Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Coaching, Soccer Fitness, Soccer News, Soccer Refereeing, Soccer Skills, Soccer Team Management, Soccer Training | Tags: movement, passing, patterns of play, space, understanding
Patterns of play are essential to the game. They can begin with any player on the pitch, and range from extremely simple to frighteningly complex! But the more players practise them and understand their effectiveness, the better the rewards for your team.
Here’s a game I use that starts with my full back. It doesn’t involve any long balls, but does require crisp, accurate passing. See if it works for you!
What to do
- Set up as shown in the pictures above. There is a target man (T) at each end of the area, plus two neutrals (N) and a 3v3 in the main 50×40 yards area, not including the centre circle, which has its own 2v2. Players cannot step over area boundaries.
- There are two balls in play at all times, starting with the target players who play out to the full back.
- Teams score a point by receiving the ball from one target man and pass it the length of the area to the other but each player on the team must touch the ball. This doesn’t include neutrals, who play for the attacking team.
- Tackling is only allowed in the centre circle, although blocks are allowed elsewhere. If play is turned over in the centre, the ball must go back to a target player for a new move to start.
- When a point is scored, target players restart by passing the ball to a player on the non-scoring team.
- Increase the game’s difficulty by making the neutral players defenders. If they win possession they return the ball to a target player.
- The game is great for practising moving patterns through midfield.
- It encourages players in the main area to be constantly on the move to help those in the centre.
- Players must be alert to opportunities to pass, particularly because a team could find itself in possession of two balls at once.
- Players must learn to pick up on preferred patterns of play from players in designated positions. The game encourages players to read and learn others’ preferences.
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Coaching, Soccer Fitness, Soccer News, Soccer Refereeing, Soccer Skills, Soccer Team Management, Soccer Training | Tags: numbers, passing, pressure, sessions, training
I had an email this week asking about how I cope when more players turn up at training than expected. It was a timely question as I had just coached a session of 15 players when I expected only nine or 10 to turn up.
We were training indoors for a quick passing session and I had created a plan accordingly. However, with a bit of clever tweaking, I was soon able to put the session into shape to accommodate the increased numbers. The indoor arena was probably only big enough to hold 12 players comfortably but the extra players meant I could go for a session about winning the ball and keeping it in crowded areas of the pitch.
So I split the group into three teams of five players. Rather than have a normal small-sided game I decided to play all three teams at once making the central areas tight and over-crowded. I had yellows defending one goal and oranges defending the other. The other team of five were ‘mavericks’, who could score in either goal.
This gave each team plenty to think about – which team were their true ‘opponents’, for a start.
At first, the set-up caused a lot of confusion as players were trying to work out who was doing what, particularly because this was in such a congested area. My response to this was to stop play after a couple of minutes. I asked each team to take a minute to work out between themselves who should pick up which opposition players when possession was lost.
Once they had a clear idea of a game plan it made matters a lot simpler, and the overcrowded pitch became much less of a consideration.
I was pleased with how the session turned out because the players were encouraged to make a lot of decisions outside of the basic necessity of keeping the ball with numerous opponents around them.
The point here was to show them that even with a huge number of distractions, if each player focused on the key elements that affected his own game, the proposition seemed a lot less complex.
For the final five minutes I went to two teams playing with the other resting. Sure enough, the freedom in this set-up (compared to three sides playing at once) saw players using space and being aware of their marking responsibilities with real clarity, which was a great result.
All in all, a great solution to the problem of an unexpectedly high turnout!
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Coaching, Soccer Fitness, Soccer News, Soccer Refereeing, Soccer Skills, Soccer Team Management, Soccer Training | Tags: one-two, overlaps, passing, receiving, running with the ball, screening, turning
Here’s a session, divided into two parts, that benefits players in three core elements.
At the heart of this is possession, but keeping the ball is only really useful if players know what to do with it, and that’s where patience and penetration come into play.
This practice also allows players to rehearse passing, receiving, turning, screening, one-twos, running with the ball and overlaps.
How to play it
This is an ideal start for getting younger players using combinations without having to get the ball to a designated target. It really cements the basics of support play, with overloads helping to create confidence in maintaining possession (see the top picture).
- Set this up so attackers have a strong overload (I use 11v5 in a 30×15 yards area, but you can use a smaller area with a 9v4 or a 7v3).
- Both teams must try to win the ball and keep possession of it – they’ll do this by supporting and communicating well with team mates at all times.
- Play for five minutes, switching players so that all get to work with and against the overload.
Now, the objective for both teams is to pass the ball to either of the target players, who are positioned in five-yard channels at each end of the area. Moving in to a directional practice replicates match-like demands of retaining possession and finding an end target (see the middle and bottom pictures).
- In the example given, this is 6v6 in the middle, plus two floaters (F) who always play with the team in possession (to make 8v6).
- If a successful pass is made to a target player, he passes the ball back to the team previously in possession and the other end is attacked.
- If play is turned over, the other team can now use the floaters in an 8v6, and attempt to feed the ball to either target man.
- Play for five minutes.
Technique and tactics
- Look for the creation of space (wide and deep), as individuals and as a team.
- Pass selection is important, with the focus on accuracy, weight and timing of the release.
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Coaching, Soccer Fitness, Soccer News, Soccer Refereeing, Soccer Skills, Soccer Team Management, Soccer Training | Tags: challenges, creativity, moving, passing, switching play
This session is a fantastic opportunity for your players to be creative in opening up different sides of the pitch – if you let them. Get them together ask them how you would use the six-goal area to create space and get them to try out their ideas. Fun? Yes. Educational? Yes. Match realistic? Yes.
Point the kids in the right direction, give them a few challenges to solve, and you’ll be amazed at what they can achieve.
Sometimes the pressure of feeling you have to tell your players everything you want them to learn can stop the learning experience happening.
If someone was standing over you telling you how to work your computer every time you turned it on, you probably wouldn’t bother thinking about what you are doing. Which means it’s going to take you a lot longer to remember to push the right keys to get to where you want. It’s the same for your players.
Switching play (moving the ball from one side of the pitch to the other) will allow teams to create significantly more space on a football pitch. And that, in turn, can lead to better goalscoring situations.
Changing this angle of an attack requires intelligence and reasonable passing ability, but get it right and it’s a potent weapon for your team.
Here’s how to do it.
How to set it up:
- Set up a 45×20 yards playing area.
- On both long sides, position three goals using poles or cones, each five yards wide. Each team protects three goals.
- In the area, a 4v3 takes place. The overload is designed to help one team achieve the coaching focus.
- Teams must maintain possession, use quick switching of play to find space – with both short and long passes – and score in any of the goals.
Progressing the session:
- After 10 minutes, add two players in sweeper roles behind the goals their team is defending. The opposition cannot score in a goal the sweeper is protecting.
- Rotate players regularly.
- Set up a 50×40 yards area with a full-size goal at one end and three small goals at the other. Play 5v4 (including the keeper), use normal rules. The team with the overload attacks the three goals. Here, look for switches from deep and quick breaks forward.
Why this works:
The session encourages forward angled passing, one-twos and through balls, and rehearses offensive as well as defensive principles. Teams that can hold onto the ball and make use of the space will create lots of scoring chances.
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Coaching, Soccer Fitness, Soccer News, Soccer Refereeing, Soccer Skills, Soccer Team Management, Soccer Training | Tags: decisions, dribbling, drills, passing, team play
When players feel pressure in matches, it can often affect their ability to make decisions. You will undoubtedly have players who dribble brilliantly in training, yet "panic pass" in matches. Other players will hesitate when on the ball and a great opportunity to pass to a team mate is often lost.
Knowing when to surge into space with a dribble or when to switch play with a good pass comes from lots of practice – and you can’t expect players to learn this on their own.
Therefore, it’s a great idea to set up situations where they have the choice, because making that call can be vital to their development.
This session shows players where options present themselves, then develops into a small-sided game, in which the right decision will give their team the advantage.
How to set it up
Create a playing area measuring 30×25 yards.
For this session you’ll need bibs, cones and balls.
There are two teams of four players.
Set up three small goals – spaced equally apart – along the longest sides.
Each team must defend its goals while trying to score in the other three.
Players score by dribbling or passing the ball through the poles.
Players must react quickly to situations around them, looking for areas on the pitch where there is space to exploit. They should look to mix dribbling with passes to team mates, but every decision is made with the aim of retaining team possession.
Play for 15 minutes.
Developing the session:
Develop the session by making the area 50×30 yards with two five-yard end zones.
The players must get the ball into the end zone by passing to a player who has run to meet the pass, or by dribbling into the end zone themselves.
Players are not allowed to stand in the end zone waiting for a pass – they must always be on the move.
You can award an extra "goal" if the attacking team makes five consecutive passes before scoring.
If players find the session easy, reduce the size of the scoring zone at each end by a yard. For younger players, increase the size.
Why this works:
This practice rehearses players in the logic that clever dribbling can move the ball into areas where there is space to be exploited. A final pass to a team mate should make the creation of goalscoring chances that much easier.
Players are also encouraged to score with a pass which represents a quicker route to goal than a dribble. The decisions depend on the player’s ability to read the space and that will come as they practise this session.
This session originally appeared in Soccer Coach Weekly.
Interested in more counter attacking exercises? Try these links:
3. Elite Soccer Issue 1 – Alex McLeish: Whole team attacking
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Coaching, Soccer Fitness, Soccer News, Soccer Refereeing, Soccer Skills, Soccer Team Management, Soccer Training | Tags: attack, drills, midfield, passing, shooting
It’s understandable for some players to want to bypass the crowded, pressurised environment that is the centre of the pitch.
But hitting long balls forward or always targeting play to the wings makes teams predictable and boring.
This is a practice that will boost confidence and remind players that getting the ball into midfield and using it smartly can often be the best way to attack.
How to play it
You need balls, bibs, cones and goals.
Mark out a 50×30 yards area split into three zones.
There are two teams of six, each also has a keeper.
The team in possession is allowed up to 20 seconds unchallenged in the central (safe) zone. It can stay there for that time or break out, but if still in the zone when time elapses, the opposition can go in and try to win the ball.
If the team in possession loses the ball in any area of the pitch, its players must vacate the central zone.
The size of the central zone is key to the challenge and skill of the game as players will discover so, after six minutes, increase or decrease its size to see what effect it has on the game.
Developing the session
- You can advance the session by allowing one opposition player to go in the central zone. This puts more pressure on midfielders.
Technique and tactics
The safe zone encourages play to go through midfield, with players getting used to receiving on the half-turn or practising controlling technique.
While doing this without the fear of being tackled, the option to survey options and pass the ball on is encouraged. However, the margin for error increases when the central zone is shortened.
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Coaching, Soccer Fitness, Soccer News, Soccer Refereeing, Soccer Skills, Soccer Team Management, Soccer Training | Tags: clever, one touch, passing, quick, simple, team work
I find this small-sided game is a great way to get your players passing with purpose when they are under pressure. Clever or disguised passing make all the difference in this game as teams try to stop the opposition scoring points.
Give your players permission to do what they want to create space and make good passes. Tell them they must be constantly on the move to pass and receive the ball.
How to play it
Set up a 4v4 game with two target players at either end.
Use the 18-yard area or half of a seven-a-side pitch and cone off the two ends.
Tell your players each team must get the ball and score “goals” by successfully passing to either of the target players.
How to coach it
Tell your players they need to be quick and sharp. They must win the ball by intercepting it or by tackling for it.
Instruct them to practise moving to and from the ball to create space.
Once the ball has reached the target player, the team can keep possession by moving so the target player can pass it back to them.
Tell your players to switch the ball to the opposite target player as quickly as possible.
How to change it
Tell teams they past the ball from one target player to the other without the other team touching the ball. If the other team gets a touch, it goes back to the target player and the other team receives the ball from the target man.
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Coaching, Soccer Fitness, Soccer News, Soccer Refereeing, Soccer Skills, Soccer Team Management, Soccer Training | Tags: control, first touch, movement, overloads, passing, shooting
It can be difficult at times to find a good workout for your players that replicates the vital first touch, good movement and quick passing of typical match day situations.
Players are generally relaxed in training – sometimes overly so – and there’s certainly less pressure on them performing a move well.
But with the right set-up, and providing you can instil the notion that a player’s team mates are depending on him (and him only) to perform a specific task, you can get your team working at a high tempo.
This activity, Touch And Go, ensures players remain physically and mentally alert at all times, always aware of the concept of using available space in order to make maximum use of the ball.
It is a fast session that rehearses overloads, shooting, passing and movement in the same manner that your players will encounter in a match – indeed, a shortened version of this is perfect as a pre-match practice, so ensure every player is getting the ball and thinking about moving to the pass.
How to set it up:
- Alter the size of the playing area depending on the ages of your players. For U9s, use the centre circle of an adult (11-a-side) pitch, or a circle 20 yards in diameter. For U10s and older, mark out a 30-yard circle as a playing area.
- You will need to create three small goals using cones at equal points around the playing area. These will each be two yards wide. There are six players on one team and three on the other, though you can alter the number of players and the size of the playing area depending on your squad size, providing one team has twice as many players as the other.
One player on the team of six starts with the ball at his feet.
He must release the ball to a team mate. His team aims to complete six consecutive passes.
The team with three players must attempt to overturn possession. If it does, it tries to score in one of the small goals.
Play this for 10 minutes.
The main move
Now they have warmed up, prepare your players to restart with the same 6v3 set-up.
This time though, the team of six must arrange themselves so that three players begin inside the circle and three outside.
The three inside must keep possession, always attempting to switch with players on the outside of the circle by passing the ball to them. When they do this, they swap places with their team mate.
They gain a point for each successful pass out and player switch.
As before, the team of three gain a point by winning the ball and scoring in one of the three goals.
Play for 10 minutes then rotate players.
Why this works:
This is a great overload game that never allows players to relax. Because it is performed in a playing area that most aren’t accustomed to, they should be constantly aware of situations developing around them.
In the second exercise, the playing numbers are still 6v3, but the overload is not as obvious with players inside the circle feeling as though they are involved in a 3v3 small-sided game.
On each occasion, look for players to adapt their style of play to the way in which they can score points. The team of six should be looking to play a controlled passing game, while the team of three must be bold and ambitious in their attacking play.
Filed under: Soccer Coaching, Soccer Skills, Soccer Training, Soccer News, Soccer Fitness, Soccer Team Management, Soccer Refereeing, Dave Clarke | Tags: passing, Barcelona, control, drills, exercises, Bayern Munich, pass
This advanced passing and moving exercise gets players thinking about where they are moving as they control and pass the ball. It helps young players perfect the weight and accuracy of the pass while they are on the move and looking around them for the player to pass to.
How to set it up
- Set up an area 30 yards long by 20 yards, with a cone at each corner. Have a queue of players at the first cone and one player on the next three cones.
- The game is continuous but because there is a lot of passing and movement, it relies on your players to listen and then perform the tasks using good technique, running and passing skills.
What you want to see in your players
Follow the steps in the diagram. Your players will have to concentrate as you talk them through the steps. Read the diagram carefully so you can see how the ball is moving around the cones.
Make sure your players are concentrating on all the aspects of the exercise – passing, controlling, awareness and moving with ease around the cones. Explain to them that the weight of the pass and accuracy of the pass are vital to the exercise.
When you have run the exercise for 10 minutes (or less if you are only using a few players) have a drinks break then tell your players you want to see them do it again at full speed for five minutes. They will either be brilliant at it or have a great deal of fun and laugher trying to be brilliant at it!
End with a small-sided game where you want to see some of the aspects the players have learned in the session.
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Coaching, Soccer Fitness, Soccer News, Soccer Refereeing, Soccer Skills, Soccer Team Management, Soccer Training | Tags: awareness, look up, passing, see, shooting, vision, visual
This session from Kevin McGreskin is aimed at developing a player’s visual awareness by making them look up and know what their team mates are doing around them. In the session, players have to carry out a specific action in response to a visual cue which forces them to look before they pass or receive a pass.
How it works
In the picture above. Player 2 must only use three touches in the centre – one to control the ball, one to move it and one to pass.
Encourage players to call out the colour of the visual cue during the exercise. This is an important secondary task that increases the challenge for the players and gets them used to talking during play.
How to play it
You need three players, two balls and six markers.
Player 2 stands between two markers (one black, one white) approximately three yards apart.
Players 1 and 3 each have one black and one white marker.
Player 1 passes to player 2.
Player 2 must look around to "spot" the visual cue, held up by player 3.
Player 2 must then shift the ball around the same coloured marker as the visual cue.
Player 2 follows the ball and makes a return pass to player 1.
Player 2 turns and repeats with player 3. This time, player 1 will hold up the visual cue.
How to progress it
- Continue as above but player 2 must now "spot" a second visual cue, held up by player 3 in the picture, and call out the colour before making the return pass.
- Rotate players after they have had two turns.
Key coaching tips
Make sure players look over their shoulder before receiving a pass.
Players need a good touch to shift the ball out of their feet and beyond the cone.
Ensure players look up and correctly identify the second visual cue before making the return pass.
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