Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Possession and penetration


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

Non-directional practice

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.

Directional practice

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.  

Let your players be creative: Switching play

davidscwnewThis 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.

Getting started:

  • 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.

Game situation:

  • 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.

Simple defensive block session


This game works on reactive speed and forces the players to work at match speed in order to be successful.

Set up an area 25 yards square with three poles, three balls and one goal.

The steps

  1. Split your players into two lines with one line acting as defenders and one line as the attackers.
  2. The players pass the ball back and forth. On your whistle, they quickly run around their poles.
  3. The attacker must then shoot first time and the defender must try to clear the ball or block the shot.

What to call out

  • “React”
  • “Get in line with the ball”
  • “Stop the shot”

Receive, control, turn, dribble

This move is designed to get players focused on receiving the ball and moving off. It relies on a good first touch and develops into a passage of play that can open up space for your team to exploit.

How to set it up

  • You need three players for this exercise, plus a good number of balls and cones. Create a two-yard square control box.

  • From each of the two left-hand cones of the box, walk diagonally for 12 yards and create two more identical coned squares.

  • From each of the two right-hand cones of the box, measure five yards at a slight angle, placing two cones at these points.

Getting started

  • Two players in the left-hand boxes take it in turns to play balls to the player in the control box.

  • Get the serving players to pass balls at different heights so the player gets used to controlling it with different parts of his body.

  • The receiving player must control the ball with one touch, ensuring he keeps it within the square.

  • He turns after controlling the ball and dribbles it to the top cone, then sprints to the second cone.

  • He leaves the ball at the second cone and sprints back to his control box, ready to receive a pass from the other server.

Why this works

This is a fast-paced move that combines instant control with the need to get the ball and the player on the move quickly.

Making your player vary his turning direction once he has received the ball will shape his mindset so that he is always aware he may need to turn away from tackles coming in during a normal game.