Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


A game of passing under pressure

By David Clarke

David Clarke

You can tell when players are under pressure – their first touch begins to go astray. It’s a tell-tale sign and one of the most costly mistakes that can be made in the game. For that reason, it’s important to try to recreate the pressure that players face in matches.

There is also tiredness. By the end of matches, players are often weary and stop thinking about what’s in front of them – they kick the ball wherever they can. In fact, building play with good passing is an afterthought.

So this exercise is great for two reasons – it tightens up concentration while helping to increase players’ stamina. Rehearse this well and you’ll find your players pushing themselves and team mates in pursuit of victory.

How to set it up:

  • The playing area for this session depends on the age of your squad. For any players above the age of 10, use the centre circle of an 11-a-side pitch, decreasing the diameter for younger children.

  • Split your squad into two teams – in the example shown, we are using two lots of six players.

  • Six cones are placed inside the circle in a zigzag formation as shown.

  • One team (in the inner circle) places a player on each cone.

  • The other team (outside the circle) stands in a line at any point on the centre circle.

Getting started:

  • The team inside the circle scores a point each time the ball goes along the zigzag, from the bottom man to the top, and back again.

  • The length of time they have to do this is determined by the outer circle players. This team takes it in turns to run around the circle until every member of the team has completed a circuit.

  • For the first run, the inner circle players throw the ball to each other up and down the zigzag making sure no player is missed out.

  • Next they do this two-touch with their feet so they are passing the ball and receiving under pressure.

  • Teams now switch positions with the running team now attempting to beat the number of points scored.

  • Run this through two or three times. While players running around the circle should generally experience the same drop-off of pace with each attempt, you should look for the points scored by the inner circle team are likely to increase as they gain more practice.

  • For an additional challenge, have the outer circle team dribble a ball around the outside of the circle on each circuit – this way both sides are rehearsing ball skills while under time pressure.

Why this works:

This is a great passing exercise. It is a really good way to work your players so they are passing quickly to defeat the other team.

It’s an unopposed game yet players are still aware of the pressure being placed on them, and this builds the logical awareness that at no place on a football pitch can a player truly relax.

Keep an eye out for good communication between players, and a determined work ethic in terms of passing, running and receiving.



Big respect to the opposition

David ClarkeWe’ve all seen or heard about the team leading 15-0 whose coach says “play as if it’s 0-0”. And when the 16th goal goes in the team is celebrating as if it’s won the league. Never mind the fact that the losing team has given up long ago…

That said, I’m not a huge fan of the way some teams will hit double figures then put the goalkeeper up front or substitute half the team. That doesn’t make the opposition players or manager feel any better either – they just think the team is showing off.

It’s a difficult call to make, but there are other ways you can deal with the situation.

Last weekend, we were playing a team a couple of places below us who had won 7-1 the week before, so we were expecting a hard game. But we coasted into a 3-0 lead and I became a bit uneasy that things would get really bad for our opponents.

However, they had a really good spell and pulled it back to 3-2. This made for a much better game; my team had to think hard about how they were playing, and it was a lesson for them assuming the job was done so early.

By half-time though we were 5-2 up and I could see some of the opposition players’ heads had dropped. So for my team talk at the interval I challenged each of my players to touch the ball in the build-up to a goal. If they could do that, they’d get to choose what training we did the following week.

Of course, the opposition didn’t realise we were now playing this way – they could only see a switching, shielding, passing and movement process that offered more situations where they might, in theory, win the ball.

The parents of my players had something to concentrate on as well – watching players getting into good positions for the pass.

It became a much better game and really gave my players a good work out in the second half. The score in that half was 2-2 so both teams had played well. Neither of our goals came from every player touching the ball, but it’s something to aim at next week, or the week after.

This tactic led to a much happier conclusion to the match, although I know some of the parents on my team had been muttering that “nobody does this when we’re losing”!

That was a fair point, but if we can share ideas such as this, maybe that will change?




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