Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Control the game without the ball


An important characteristic of modern teams is their ability to control the game even when they haven’t got the ball. The whole team plays a part in this tactic with the intention of forcing the opposition into awkward situations.

The formation succeeds by covering all avenues of opposition attack, meaning that play is stifled. It relies on pressing as soon as the opposition has the ball. The defending team always keeps the action in front of them and tries to stop any balls through the centre or in behind.

This tactic requires good fitness from players because it is hard work. And for pressing to work, the team must prevent any switches of play as this will give overload initiatives to attackers. But performed well, the game rewards are significant.

How to set it up:

  • Set up an area measuring 30×20 yards. Make three 10-yard zones across the width of the pitch.

  • You will need bibs, cones, balls and goals.

  • The players in the middle zone must prevent other teams passing through them.

  • This featured session uses nine players split into groups of three (one group in each area), but it will work with any equal denominations.

  • No balls are allowed over head height.

  • Players are restricted to two touches.

Getting started:

  • Play starts with either end zone team. Players pass amongst themselves before threading a ball through to the team in the opposite end zone.

  • For the first two minutes, the middle team is not allowed to move any player out of its zone.

  • After two minutes, allow one player from the middle zone to go forward into the an end zone to press the ball. Play this for three minutes.

  • If the ball is intercepted, play restarts at the other end.

  • Rotate play so that each team fulfils defensive duties in the middle.

Now try this:

  • Remove the zones and add two goals, with a keeper in each. Also add a halfway line.

  • Keep the teams in threes but this time the middle team attacks one end, then turns and attacks the other.

  • The outer two teams must defend the area and clear the ball using the pressing technique.

  • If a goal is scored, play restarts with the middle group and they attack in the opposite direction. If a tackle is made, the defenders’ reward is to now switch places with the middle group, thus becoming the attackers.

Why this works:

Pressing the ball is a great tactic for winning back possession. This activity shows the value in doing that, compared to standing off waiting to intercept. Pressing means opposition players rarely settle on the ball and mistakes can be forced, either through poor control or a rushed pass.


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.

Hold player focus with a twist

David ClarkeYou know how we are taught that your players must focus on you during your pre-match team talk and not be chatting or pushing or playing with a ball?

Well try this instead. I get my players to concentrate on this core body strength warm up while they are listening to me talk about the game or training session they are about to take part in.

I think it works, let me know if you do…

How to do it

  • Start by sitting down, only your bottom will be touching the ground during the exercise.
  •  Lean back slightly.
  •  Feet off the ground with ankles crossed.
  •  Bend knees slightly.
  •  Touch ball to ground on each side.
  •  Keep arms straight.
  •  Ten touches each side then rest for 30 seconds.
  •  Do three sets.

How to advance it

  • Keep legs straight.
  • Try the same exercise using a medicine ball (if you have one, or try different sized balls).

Soccer workouts and exercises

Are your attacking fullbacks fit for purpose?

DCWatching my fullback in a match this week he was having to work really hard to get up and down the pitch.

We’ve been working on setting the ball back into midfield and getting our fullbacks to support on the wings with balls played wide to them from deep in our defence. It was a tactic working very well and we created numerous chances at the far post.

But I noticed as the match wore on my fullback was less inclined to run wide onto through balls. He had worn himself out running up and down the pitch. It is true of modern fullbacks that their role involves a lot of support play in attack as well as defence.

If you take a fullback like Patrice Evra at Manchester United you will know what I mean. His training sessions are based around fitness and agility as well as tactics and skills. Watch the clip below of Evra training and try some of the exercises with your teams I have and find they work really well for fullbacks.

Thursday’s sweat is Saturday’s glory

DCPutting the effort in at training is important and I always want to see my players trying their best at training sessions. But they need a framework to do so….

The exercises and drills you use must be relevant to the coaching point you are getting across.

This week I wanted to work on the agility of my players as well as other aspects of fitness. I find that one of the best ways to do this is set up an agility course that I can show them being worked on by players from the English Premier League.

Watching EPL players doing something often makes youth players work harder and that is something you want at every training session.

Practice is how your players develop so what they work on during your coaching sessions is what they take with them to the next match – a poor training session often results in a poor game.

How do players weave in and out of defenders easily , or jump over a defender at an awkward angle to avoid being tackled or fouled?

So we worked on this session this week that I set up and showed the players in action on my laptop, watch it below:

Fit to last the whole match

I’ve had to work hard this season on getting my U10s to play their best right to the end. Tiredness in the last 10 minutes has been creating stressful ends to games with us letting in late goals. Endurance is as relevant to your match play as scoring goals because you want your team to perform at their best the whole game.

If your players are fit and up to speed they will be able to put even the best teams under pressure. Don’t waste the speed of your players by letting them stay unfit, you’ll be surprised how much quicker you can make a young player simply by getting them fit.

Working on fitness can be done in small bursts during your coaching session. You can use the warm up time to put players through their paces with a fitness.

Try this simple step jump with your players.

  • Stand beside a cone or soft object to be cleared.
  • Bring knees up and jump vertically but also laterally off ground and over the marker.
  • Land on both feet and jump back in the other direction.
  • Ground contact time should be minimal – don’t dip into a full squat position.
  • Repeat for 15 seconds and a total of 6 sets.
  • Rest 30 seconds between sets.

A soccer coaching ladder to success

I’ve been discussing the use of speed ladders on my Soccer Coach Weekly forum. It seems a lot of you use speed ladders but would like more exercises to use with them. In Soccer Coach Weekly I run fitness drills, but I am never sure how many coaches have access to them.

You can use flat cones for speed ladders placed so your players have space to put both feet down quickly and move through them in the same way you would a speed ladder – like one of the forum members suggests.

Early on in my coaching career I was given a speed ladder when I bought a full kit for my team. So I did a bit of research into using them – and I think most sports should use them and will get the benefits of speed and coordination that they promise. And for a pre-season it’s a very good way

Here’s two drills which I use with my young players to help with their coordination:

Sideways double feet

  • Stand side on to the ladder, feet in the first square
  • Running action, moving sideways through the ladder
  • Each foot contacts each square once
  • Ground contacts on balls of feet
  • Emphasise upright posture & coordinated arm action
  • Repeat 5 times. Rest 60 seconds between repetitions.

Forward hops – 3 in 1 out

  • Hop forward on one leg
  • One hop in each square
  • Every 3 hops step once out of the ladder onto the other leg
  • Continue this sequence until ladder is complete
  • Ground contact on balls of feet
    Strength & powerHow of pass / shot12
  • Repeat 5 times.
  • Rest 60 seconds between repetitions.