Question: Hey coach, what do you mean when you say we need to ‘keep our shape’?
Coach: Shape is the way we line up at kickoff, roughly speaking. Shape is the dynamic structure a team plays in. Shape means like, viewed from above we appear in such an arrangement, and as we play we keep that basic arrangement and return back to it when we have been forced out of our shape. If you are a player on the field, shape implies players being at certain angles from you in order to offer you support and likewise. When a player crosses the field in chase of the ball, that player has compromised the shape. The gap that has been created by a player’s vacancy opens up space for the other team to attack, not to mention depriving certain players the support that position is designed to provide. When everyone chases the ball so that it begins to look like a moving beehive, there is no shape. No one is where they are by design, but utter chance. Support is incidentally given at best. The players know just to kick it “that way”.
In contrast, shape puts certain people in certain parts of the field to perform certain duties and in this way can make the game simpler to learn. For example, the right back (defender) should #1 delay #2 force the play out of the middle, to the sideline and #3 prevent passes through to areas behind the defense, and #4 win the ball.
This list may seem like nuanced tasks, but are skills which can be learned. Learning is made simpler as a player settles in to a position and begins to be taught what the role of that position is to the overall team strategy. A team may best utilize their strategy by defining clear roles for specific players (as described above in the example of the right back). A more complete description of a role would look like something like the above plus:
I (coach Tad) want my right back to do a number of tasks including:
A) getting wide and in proper position (stance) to receive an angled pass from behind
B) getting wide and in proper position (stance) to pass at a forward angle or down the line
C) keeping goalside on their marks (opponents near our goal)
D) tracking their marks
E) denying forward passes
F) forcing the play down the line
G) chipping into space behind the defense after dribbling into attacking half
H) slotting a ball (hard ground-pass through a close gap) through to behind the defense.
Though that is still a partial list, notice how difficult if not impossible learning the role becomes if a player roams over the entire field in chase of the ball. This is why coaches will say, ‘we need to keep our shape’.