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.


We lost 2-1 but it created a great session

David Clarke

2v1/3v2 transition game

OK, I’m going to say it – my team absolutely pummelled their opponents at the weekend and, yes, you guessed it, we lost 2-1. The number of times my players had an overload in their favour in front of goal was unbelievable and yet they didn’t exploit a single chance.

So what will we be working on this week? This session which exploits 2v1s and 3v2s in front of goal.

How it works

The advantage switches as the attack changes direction after every phase of play.

How to set it up

Use a 40 yards by 30 yards area with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end.

How to play it

  • The central player dribbles on to the pitch and passes to one of the two opponents.

  • Immediately, a 2v1 situation begins.

  • Once this ball is played, two team mates join the defender and a 3v2 game commences in the opposite direction.

Rotate your players

  • Rotate the players’ positions so both teams have a chance to attack 2v1 and 3v2.

8v4 game – Get your coaching point across with overloads

David Clarke

Playing with overloads is a great way to get achieve your coaching focus. I often play games achieve success for players in certain aspects of the game. In this 8v4 game for instance, the overloads created and the set up means I can see switching play, short passing, long passing, good control and technique for the team of 8 and the team of 4 needs quick thinking and shooting to win the session

This game gets players practising different aspects of possession play and movement. When shooting at the targets, the scoring team must combine to goalscoring effect, while for the in-circle passing team the aim is to find a way past the opposition. The passing team outside the circle must be mobile and able to position themselves in the best way so as to receive the ball.

dave clarke

How to set it up:

  • Mark out a 30-yard diameter circular pitch (with markers or cones if necessary).

  • Place four goals at four equal points around the edge of the circle.

  • There is one team of eight players, the passing team.

  • The other team has four players, the scoring team.

  • The passing team starts with four on the pitch and four off the pitch.

  • The scoring team starts with all four players on the pitch.

The rules:

  • The passing team must attempt to keep possession at all times, playing out to their team-mates positioned outside the circle.

  • The player passing the ball must go to the outside whilst the receiving player dribbles into the playing area.

  • The scoring team must get the ball into the target goals.

  • The passing team get a point for each successful switch.

  • Play for a time period to be designated by the coach, then gradually rotate groups of four players so that each team gets the opportunity to perform in each role.