Get Back!

“Get back”, “half way”, “retreat” are all words shouted by coaches, parents and referees on grassroots pitches all over the country! Imagine 10 years ago players being instructed to retreat when the opposition had a goal kick but in 2013/14 the rule was introduced. Between the ages of U7 and U10 teams are required to retreat to the halfway line when the opposition have a goal kick.

The obvious question must be why was the rule introduced? I am under the impression it was predominantly to allow the kids more time on the ball and to encourage kids to play out from the back. More information can be found here

From research conducted via club website from over 2,000 adults involved in football U10 and below 76% believe the retreat line is a success. I conducted my own poll via my Twitter feed and 71% from 230 votes believed the retreat line is good for development. There is overwhelming support.

Despite the obvious support for the retreat line I remain sceptical as to whether it really does aid long term development. Was it introduced for the kids? I don’t believe so, it was introduced to manage the adults (coaches/parents) that promote long ball football or the adults that are relentless in their pursuit to win and score as many goes as possible.

Within the past month I have had discussions with other coaches regarding the retreat line. At U7’s I have been told by two coaches that my goalkeeper should be waiting for all his players to retreat before playing out. I asked them to explain and comments included that it’s in the rules and it’s not fair. I encourage my players to play as quickly as possible out from the back, I have no desire to ‘coach’ them to wait when the counter attack is on.

My grassroots U7’s side also recently played a grade 1 academy U7’s. I knew in advance that the retreat line is not used generally in these environments having witnessed numerous games whilst watching my son. In the first 1/4 my kids would drop off for a goal kick out of habit whilst the kids from pro club would generally press high. I asked the academy coach for his views on the retreat line and why they don’t use it. He was very forthright in his views basically stating the kids needed to learn to make better decisions whilst under pressure. The decision made from the goalkeeper at goal kicks was ultimately the difference between the 2 sides in terms of the result, my grassroots team lost by 1 goal over an hour and 3/5 of the goals we conceded came directly from the goalkeeper making a poor decision from a goal kick, unfortunately as a team we will struggle to learn from that as its then back to the routine of the retreat line. The kids did really benefit from playing out from the back under pressure; it would be far more beneficial for their development to play without the retreat line weekly (we never use it in training).

There are a number of negatives in my mind that surround the retreat line –

Making the game too easy – why should the kids not be put under pressure surely looking after the ball under pressure is absolutely vital? Why make it easy for them? I strongly believe most adults don’t want the kids to make mistakes or they want to limit mistakes. Why should we care if a kid loses the ball 9 times out of 10 when under pressure; they will learn to look after it, they will find a way don’t take that away from them. The kids also lose the desire to move into space and create the ‘half a yard’ to receive. I often hear FA tutors and mentors talk about realism well where is the realism in the retreat line?! I wonder on the streets in South America if 7 year old Messi, 8 year old Suazez or 9 year old Augero were allowed lots of time on the ball to develop a passing through the thirds mentality! Of course they weren’t they learnt to find a way to look after the ball whilst under pressure. A huge failing of the English national team for years (obvious during the 2014 World Cup) is our inability to look after the ball under extreme pressure we play with fear and take the safe option does the retreat line help eliminate this deficiency?

Creates the same situation time after time – the retreat line creates the same situation for players again and again. The player on the ball looks up prior to receiving and is faced with 3-4 players lined up on the halfway line ready to charge. The none receivers are not marked and their movement off the ball to receive the 2nd pass is less dynamic than without the retreat line. The retreat line must be really boring for kids. Most coaches dictate which kids receive the ball (usually the same one) and I often see teams drilled to play the same move. A couple of classics are the 1st receiver plays the ball down the line to a kid directed by the coach to stand in a certain position to receive the 2nd ball whilst the opposition charge towards the player with the ball. The 2nd will see the player with the longest kick be first receiver and launch the ball forward in the direction of one or two big and fast attackers, so much for eliminating the long ball. The kids become very robotic very early as a result of the retreat line. I am a huge believer that the more different situations kids are placed in the more problems they have to solve the better for their long term development, surely the retreat line eliminates many different scenarios that the kids would otherwise be placed into.

Stunts development regarding decision making when defending – linked to the above point the situation is always the same and this completely takes away kids decision making when it comes to defending the goal kick. The kids get used to lining up on the half way line ready to charge the receiver. Surely independent decisions from a goal kick would far advance development. Again as a defender they would be placed in lots more different situations than what they currently experience with the retreat line. Defending now appears a dying art and on the face of it the FA DNA focuses entirely on technical players comfortable on the ball with the ability to play a passing game, defenders and game changers are neglected; ironically enough the 2 things we as a national side are crying out for.

The retreat line certainly helps the adults but I am struggling to believe it really helps the kids long term. We seems scared that kids will have the ball taken from them, make a mistake, concede a goal but surely as a result of those errors they will learn how to look after it under pressure? In my experience most kids figure this out for themselves however as youth coaches a small amount of guidance can also help in certain circumstances. I hear the argument that the kid will be upset by making a mistake but in the vast majority of cases that will only be the case if adult attitudes/expectations are wrong. I used to have the ball taken off me all the time when I was 8 or 9 playing with 11 or 12 year olds in the park, did it stunt my love for the game, no way it made me more determined not to keep losing it.

After much pondering and consideration I have concluded that the retreat line was brought in possibly subconsciously to manage adults actions more than the kids. We were playing too many long balls and we needed to build out from the back, that’s fine but a retreat line doesn’t stop long balls or the creation of robotic play directed by adults. Why not just let the kids play let them learn how to manage the ball under pressure and learn how to play with and without the ball in as many different situations as possible. The rule for U7/8 players that are perhaps weaker ability wise maybe it works and that’s a big maybe I’m still not convinced but for U9/10 or players of a decent standard at U7/8 surely it does not aid development it only serves to manage poor adult coaching. I’d suggest the coach and parent education system and structure of the grassroots game is completely overhauled if we really want to produce better all round players.

Thanks for reading

Feedback appreciated

Twitter – @contactcounts


3 thoughts on “Get Back!

  1. David Moore says:

    I believe that the rule was bought in with good intentions and as you say the reason cited is to allow teams to play out from the back. I think to a degree it allows teams to do this, but this happening under no pressure is not game real. We moved to U11 last season and the rule is suddenly removed so we went from having this extra time on the ball to play out from the back to having no time. I can’t help but think there is the potential for this to affect allot of kids confidence as things they were able to do quite comfortably the season before will now be much more difficult for them. For me the jury is still out.


    • We only have to look at the national side to see how as a nation we need to improve in possession in tight areas. By allowing kids lots of time of the ball in an unrealistic situation surly this isn’t productive. Why happened when kids learnt on the street/park? Retreat line? Not in my experience. The line was brought in to manage adult influence which is incredibly sad.


  2. David Moore says:

    P.s. I didn’t think you had to wait for the other team to retreat before playing the ball. But once the ball was played then it was live?


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