Archive for the ‘Drills/Exercises’ Category.

Coaching the Principles of Soccer

When you coach young players, it can be difficult to know where to start. Some coaches will focus onlyon developing technique without teaching the key elements of the game. But this can just stunt a young player’s development. When they don’t understand the game’s core principles, they won’t know where they need to be and why so they can use their  technique to create chances to score. To solve this age old problem, two experts in youth coaching have created Coaching the Principles of Soccer – Attack and Defense. This book presents a structured approach to developing an understanding of how the game is played and to provide them with a solid base on which they can develop.


The drills in Coaching the Principles of Soccer – Attack and Defense will Continue reading ‘Coaching the Principles of Soccer’ »

5 v 2 Progression

I feel confident in saying that most coaches use a 5 v 2 possession game in their training plan. It’s a great exercise that is a technical challenge but also requires the players to make good decisions about where to pass and how to support. Like any exercise, if you use it too often it can become stale and boring for the players. You can avoid this by using variations and progressions to increase pressure or change the focus of the drill.


Improving Your Team’s Possession Play by David Goldstein is a great resource for training your players to better understand the concepts that are important if you’re going to keep possession. It begins with the concepts and explanations important to possession play but also include a number of exercises to teach these concepts to players.

This 5 v 2 progression is from the drills and exercises section of Goldstein’s book.


5 v 2 Run Around Exercise: Grid size is as small as the players can handle with success.

I observed this exercise in a camp I was working at in Western Pennsylvania. It was being taught by a high school coach who deserves credit and recognition but after 20 plus years the name of the particular person sadly escapes me. The concept of the exercise is brilliant. The exercise causes everyone to constantly readjust their supporting positions.

The starting organization and the rules are all the same as 5v2. The big difference is one rule:

  • If a player passes the ball immediately to their left or right supportplayer they must make a run around them and back into the edge of the circle. If the ball is split across the circle the player making the pass does not have to run.

In essence this is a curved run. The player does not have to run if they pass the ball to a split person or if the pass is not to a player right next to them. Players only run if the ball is passed to the person on their left or right. This interchanging of people in support space means everyone is constantly moving to keep the left/right/split shape alive. It also starts to add flair and creativity to the environment. Players making runs around a player can receive the ball from flick passes and take over to escape high pressure. The exercise gets a bit confusing to players if two passes are sent to the right or left in a row. The player who is making the first curved run can stop running once the ball is passed again in the same direction. They do not overlap two players.


This diagram shows player 1 making the first pass and then the required curved run around the player that they passed the ball to too start the sequence. The pass is the dotted line from player 1 to player 3 and then the run around player 3 by player 1 is shown with a solid line. Notice that this run strips support on the right of player 3 and creates support on the left of player 3 by player 1 who is making the run around them. This will require all the other players to adjust their positions to create the left/right/split support shape.


Here, player 2 sharpens to supply support on the right of player 3. Player 4 sharpens to get in a split position between the two defenders in the middle of the circle. Player 1 has already finished their curved run around player 3 which supplied support on the left of player 3. These adjustments to supply support to player 3 helps players to learn about sharpening to create support. The runs may not be long ones in length but it is critical if possession is to be successful to the team in a match.


In this example, player 3 sends a split pass to player 4. Because the pass was not directly to the left or the right of player 3 the player does not have to make a run after the pass. However, player 2 and player 5 both have to sharpen into better support positions on the left and the right of player 4. The pass by player 3 to player 4 is shown with a dotted line that runs between the two defenders. The run by player 2 and player 5 are both solid lines into positions where their sharpening creates positions where the defenders won’t be able to intercept the ball.


Here, player 4 passes the ball directly to their right to player 5. This requires that player 4 make a run out and around player 5 to supply support on the right of player 5. Player 2 needs to make a run to replace the support on the left of player 5 and in this case the positioning of player 3 in the split pass requires no sharpening. The pass from player 4 to player 5 is shown with a dotted line. The run by player 4 around player 5 is shown with a solid line that is curved. The sharpening run by player 2 to supply support to player 5 on the left is marked with a solid straight line.


Finally, player A passes the ball to the right and starts to make the curved run out and around player B. Player B decides that the best pass for them is another pass to the right to player C. As player B starts their curved run out and around player C player A stops their run and supports player C on the left side. Player A does not try to overlap two players in a row. If the player they are overlapping has to overlap the next player to them then the first player stops their run. In the above instance player A would stop their run and fill the space that player B is vacating thus supporting player C on the left.

The defenders’ movement will help determine who gets to the left/right/split support but this is the general concept on the fly. The exercise gets a little messy if two passes to the right or left are made consecutively (See Diagram XI E, page 42) because the players start trying to overlap two people at a time. Again, the first overlapping player needs to just hold and support in the space newly created as the player making the new run around goes out and around.

Please share your variations or progressions on the 5 v 3 in the comments section below.

Have a great day!


Defending Against the 4-2-3-1

More and more teams at every level of the game are playing with a 4-2-3-1 so it makes sense to work with your team on how to defend against it. Using a 4-3-3 formation to counter a 4-2-3-1 can be an effective tactic. Teaching your back four and defensive center midfielder to deal with the striker and three midfielders of the 4-2-3-1 is a good place to start.


This session is taken from our book, ‘Beating the 4-2-3-1′ by Stevie Grieve. The book includes main real examples from games at the highest level and training sessions to teach the concepts to your team. Continue reading ‘Defending Against the 4-2-3-1’ »

Progressive Turning Practice

Turning is an important skill to develop because players often receive the ball with their back to pressure and need to have the ability to control the ball around that pressure and move the ball forward.

As with all soccer skills, they developed over time through a number of training sessions but below is one example of a practice that will lead your players through the learning process.


Each player has a ball except the first player in one of the lines. That player runs to show through the gate to receive a pass from the teammate across from them. That player then Continue reading ‘Progressive Turning Practice’ »

First Touch Training in ‘The Cage’

When I’m constructing an activity for a training session I try to make sure there is an opportunity for the players to work on their first touch. After all, every individual action begins with a first touch. A one touch pass is really just a controlled first touch to another player.

I also like use an exercise to specifically focus on the player’s first touch with a warm-up activity that I can not take credit for coming up with. I observed a very well respected local coach run this exercise with his team and I later asked him to break it down for me. Since then I’ve made it a regular part of every training cycle.

The Cage


Here is the basic set-up. You can add more ‘Cages’ on either side as long as you maintain the pattern so that flow remains the same.


Here is how the players pass and move from one station to the next. The passers follow their pass to join the back of the line behind the cage.

You can begin by asking the players to control the pass with one touch and then take another touch before dribbling out the SIDE of the cage. Allow the players to dribble out of either side at first but as the become comfortable with the pattern ask them to control the ball with one foot and dribble out of the cage with the other so that they are receiving the ball across their body.


Coaching Points

  • The receiver should check toward the ball and call for it to trigger the pass
  • Quality of pass
  • Lock your ankle when passing and receiving the ball to create a solid surface to control the ball
  • Absorb the energy of the ball and direct it where you want it to go



  • Control the with inside of one foot and then use the outside of the same foot to dribble out of the cage
  • Control with the outside of the foot and then take a second touch with the same surface to dribble out
  • Receive with the inside of either foot across the body so that the ball goes through the side of the cage with one touch
  • Receive with the outside of either foot so that  the ball goes through the side of the cage with one touch
  • Open up to receive the ball with the back foot and play in out the BACK of the cage with the next touch

There are many other techniques you can ask the players to perform but these are the first ones I use.


As a further progression, the passer becomes a defender that pressures the receiver. You can ask the defender to pressure the attacker on the same side that they receive the ball to force the attacker to move away from that space or allow the defender to choose where he pressures.


You can also have the pressure come from behind and challenge the next player in line to try to touch the ball away from the receiver so that he can work to move the ball away from that type of pressure.


Having the passers throw the ball in to the receiver challenges them with a more difficult ball to control. All of the previous progressions can also be used with a ball that is thrown rather than passed on the ground.

Do you have any other ways that this format can be used to develop the players first touch? Please leave them in the comments section below.

Have a great day!


Game Realistic 1 v 1′s

When many coaches create 1 v 1 environments for their team it’s limited to an attacker facing a defender who then tries to beat him to score. This certainly occurs during games but there are so many more scenarios that players need to learn how to deal with. This week I want to present ways to make the same old 1 v 1 exercise realistic to more scenerios that occur in a match.

A simple way to adjust the traditional 1 v 1 exercise is to change the position of the players and angle of the passes.


The angle gives the defender the opportunity to Continue reading ‘Game Realistic 1 v 1′s’ »

Train Like the Dutch

There are a number of books that I return to again and again for ideas and inspiration. Dutch Total Football is one of those books.


The author, Terry Michler, has studied the Dutch methodology over many years. This book is a in-depth review of all aspects of their system. It includes a history of Dutch soccer beginning with Continue reading ‘Train Like the Dutch’ »

Combinations in Attack

These two activities that focus on attacking combination play are from a session contributed to the WORLD CLASS COACHING magazine by Renato Lopes Moreira. A new edition of the magazine is available each month as a part of the Member Drills Database. The rest of this article can be found in the March 2014 issue.

1v1+2 Continue reading ‘Combinations in Attack’ »

The Art of the Duel

These 1 v 1 exercises are from our latest book by Tony Englund, ‘The Art of the Duel‘. Here’s what Anson Dorrance has to say about Englunds book:

‘I am thrilled to endorse Tony Englund’s new book on 1 v 1 play.  The game in the United States continues to evolve at an astounding pace.  American coaches now have easy access to coaching methodology and training curriculum that is world class in every sense, and our players are increasingly Continue reading ‘The Art of the Duel’ »

Transitioning From Indoor to Outdoor Soccer

While much of what I do during the Futsal season is intended relate to soccer in general and not just Futsal, there is still an adjustment period that my teams go through when we move from indoor to outdoor. The two areas that I focus on during the transition are recognizing and playing longer passes and finishing with a different ball, on the larger goal.

Shooting sessions to prepare the players for the different Continue reading ‘Transitioning From Indoor to Outdoor Soccer’ »