  • A defensive turn over (save or dispossession).
  • A player getting free in open play (dodge or cut).
  • Penalty situation.

Do we practice all of these scenarios?

Let’s review the issue at the start of participation. Young players are developing and growing at a variable rate. As coaches we have to balance: biological, mental and physical development. This is especially difficult in coaching attack. The more physically mature young player can dominate. I am sure we have all seen the game play evolving:

  • player approximately 1 foot taller than any other player gains possession in own half,
  • runs down the field,
  • opposition either freeze or “bounce off” the ball carrier,
  • ball carrier “slam dunks” ball into goal past the quivering goal keeper.

This may well generate cheers from the crowd, as a coach it should spark the mind to develop understanding of the phases of attack.

Phase 1                                   Fast Break                   2v1 / 3v2/ 4v3

Phase 2                                   Slow Break                  5v4 / 6v5 / 7v6 / 8v7 (last 2 women’s)

Phase 3                                   Unsettled even attack v even defence

Phase 4                                   Settled attack v settled defence


The younger the participants, the more phase 1 occurs. As we develop, the more we have to ensure participants understand the other phases.

Take our physically mature player example, to enable phase 1 can be simple. Coaching a “draw and dump” principle, allows the team to develop. As we do have more physically mature players at the young ages, phase 1 is practised and transferred to competition on a regular basis. Similarly phase 4 and penalty situations form many sections of practice, as it allows coaches to develop multiple aspects of the sport in one practice area (albeit highly complex) and involving the most participants (perhaps an easy option?).

This still leaves 30%+ of attacking play. Coaches therefore must develop understanding of the phase 2 and 3 sections to generate the most out of all transition opportunities and increase the number of 80% shooting options from open play.


Phase 2 Slow Break

Attack players must dominate decisions to make phase 2 and 3 work. It is their call as to whether it’s a fast break or a slow break, NOT THE midfield. Only the attack can see what is unfolding before them (behind the midfield) and are therefore in the best position to select the correct option.

Key Points

  • Attack should set up in a flat line as the ball is being turned over, this allows a fast break that supports both left and right dominant handed midfield – a left handed break from defence wants 2 attackers to their right (as they run to the net) not one, yet the right hander prefers this the other way round. This may not happen with younger players, where an L shape may be simpler to implement.
  • Attack to start with width to allow passes to be seen.
  • Attack call fast or slow break.
  • The higher up the playing level the more likely that its phase 2, a coach could outline the ball ALWAYS goes behind unless the attack call fast break.
  • If its phase 1, midfield drive to goal but use “draw and dump” principle to pass to free attack as the defence cover.
  • If you are free and with the ball, you should attack the goal, but know your options (draw and dump principles).
  • If its phase 2, slow break, the ball is passed to the attackers early and not held in midfield sticks (attack need to move wide to receive).
  • attackers transition the ball round the BACK of goal (depth to the attack)
  • midfield communicate (from the furthest midfield player to the goal), as to who cuts and who sweeps, leaving a 2v1

In the example:

  • Ball has transition down from A3 to A2.
  • A2 passes to A1.
  • M7 is “told to cut” by M5 left to right (perhaps a call of cut right).
  • As M7 cuts, A1 drives at D2 to ensure the defender has to play the ball (remember defenders don’t actually want to do this in this scenario).
  • M5 can cut left handed down to A1 creating the 2 v1.

Phase 3

The unsettled even attack versus defence is not a new coaching area of attack. The principles come from:

  • Defence like to work out the threats with effective match ups and cover patterns,
  • Communication and positioning are key to this,
  • They don’t like the ball behind, they have to turn their heads struggling to see player and ball

Therefore don’t let them settle and keep their heads turning. An unsettled attack option may only last a brief period (5 or 6 seconds), but it could be the game changer.

Using the above example, if D7 chases down M5 to prevent the pass from A1 there are momentary options that can be exploited.

  • A1 dodge as D2 is clearly isolated
  • M5 told to cut by M3, M7 can set a pick for M5
  • M3 moves to top of goal to receive from A1 and dodges
  • If there is not an 80% shooting opportunity, pass ball back to A1 to redirect and keep the defence heads turning.
  • Set up perimeter and begin settled attack

Some Practice Tips

  • As a coach you need to practice the phases regularly.
  • Be creative to develop practices to develop all areas of transition.
  • Use cones to ensure players have to collapse to / attack the goal from various positions (think of a half field horse shoe)
  • Throw the ball in to random areas, sometimes as a ground ball.
  • Use 2v1, 3v2, 4v3 and then 5v4, with a +1 trail for each practice to build confidence.
  • Encourage the attack to start with width and depth to allow them to see passes, while also running at the goal to commit defenders when in possession of the ball.