How to Play Forward in Soccer

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If you find yourself up top, ready to score goals and take no prisoners, you probably play forward. Although the position may seem pretty straightforward (score goals), with all the different formations out there, choosing a style of play can get confusing.

Since a forward’s responsibilities can change from team to team, knowing how to play to fit your team’s style is important. However, there are some basic requirements, skills, and traits you should embody as a forward for your team. Coming prepared with the best quality cleats for forwards is one example.

Your main duty is to make the opposing team’s defensive job a living nightmare. To do so, you’ll need to keep these five tips in mind.

How to Play Forward in Soccer

1. Score Goals, or Try To

It doesn’t have to look pretty and it definitely doesn’t have to be planned. You are placed on the field to be closest to your opponent’s defending goal. As a forward, you’re in the best position to score goals.

Even though other positions are allowed to (and should) score goals as well, forwards normally score the most goals.

Two women fighting over the soccer ball with one about to kick the ball to the goal

To score goals, you have to be persistent and sometimes, you have to be a little one-track minded and selfish. Being able to get the ball in the back of the net will make you very valuable for your team. They won’t care what it may look like.

Scoring is not easy. It requires being in the right place at the right time, and following through with a well placed shot. Often times, your shot will need to have a combination of a lot of power with perfect precision.

Forwards are judged by how many goals they score, at the end of the day. Luckily, you aren’t judged by a whole lot more than that.

2. Be Versatile in Your Position

There’s no one easier to mark than a forward who just stays up top waiting for the ball. As I mentioned earlier, give the opposing team’s defense a hard time.

This may mean switching positions or switching the area in which you are covering. If there is more than one of you up top or if you switch the “ten” position, you can easily confuse the defense.

Be active as a forward, and you will create a lot more chances than if you stay stationary. Roam across the back line, trying to find pockets of space to receive the ball and pass it.

Man running accross the field while dribbling a soccer ball

Make down field runs that your teammates can link up with you on. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t notice your run, or can’t get you the ball in time. Keep making the runs, as it only takes one to kick the ball and create a goal.

When necessary, track back to pick up a pass from a midfielder. While it is best if they can bring the ball all the way down to find you, not every game goes that way. Sometimes you need to work back a bit to receive the ball, and then work it forward.

3. Be the First Line of Defense

As the first line of offense, you are also the first one to the ball to defend for your team. You can put pressure on the opposing team and help your team defend. Putting pressure on the defense will force them to make mistakes.

A quick transition from the other team can easily be stopped by you. You are also in a great position to push the team one way or the other. This will help your team dictate their defensive shape.

Lazy forwards don’t play defense, and are much less of an asset to their team. Today’s high press style of play that is so popular and successful at the highest of leagues relies on an active forward who presses the defense when they have the ball.

4. Don’t Get Caught Offsides

One of the tricks that defenders of the opposing team will try to have against you is the offsides trap. Always pay attention, keep moving, and be aware of your surroundings. There are ways to beat the offside trap, and you need to be adept at doing so.

If you curve your runs so they are not directly at goal, you can also avoid the offsides trap. The less predictable you are, the better.

A referee in yellow watches on the sides as the match goes on

5. Use Your Strengths to Get Past Defenders

That may mean that you are using your actual strength. Maybe you are much faster than most others on the field. No matter what it is, know what your advantage is and play to your advantage.

Don’t be afraid to get physical, using your arm to move past defenders. Don’t be afraid to be a little selfish either. Sometimes you have to keep the ball to yourself and try your shot on goal.

Playing forward doesn’t just mean doing what it takes—it also means having what it takes.

To be able to perform the necessary tasks to be an effective forward, you first have to conquer a pristine set of skills.

Here are some of the important traits you need to have to perform well as a forward in soccer.

Traits of a Good Forward

Ball ControlHigh

1. You Need to Have a Good Shot

Forwards have one job. Kick the ball into the back of the net. You have to have the ability to shoot and deliver—especially when your team is under pressure. Your team’s survival in a tournament could be solely riding on you to finish the cross coming in.

You should also know how to be able to shoot using various parts of your foot and body and also use both feet effectively.

Having a good shot is different than being able to pass the ball well, and it is also a lot more complicated than just being able to kick the ball hard and far. It involves a combination of power and precision.

There is no better way to get better at the forward position than to practice. Practice shooting into a small area marked off by cones to start with. You want to be able to work on your precision first, as it is harder to perfect than putting power on your shot.

Women in red and white jersey are fighting against the ball while the woman in white is about to kick the soccer ball

2. Your First Touch is Critical

Since you will most likely always have someone on your back—especially when you’re receiving passes, you have to have good control of your footwork. As a quality forward, you need to be able to receive passes under pressure.

Your first touch should be well under control, regardless if the ball is coming in the air or on the ground.

Your first touch dictates your next touch and how the play will turn out. If you can transition your first touch directly into a turn so you’re facing the goal—even better. Not only should you have an adequate first touch but it should set you up for quality second and third touches.

Practicing your first touch is relatively simple. You can have anyone throw or kick the ball at you, both on the ground and through the air. Work on quickly placing the ball right at your feet with your first touch, using various parts of your body.

3. You Need to be Able to Shield Players Off

Being strong is only half the battle. You need to have the skill requirements necessary to keep defenders off your back and off the ball. Not only should you be strong enough to hold them off, your technique in shielding needs to be flawless.

The last thing you or your team wants is for a strong defender to be able to get a toe on the ball and counter. Since you’ll usually be getting the ball with a forward at your back, you need to be able to shield players off effectively—even if you’re double-teamed.

Opportunities to work the ball up to a forward come sometimes be few and far between, depending on how the game is going. Your ability to get positioning on the ball can actually serve the team really well, even if you don’t score a goal.

A guy ina blue jersey uses his chest to hit the soccer ball while the player in white tries to stop him

Holding up the play by using your body gives your defenders a chance to rest and regroup. The removes the pressure from your own goal, and gives some of your other players the chance to get up field to join the attack.

Even if you can’t score a goal, shielding opposing players from the ball will aid your team tremendously. In the end, it will also contribute to your ability to score goals as well.

4. You Need to Be Fast

Even though you should be strong and good with the ball, being fast also helps you out as a forward. Being able to speed past defenders and pressure them is essential to being a forward.

While there are certainly a few examples of powerful strong forwards that aren’t very fast, such as Olivier Giroud, the majority of forwards have a lot of speed to their game.

Speed will definitely help you in the position not only by pressuring the ball and getting from one side to the other but also on the offense. With speed, you can easily get past defenders and beat them down the line. You can also simply get to the ball faster than they can.

For the most part, you either have the gift of being able to run fast or you don’t. However, you can train to increase your speed through running drills and calisthenics.

5. You Can’t be Afraid of Heading

Some goals may come from headers. Getting up high, beating players to the ball, and heading it precisely in the right direction is extremely important in heading. Height and jumping ability aren’t the only requirements that make a good header.

Your positioning when a cross comes in is also crucial. Learning how to head the ball will serve you well on crosses from teammates as well as corner kicks and free kicks.

A man in a red jersey uses his head to hit soccer ball away from man in white jersey

Great Forwards from History

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has been playing at the highest level of football since he was 16. He has played for some of the biggest soccer teams in the world including the following:

  • Manchester United
  • Real Madrid
  • Juventus

He also plays for the Portugal international team.

Ronaldo is known for his strong dribbling ability, finish quality in front of the goal, and his aerial presence.

He has won almost every major championship, like the:

  • La Liga title
  • Champions League
  • Euro with Portugal

Lionel Messi

A 5 time Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi is the Argentine and Barcelona FC great. He is magic on the ball, possessing the ability to glide through defenses without losing the ball. He has an amazing finishing ability, with his characteristic left foot flashing the ball into the goal routinely.

Messi has played his entire career for Barcelona FC in La Liga, contributing well over 400 goals for his side and counting.

Widely debated amongst soccer enthusiasts and fan is who is the best in the world: Messi or Ronaldo.

Lionel Messi in his blue jersey with his fist closed in a match


Retired great Pele hails from Brazil and is widely considered as the best footballer to ever play. He won 3 world cups for Brazil in 1958, 1962, and 1970, and holds the goal scoring record for his country with 77 goals.

Pele had an incredibly high goal scoring ability, averaging almost one goal per game that he played.

Adept at kicking and shooting with either foot, Pele is known for starting the phrase that soccer is now known for: The Beautiful Game.

Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona is the second Argentine on our list, and equally considered as one of the greatest in history alongside Pele. Winner of the 1986 World Cup and the Golden Boot award, Maradona also had a storied career playing throughout Spain.

Maradona played a little deeper than the other forwards on our list, taking charge of the game through his fluidity with passing and dribbling. As a classic #10 on the field, it was Maradona’s complete game that made him the best.

Maradona went on to coach the Argentine national team.

Related Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about forwards in soccer.

What Skills Does a Forward Need in Soccer?

In soccer, a forward needs to develop speed, creativity, vision, and more importantly, composure. A forward that doesn’t stay composed before shooting can miss a lot of goals due to nervousness.

Do Forwards Play Defense?

Although attacking and scoring goals is the forwards’ primary goal, they can also play defense in certain circumstances. The forward can help in defense if their team is being aggressively pressured by the opponents.

Where Do Forwards Play in Soccer?

The center, left wing, and right wing are the three primary positions in soccer where a forward can play. Naturally, all of these positions are played forward, as suggested by their name.

Putting it All Together

Developing these traits and keeping these tips in mind can help you improve as a forward. Before you know it, with a little practice, you’ll be the goal-scoring attacker you’ve always dreamed of.

Tim Frechette is an avid athlete, having played sports like soccer and basketball his entire life. He brings a wealth of athletic knowledge to his writing.

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