Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Running from deep – whole-part-whole session


Many defenders and midfielders think that once the ball has been fed to a striker, their job is done. But they should be supporting the front men by running past them and into unmarked attacking areas.

So here’s a session that helps players understand the value of supporting play and passing into dangerous areas of the pitch. It uses "whole-part-whole" coaching – namely going straight into a game, then breaking things down to show players coaching detail, then back to the game.

How to play it

  • Set up as shown in the pictures above – this is a 6v6 game (including keepers).

  • One player from each team stays in the zone in front of the goal – the target man, who can only use one or two-touch. He cannot score and can only assist others.


  • The game starts with teams looking to score in the opponent’s goal.

  • Using peeled, overlapping or blindside runs, players must create space to receive the ball then shoot at goal.

  • Play for 10 minutes to allow players to get a feel for the game.


  • Change the game now to focus on the movement from deep of the supporting players.

  • Now all players start in the same half, with the defending team’s target man moved back to the halfway line.

  • The attacking team combines to feed a pass to its target man before attacking the goal.

  • If the defending team turns over possession, it can attack the other goal by passing to its target player on the halfway line. Players have only three touches before they must shoot but their players cannot be tackled.

  • Play for five attacks then switch teams over so both teams experience the same conditions.


  • Replay the first part again. This time, you will find players automatically making more runs from deep.

Technique and tactics

  • Players have to make supporting runs because the target man can only play the ball back to a team mate to create goalscoring chances.

  • Runs from deep involve movement to lose a player, to reach a position for the target player to pas to them, to use good technique in order to control or shoot at goal.

  • Players should use different types of passes to find the target player and must support from deep with a wide variety of well-timed and well-angled runs.


Cross on the run with Tony Carr


This session emphasises the importance of delivering accurate crosses from wide areas to create good attacking moves. The more accurate your players become, the more effective your team will be when attacking.

Ball carriers have to think about where their team mates are, and where is the best place to play the ball to maximise their attacking options.

The best place for a wide player to aim for is the space between the six yard box and the penalty spot. If your attackers know this is the area where the ball is going to be crossed, they can attack it to meet the ball.

The wide player must try to keep the cross away from the goalkeeper.

When the cross is played, the player must turn their upper body in the direction of the ball and think about the height, weight and timing.

How to play it

Using half a pitch, you need a goal and a goalkeeper. Have a goal at either end when you develop it into a game.

Split players into two groups. The first lines up between the penalty area and the touch line, while the second lines up centrally outside the penalty area. Both groups start 25 yards to 30 yards from goal, although this can vary depending on the age and ability of the players.

The players from the first group take it in turns to run with a ball until they pass a marker, and cross to a player from the second group who has made a run into the penalty area.

Players receiving the cross attempt to score with a first time shot. Make the two groups switch roles, and also get players to cross from the other side of the pitch.

How to develop it

Introduce a third line of players who attack the cross from the far post area. Now the wide players have to make a decision on where to cross the ball. Add a defender in the penalty area who actively competes for the ball.

Play it in a game

Set up a pitch that’s wider than normal and play a small-sided game with two goals and goalkeepers. Play normal football, but make goals scored from crosses count double.

Tony Carr is the Academy Director of West Ham United in the English Premier League

The Lone Ranger – wins the ball and beats the keeper


Although this game is heavily weighted in favour of the passing team, the
need to make 10 consecutive passes puts pressure on the players in a
tight area.

If the defender does manage to force a mistake, he needs to show stamina
and composure to make his efforts count by scoring a goal. Collective pressure and individual responsibility are key elements of what
makes players and teams successful.

How to set it up:

  • This game uses two teams of four players.

  • One works as the passing team. The other works as defenders, though only one player works at a time.

  • Create a playing area measuring 40×25 yards.

  • At one end, place a goal and goalkeeper.

  • At the other, mark out a 10-yard square centred on the far touchline.

The rules:

  • The passing team of four players works in the 10-yard square, passing
    the ball around and attempting to retain possession.

  • One at a time, each player in the defending team must enter the area
    and attempts to win possession from the passers.

  • If the defending player manages to force a mistake or win possession,
    he leaves the ball where it is and runs towards the other goal. Receiving a pass from you, he tries to score past the keeper.

  • The defending team gains a point for each goal scored.

  • The passing team scores a point for each set of 10 consecutive passes.

  • When the passing team manages to make 10 consecutive passes, the
    defender is replaced.

  • Each defender has two attempts at winning the ball in the 10-yard
    square during each game.

  • Swap teams and repeat the game so players experience both roles.

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.  

Pre season: coaching the individual

DCI’ve had a bunch of letters this week from coaches and parents asking about individual training when their child is not getting enough from their club, or coaches who are facing a new season and want to give their players something they can do at home.

Individual training will often depend on the resources of the club – are there enough balls for every player to have one for instance. What I often do is get the parents to bring a ball to training so every player has their own ball. Of course not everyone remembers (or can be bothered) to bring a ball but I can cover those with the club balls.

Once you have them all with a ball then you can do individual skills like running and turning or throwing the ball in the air and controlling it with their first touch. I’m lucky at my club because the training area has a wall that I can get players to pass to and receive it back off the wall.

I set up a dribbling line of cones quite far apart so players can run at speed with the ball, then five yards from the wall I put a cone where players must stop, pass, receive back, turn and run back. you can set up a few of these and players can run constantly between the cones.

Add into the mix some individual keepy-uppys where individuals can try and keep the ball in the air with any part of their body except their hands. I’m sure a lot of coaches have their own ideas and I’d be interested to hear them.

Click here to go to my Forum to read ideas or add your own.

Watch this video clip that has some more ideas for individual training:

Running with the ball – like Theo Walcott

There is no finer sight whether you’re watching junior soccer or professionals to see a player running at with the ball under control and destroying the other team.

This is why you shouldn’t tell your players to always pass the ball when they have created space. If they run into that space they are threatening the opposition causing them to react in a different way. Running at a back four means the defenders are caught between going to the runner with the ball and the other attackers moving into dangerous positions.

If they are pressed and can’t beat the player then they can pass and the result will be another player running into space.

Very difficult to defend against. It’s running with the ball and facing 1v1 decisions on the way to goal. I they can run with the ball the whole way they will have split the opposition defence open and have a good chance of scoring.

Give your players the freedom to run with the ball and don’t tell them off if they lose it!

Watch Theo Walcott do it below:

Train like Michael Bradley and Charlie Davies: My tips to make fast footwork fun

By Dave Clarke

David ClarkeFast feet, dribble, pass then finish. Now that would be impressive, but follow my tips for giving players fast feet, then get them to do the drill at the end from Pierre Barrieu the fitness coach for the US national team and you will find your players are able to do this on match days.

1. Obstacles

Use cones, kit bags, flag poles, players bodies, tracksuits and balls. Put them all on the ground as alternatives to specialist ladders. Make the players move through these obstacles, making sure they do not step on any.

2. Fast feet adventure courses

Set up courses which require lots of different footwork skills. Each player can be timed over the course, with seconds added for failure to complete a section correctly. For instance station one could be jumping back and forward over a kit bag six times, followed by a zig-zag through cones, then running backwards through some poles.

3. Slow, fast, slow

Sometimes footwork can become repetitive, without challenging the player. Change the rhythm of the footwork session by changing the pace of the activity. A fast foot exercise can be made harder by using small hurdles or poles laid flat on the ground and players have to go at different speeds through them.

Watch this clip of Pierre Barrieu the fitness coach for the US national team, with Charlie Davis and Michael Bradley from the US team. You can set this up and play it with your team:

 Soccer Skills and Drills