Archive for the ‘Drills/Exercises’ Category.

Teaching Build Up Play Progressively Part 2

This session builds on the one I described in last week’s post. The focus of this session on taking the shapes and patterns that were taught in the last session and making them more function.

This is a session I did with my U9 team. In our area we play 6 v 6 at this age so that’s how we set up the game related patterns.

2 v 2 + 3


This is really a 5 v 2 game at it’s heart. The idea is to Continue reading ‘Teaching Build Up Play Progressively Part 2’ »

Teaching Build Up Play Progressively Part 1

I’ve written before about our club’s philosophy that encourages teams of all ages to play out of the back as often as possible. The key to implementing this with your team is to teach the players what visual cues to look for so that they can see patterns in the options that are available.

These are the exercises we’ve used to teach our young players how to build from the back.

Diamond Passing


This is a simple pass-follow-your-pass pattern but it’s an easy exercise that you can use to teach the players to create an angle for the passer, open their body to face both the passer and the player they will pass to, use their ‘back foot’ to control the ball toward their next pass and then pass to the next player.

There are multiple progressions to this basic pattern which also make it a good starting point.

4 v 1


Starting with a low level of pressure will give the players a chance to see their options clearly and also give them time to make the right pass.

The focus here is on creating the passing angles to support the player on the ball so that they always have a least two choices. If the defender takes away a pass to one side or the other the pass can still be made to the opposite side or through the middle to the far side.

4 v 2


Once the players can easily keep possession away from one defending it’s a natural progression to add a second defender. This limits the choices of the player on the ball. The defenders may be able to take away two of the passing options but if the support is good then there should always be a third option; a pass to the right, left or split.

4 v 4 + 3 Target to Target

This looks very similar to the players because the grid is divided into two zones. But the goal is to move the ball from the target on one end to the other.

4 v 4 + 3


By removing the separation this turns into a more open game but the players need to understand that to keep possession they must spread the field when they are in possession. At first it is helpful to give the players a certain quadrant to play in. This makes it easy to see where they should open up when their team gains possession and where they should pinch in when defending.

I end this session with a 6 v 6 game to see if the players can apply what they’ve been taught to a game.

In the next post we will build on the ideas taught in this practice and apply them to a formation in a match.

Have a great day!


Three Different Ways to Organize a Training Session

As a young coach I always organized my session in the same way: simple to complex. This is the way I was taught through the my USSF Licensing Courses and this was what I always stuck to. Only in the last few years have I found that there is more than one way to have an effective training session. The three methods I use now are: Simple to Complex, Whole/Part/Whole and a Multi-Themed Session.

Here is an excerpt from an excellent article that Sporting KC Goalkeeper Coach, John Pascarella wrote for the October 2013 edition of the WORLD CLASS COACHING Magazine. It explains the both the Simple to Complex and Whole/Part/Whole methods very well.



Coaching Pedagogy

Pedagogy is simply the “ART” of coaching or teaching.   Neither coaching nor teaching is a true science.  If it were then any soccer coach could follow the specific formula and develop skill and tactical sense in players.  The fact is, coaches have to be able to feel and sense what players need and know how to get this information across to them.  They must adjust to the setting and personalities of their players.

Players all have different learning styles.  They don’t always understand things as we are trying to explain them.   It’s our job as coaches to “meet them where they’re at.”  In both coaching (and teaching) there are various methods or teaching tools that coaches can use as a progression to get players to understand and learn both skills and tactics.  You should pick and choose from your coaching pedagogy tool box as the situation dictates.

Simple to complex – This method is preferred by US Soccer, taking an idea or skill from its simplest form and slowly adding in more difficult aspects until you are teaching the entire skill or tactic as it appears in the real game.

Teaching the “Whole” – Can be used for simple skills.  For example, bouncing a basketball could be taught using the whole method.  In soccer, a simple inside the foot pass could be taught this way.

Teaching “Parts” – When a skill is complex or has numerous parts such as the triple jump, in track and field, it is easier to break it down into its more simplified parts instead of teaching it all at once.

Chaining/Linking – When you have a complex skill (like the triple jump example used above) you can take each part and teach them separately but in sequential order so as to link the separate parts of the skill into the whole.  Using the triple jump example you could initially teach the hop.  Then progress to the hop and step and finally linking it all together with the hop, step and jump.  Using a soccer example, let’s discuss the skill of teaching a player to receive the ball from one side of the field, open up and switch play with a long diagonal ball to the other side of the field.  You could first teach a player how to move so he can receive a pass on his back foot.  Then progress to taking it on the back foot to open up and move in the opposite direction.  Finally, you could add driving a diagonal ball to the opposite wing after first receiving and opening up to the opposite side

Whole/Part/Whole – This model is taught by the French Football Federation in their Elite Formation License.  Initially the athlete (or team) attempts the whole skill and the coach monitors to identify those parts of the skill that the athlete is not executing correctly. Part instruction can then be used to address the limitations and then the athlete can repeat the whole skill with the coach monitoring for any further limitations. In soccer, I believe, this is a great way to teach tactical ideas and principles of the game.

It’s this last piece, the coaching of tactical ideas and principles of the game, I would like to discuss further, using US Soccer’s simple to complex methodology and comparing it to the FFF’s model of Whole/Part/Whole.

Different strokes for different folks

Differing processes with the same ultimate goal is the way I would describe differing coaching methodologies.  US Soccer believes that taking the concept from smaller, simpler steps and progressing to more game realistic activities is the most efficient way to teach the game.  The FFF believes you should start with the whole game (although this may be a modified version of the real game) then break it down into its smaller parts before finally progressing to the whole game again – often a different game than you began with but still focusing on the same basic theme.


I will most commonly use the Whole/Part/Whole method as the second training session in a week. During Monday’s session I will move from simple to complex in order to teach the skill or tactical concept. Then on Wednesday I’ll begin with the Phase of Play exercise or Small- Sided game we finished the Monday session with. I’ll have a couple of ideas of how what we still need to work on but I’ll also watch to see what the players still have difficulty with and often work on that rather than what I had planned.

The third format I use for my training session is a Mutli-Themed approach. This has worked best for teaching individual skills over the coarse of a season through our club’s Technical Training Days and as a late season session when I don’t want to introduce anything new but I want the players to be sharp in all of the areas we’ve worked on throughout the coarse of the season.

A Multi-Themed session might include a dribbling warm-up, Dutch Square passing sequence, Possession Game, Passing (or Dribbling) to Shoot and end with a Small-Sided game. This is a great ‘sharpener’ right before an important end of the season tournament.

There is obviously more than one correct way to do anything and I’m sure many of you have different ways that you organize your sessions. I’d love to read about them in the comments section below. If you have an innovative idea or approach we may even invite you to write an article on the subject for our magazine.

Have a great day!


Position Specific Training

I think that much of our time as coaches is spent teaching all of the players the same thing. There is obviously a place for this at the younger ages when they just need to learn the basics. But in my opinion, as the player get to be 12 and 13 there is a place for position specific training.

Learning the roles and responsibilities of a particular position will allow the players to apply the technical skills that they’ve learned to the place on the field they will be playing. The options are different for a wide midfielder than they are for a center midfielder and the more comfortable we, as coaches, can Continue reading ‘Position Specific Training’ »

Preseason Sessions with a New Team

When I start coaching a new team I try to schedule a four day camp before our normal training schedule begins. Having four straight days with the team allows us all to get to know each other and lets me see what kind of players I’ll be working with.

The sessions I present depend on the age and level of experience of the players. This year I started coaching a U12 girls team so the examples I give here will be based on that age group. They are a very competitive group of girls that have all played at a high level locally so I also take that into consideration while planning the sessions.

Regardless of the age group I like to start out the first day with Continue reading ‘Preseason Sessions with a New Team’ »

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!