Posts tagged ‘Passing’

Technical Passing Practices Using Different Shapes

Once we’ve taught players the proper technical components of passing (foot next to the ball, toes out and up, ankle locked, pass through the middle of the ball) then the natural progression is to have the players pass and move in a pattern in order to accommodate team of players and to replicate the shapes found inside of the game.

The most widely used shape is probably the classic ‘Dutch Square’


Continue reading ‘Technical Passing Practices Using Different Shapes’ »

A First Touch with a Purpose

The most important touch is a player’s first touch. If that touch is a positive touch away from pressure and in the direction that they want to play there is a much greater chance of keeping possession. When the first touch is poor, into pressure and away from support, the chances of losing the ball are much greater. If your player’s first touch is putting them into a tackle, it was a poor first touch.

The key to having a good first touch is giving that touch a purpose. Too often players are only concerned with Continue reading ‘A First Touch with a Purpose’ »

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!


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!


Build Up Play Through Quick Passing

This weeks posts is from the May edition of WORLD CLASS COACHING magazine that is available exclusively to Member Drills Database subscribers.

The training session was contributed by Kevin Thelwell who is the Head of Football Development and Recruitment for Wolverhampton Wanderers. Reed has been working with professional clubs for more than 13 years. He has earned a UEFA A License and is working toward his UEFA Pro License.

This session is specifically about build up play and providing players with the opportunity to understand specific patterns of play in keeping with the playing style of our club.

We believe it is fundamental that players understand their roles and responsibilities when we are in possession of the ball and are clear on how to progress the ball quickly and securely from one area of the pitch to another.

These activities combine the practice of both core technical skills and tactical understanding to support our players in refining these abilities.

Why is it important to practice this?
In the modern game it is no secret that the most successful teams are those that maintain good possession of the ball and limit the number of turnovers of the ball to the opposition. On this basis it is vital that our teams use the ball well when in possession and are clear about how they wish to play.



Building from the Back to Score

Two attackers and two defenders are positioned in front of each goal. Two neutral midfielders are between these to groups of players. The remaining players serve as neutral wingers on the outside of the playing area. Two lines of cones running along the width of the 18 yard box through to the half way line.

The neutral contact midfield players build the attack and always play for the team in possession. The two neutral wide players are positioned in each corner of the pitch to support attacking movements.

To begin, a goalkeeper serves a ball to either wide player to start an attack. For each attack both wide players (left and right) are involved and support the progression of the ball by moving with the attack of the team, finishing at the opposite end of the practice.

The forwards for both teams are passive defensively and participate only when their team is attacking. All defenders are ‘live’ at all times.

The attacking team plays until a goal is scored, the ball goes out of bounds or the goalkeeper gains possession. A new attack by the opposition beginning with their keeper serving to a wider player (as previous) attacks the goal at the opposite end of the field.

What do I get the player to do?
The players have the opportunity to practice and work on several patterns of play that are important to our playing philosophy when we are in possession of the ball (see next diagram).

It is important to focus on key technical aspects including quality and tempo of passing, body position to receive and movements to receive the ball. However there is also a strong tactical emphasis to develop understanding between players around specific patterns of play.

GK serves into a wide area, Defenders drop into supporting positions. The ball is switch via a neutral central player and both defenders to the opposite wide player.

  • On this occasion the neutral central on the side of the ball drops deep to receive from the wide player. This player combines with central players to switch play.
  • The forward on the side of the ball drops deeper ‘in between the units’ to create a three in midfield. He combines with central players to switch play.
  • Nearest central player runs forward creating spaces for central player 2 to receive the ball and switch play.

What are the key things to look for?
Timing of movements to receive the ball are very important especially as they must be coordinated with other players.
Passing must also be of a high standard with the ball circulated quickly and securely.




How do I develop the Session?
Allow forward players to become active at all times thus pressurizing all players in possession, creating a 8 v 4 overload.
Add in opposing central midfielders creating 2v2 in central midfield, thus an 8 v 6 overload.
Ensure players handle the ball under pressure by conditioning the practice so that they cannot pass directly back to a ‘neutral’ wide player they received the ball from.

11 v 6 Overloaded Using Three-Quaters of the Pitch
The goalkeeper serves to any player in the back four who transfer the ball quickly using the patterns focused on in the previous practice.

Overloads can now be created in wide areas via a quick switch of play including wide players coming inside the pitch with full backs overlapping.



Build towards an 11 v 11 practice by positioning four attackers on the goal line of the attacking team. If possession is lost then these players can now enter play and a counter attack can be launched.

Once the counterattack is complete, these four players leave the pitch and return to their starting positions with the team of 11 players having another opportunity to build up play.

We find that this is an important practice in teaching our young players about maintaining possession of the ball and prioritising how to pass the ball securely.



Build towards an 11 v 11 practice by positioning four attackers on the goal line of the attacking team. If possession is lost then these players can now enter play and a counter attack can be launched.

Once the counterattack is complete, these four players leave the pitch and return to their starting positions with the team of 11 players having another opportunity to build up play.

We find that this is an important practice in teaching our young players about maintaining possession of the ball and prioritizing how to pass the ball securely.

You can see hundreds of other sessions like this in the Member Drills Database. Right now you can get more than $370 in eBooks and Videos along with access to the Member Drills Database with our Ultimate Soccer Coaching Collection.

Have a great day!


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!


W Passing Pattern

The use of shapes in passing patterns is very common. Most coaches will be familiar with diamond and square passing patterns. The Dutch are fond of ‘Y’ passing patterns. A pattern that I had not run across before, but transfers beautifully to game situations, is the ‘W’ pattern. I found it in The Complete Soccer Coaching Guide. This book by Chris Apple includes 76 complete training sessions. The one I’ve included below is a great example of the innovative coaching described in this book.




 W Passing
Groups of eight or more players, each pass is 12-15 yards away. Pass and follow, the last player receives and speed dribbles back to where the pattern started. Each player should be playing two touch, opening up with their first touch and using the same foot to play the pass.


Progression 1
A plays B; B uses 2 touches to open up and play C and then supports C; C Lays off to B; B clips a ball in the air to E; E settles one touch for D who is close in support; D plays a 1-2 to return ball to E who speed dribbles to A.


 Progression 2
A plays B; B used 2 touches to open up and play C; C half turns and plays E; E opens up and plays and 1-2 with D; E receives the 1-2 and speed dribbles Back to line A.

Small-Sided Possession
8 v 4 in a 25×20 yard playing space.
The team with eight plays one touch, the team with four have unlimited touches when they win it.
Play two min games counting passes; each person gets one chance being the 4-player team and two being on the 8-player team.
Coaching Focus is on the 8 players and their movement.

11 v 11 Tactical Work
We work on our 11 man shape playing vs a 3-5-2. Looking to exploit their outside backs and the space in the corners. Defensively making sure our weak side WMF and a FW tuck so that we are not out manned in the Center of Midfield.

Do you have other shapes that you use to in passing combinations?

Have a great day!


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’ »