All posts by Tom Mura

Possession with Transition

By Steven Smith

Over the River

Objectives: Increase possession skills while training fitness and transition. Increase the ability to defend in small groups.

Set-Up

This activity is designed to increase possession skills while focusing on transition, fitness and defensive pressure. It is perhaps one of the most challenging fitness possession games for a senior level team.

The concept is for two teams to keep the ball for 6-8 consecutive passes and then switch the ball to the next grid over (across the river) in the air to complete a point. The level of difficulty is determined by the space of the possession grid, the intensity and numbers of the opposing team and the distance of the gap between the two possession grids (the river).

Execution

Two possession grids are set up approximately 25 yards by 35 yards in size with a 20-yard gap between the two fields. Three teams of seven are divided evenly with a black group trying to maintain possession in one grid and complete 6 to 8 passes and then send the ball in the air to the yellow team for possession in the next grid over and past the gap (river) space.

The defenders form the third group and stay outside of the grids until a ball is served by the coach into one of the grids. Once the ball is received by the black team three or four of the defenders must enter the grid to try to break up the possession. If the defenders are able to knock the ball out of the grid, the coach serves to the yellow team and the defenders in that group enter the yellow possession grid to try to knock the ball out of that grid as well. 

The possession group is successful by completing the 6 to 8 passes (coach’s preference on difficulty). Once the predetermined number of passes is achieved the defenders stop but the possession group has a free pass to send to the opposite grid. If the ball does not reach the opposite grid in the air then no point is scored! Once the ball has reached the new grid the cycle of possession and crossing the river continues.

 

The coach can determine the length of the game by time or by points achieved or number of balls served. Once the end of the game is achieved the defending color group changes with each successive game. A full cycle for the game is three complete games. Always give a reward for the winning team at the end of a three game cycle.

Variations

The group sizes can be uneven and therefore the coach can predetermine how many defenders can enter the grid. The smaller the possession group, the fewer defenders that should be sent into the grid.

With groups of seven defenders one person on the defensive team may have to cross the river to help defend if groups of four are required to defend in each grid. The coach can make that person make the transition every time or each person on the defensive group can take turns crossing the river to defend.

By Steve Smith
Steve Smith has been a men’s college coach that holds an NSCAA Advanced National Diploma and a Doctorate in Physical Education.

Decisions After the Press

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 28 x 32 Yards

Time: 15 mins

Players: 4 v 4 + 1

Objectives

  • To force turnovers with a connected press.
  • To keep the ball afterwards and be able to make a quick decision on what to do with the ball.

Set-Up

One area with 4 goals and 4 coned areas in front of the goals. Two teams of 4v4 with a neutral to overload the decision process of the team that wins possession.

Execution

Pressing is a style that is very popular at this time, a lot of clubs/teams have a philosophy of pressing and coaches will show ways to press and where to go etc. This exercise is focused on what to do after you win the ball back from the press depending on the scenario you see.

Before I discuss that aspect of the activity it is important to ‘set up’ the press and give the team starting in possession a task. So, whenever the ball goes out of bounds or after there is a goal the team who starts is trying to maintain possession. They score by receiving inside the triangle between the goals and cones. The aim is to use the whole area by spreading out and switch the ball constantly away from the pressing team.

The players pressing cut off passes to nearby options and surround the ball to nullify the overload the other team has. Because players further away from the ball and on the other side of the press can’t receive the ball directly their larger numbers do not count and players can anticipate where the ball is going and step in front to win possession.

When the pressing team wins possession, they have 2 options, pass or move with the ball (dribble or drive). Below 1) the individual has space to drive in to and sees the goal straight ahead with no obstructions. 2) They can pass in the same direction they were going to go but this player may be in a better position to score and 3) they can pass away from the goal closest to them if players surround the goal.

After the initial press from the 1st team when they win possession the team who has just lost possession then becomes the pressing team and tries to score into the goals. This continues until there is a goal or the ball goes out of bounds. For each restart the aim is to move the ball away from the press and score by receiving inside the triangle area.

Variations

  • Add goalkeepers/or sweeper keepers
  • Each team can only score in 2 out of the 4 goals
  • Have one team always play possession after they press to win the ball back

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

Quick Finishing from Forward Passes

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 46 x 38 Yards

Time: 20 mins

Players: 7 v 7

Objectives

  • To make runs behind the defense from different angles
  • To make quick decisions when finishing with 1st time shots

Set-Up

Three zones divide the field into 3 sections. There is 6v6 in the middle zone with 4 players in the middle and 2 from each team on the outside in the attacking area to act like wingers. Only the goalkeeper is in the end zone.

Execution

This exercise is for teams who struggle with their players who want to either walk the ball into the goal or wait until the perfect moment to shoot. Either scenario is not ideal as the other team’s job is to stop both from happening. Now, if you ever play a much weaker opponent this may be enough, however to develop your players you should be playing teams who are roughly your level if not slightly better.

With even competition comes a challenge to score, one thing you need to have as a player is mental strength as it is not easy to continually overcome missing chances in the aim to score the next chance, but it is what makes great goal scorers great. It’s the mentality of not fearing the miss but the need to score and part of that is shooting when the opportunity is not always perfect.

This activity focuses on shooting with a 1 touch finish rather than take too many touches so the chance disappears, it also encourages players not to rely on perfect scenarios that rarely ever happen in a game, if ever.

The offside line is the line across that separates the end zone from the middle area. Players look to pass into the end zone and the receiving player has to shoot 1st time. Players can play directly into the end zone or use the wide players to do so. You want the pass to be central so the players shooting has a better angle to score from.

So as to vary the recipient who enters the end zone the wide player can make an out to in run behind a defender. Because of the angle of their run and the pass the shot in this instance should aim to curl around the goalkeeper.

Not all passes into the end zone need to be on the ground. When players have the ball and are one side of the middle area with all players moving towards the ball, the opposite winger can make a run into the end zone while the player on the ball plays a long diagonal ball over everybody, again the winger receiving the ball shoots 1st time with either a head or volley.

You can also encourage players to run from deep and run beyond the striker. To advance the activity and challenge the player shooting you can allow 1 defender into the end zone.

If the defender manages to win possession from the turning player, they pass to a player in the end zone and the play resumes but with the teams changing roles.

Variations

  • Allow 2 attackers 1 defender in the end zone then 2v2
  • Allow shots from the middle zone if the opportunity arises
  • Play with 6v6 in the middle zone and no players on the outside

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

Possession Out of Tight Spaces

By Steven Smith

Blackjack

Teams: 7 v 7

Time: 10-12 minutes

Objectives: Increase possession skills in teams of all developmental levels

Possession oriented play is essential to the modern game of soccer. Many of the activities to develop possession allow for maximum success by giving space for possession or by giving extra attackers to the possessing side. The ability to control the ball in possession in tight spaces is often ignored in training session by prioritizing success and space.

This activity emphasizes possession while having to concentrate and think more than just one step ahead. The athletes will need to move to position themselves for maintaining possession in very tight spaces (much like the full sided game when compressed to a certain portion of the field). This movement and communication necessary under strict pressure of time and space can have a great effect on maintaining possession once the game whistle blows.

Set-Up

Two teams of seven players occupy a rectangular grid in any portion of the field.  Coach serves the ball to either color team for initial play.  Each successful pass is counted in sequence until the score of 21 is achieved.  Every ball that goes out of play is left out and the coach starts a new ball without hesitation to the team who did not knock the ball out of bounds.  Quick transition to the new ball is essential.  Once a total (not sequential) 21 passes is achieved the game ends and the losing side must respond with a consequence such as a series of sideline to sideline sprints and the game resumes.  A third team waiting in the wings can substitute for the losing side and begin possession by being served the first ball.

Variation

Add goalkeepers to the end who can play the ball with either their feet or to the hands (coach’s preference) but the pass to the goalkeeper does not count as part of the total completed passes toward the accumulation of 21 passes (see drawing 2).

Other sideline players can be added on the sidelines but their passes are limited to one touch wall passes and do not count toward the accumulation of 21 passes (see drawing 3).

Add a neutral player to inside of grid wearing red.  Each time a team successfully finds the targeted red player two passes are counted for that success.  This allows players to meet the challenge of playing with a plan and finding a target player in the midst of pressure (see drawing 4).

 

By Steve Smith
Steve Smith has been a men’s college coach that holds an NSCAA Advanced National Diploma and a Doctorate in Physical Education.

Turning Under Pressure

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 32 x 26 Yards

Teams: 15 mins

Players: 6 v 6 + 2

Objectives

  • To play into players under pressure with firm passes.
  • For the players under pressure to realize what foot, which part of the foot to use and which direction to turn to get out of pressure.

Set-Up

A lot of the time as coaches we ask players to play away from pressure, while important to do so we must not forget to fully develop the player in all aspects of the game. The problem is players are not comfortable dealing with this pressure. Players do not know how to deal with the contact to them get away and players do not look to pass to players under pressure because they have been told not to by us coaches.

The truth is there are times when we need to pass into pressure, like a striker backing in to a center back in front of goal when no other pass is on. It is a skill that is being lost and we must do better to coach it and not forget it to help improve the quality of player we are able to produce.


Execution

The job of the 2 end zones is to be able to use the overload to be able to pass to their teammate in the middle zone. It is important that each middle zone is only 1v1 and no one else ventures into the area. The player receiving the ball changes their body shape to become sideways and reaches out with their back arm to feel for the defender and hold them off.

The receiving player checks to see which space, to the left or right of them, is the best to turn into. This can be determined by a number of factors, where is the defender coming from, how tight are they, where is the goal etc. The player then uses the pace of the pass into them and either the outside or inside of the foot to move the ball around the pressuring player.

After which they have turned they look to release the ball by passing into the opposite end zone. With a 3v2 overload this should help the turning player make a quick decision.

Eventually so all players are able to practice this skill without you the coach moving players around. Tell the player that passes into the middle area to switch places with the receiving player. After the turn you can also allow your players to run with the ball out of the middle area or continue to pass.

After the initial change the player who has turned returns to the end zone to keep the numbers even in each end zone.

If the defender manages to win possession from the turning player, they pass to a player in the end zone and the play resumes but with the teams changing roles.

Variations

  • Add goals to score into after a successful turn.
  • Allow a second defender into the middle zone so the receiving player must decide if they should turn or not.

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

Encouraging Improvisation and Creativity

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 36 x 42 Yards

Teams: 15 mins

Players: 6 v 6

Objectives

  • To understand when and where to improvise and be creative
  • For players to feel encouraged to try different ways of attacking to increase confidence

Set-Up

Three zones of equal area divide the field into 3 sections. There is an overload of 3v1 in the defensive zones to start with and 2v2 in the midfield section.

  Execution

Each section has degree of creativity set upon it. At the back when building possession you want your team to make high percentage decisions. Whether it be passes or bringing the ball forward but with 3v1 you do not want to take any chances. Move the ball until one of the center backs can pass or bring the ball forward out of the area into the midfield area. The other 2 players can’t follow this player into the midfield area.

Now you create a 3v2 but what you try and create is a 2v1. The spare midfielder looks to take one defender away with their movement. 1) The CB then can look to take on the midfielder with speed, especially if the midfielder positions themselves on the inside to allow more space on the outside (note the original position of the other midfielder sitting just behind the CB in case possession is lost). 2) the CB can play a pass into the space with the outside of their foot after drawing the midfielder in close to them.

As the ball is brought further forward there should be more encouragement on being creative and improvising but also making fast decisions when doing so. Forward runs will help with getting more players forward and making the defenders unsure of where the ball will go. Below the striker starts deep and makes a run towards the ball, bringing a defender with them. At the same time the two wider players in the middle zone make forward runs. Now the defenders are outnumbered 3v2 and can’t mark everybody. It is important that the striker doesn’t broadcast their intentions by changing their body shape to show their planned passing option.

  1. Hold off the defender and use the pace of the pass and the outside of their right foot to help the ball forward but also spin the ball into the path of the player. Your player could also receive the ball facing the opposite way then backheel the ball into the player’s path.
  2. Your player could do the same type of pass with the left foot for the opposite side or shape to face the left sided player only to play a pass behind them through their legs to the right sided player.

Further options going forward can be:

  1. Passes through the midfield with a little disguise on them maybe using outside of the foot. Then the receiving player can take on any defender who engages.
  2. Switch the ball across to the spare player who drives forward into the attacking area. As they are close to the goal encourage them to dribble past any defender they encounter.
  3. If they do decide to pass can the striker be aware of players around them who may be in a better opportunity to shoot/score from. As they come across they bring a defender with them and therefore away from the player on the other side. The allow the ball to go through their legs, committing the defender because if they are not close the striker would have the space to shoot.

When in the attacking area and the play breaks down continually encourage improvisation from players, whether it be backheels, no look passes, flicks etc. Because the one thing defenders don’t like is when a team is unpredictable.

Variations

  • Only allow a goal if a defender has been dribbled past
  • Set targets of each team must try 1/2/3 dummies/backheels/flicks in a certain time limit

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

The Role of Central Midfielders

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 32 x 45 Yards

Teams: 15 mins

Players: 8 v 8

Objectives

  • For the deep midfielder to understand their role
  • For the attacking midfielder to understand their role

Set-Up

Three zones separate the sections of the team, defense, midfield and attack. In the defensive section it should be 4v2, midfield section 2v2 and attacking section 2v4.

Execution

When playing out the back, whenever there is an opportunity for the deeper midfielder (known as the #6) to drop down and receive a pass from the goal keeper they should move into the defensive zone to overload the area even more. They should look to do this when the defense splits and the strikers go with them. Upon receiving the ball the deeper midfielder looks to move the ball out of the area through travelling with the ball. At the same time the full backs should look to move forward to create width and to overload the middle zone against the 2 defenders.

When moving out of the defensive zone the deeper midfielder must now realize their role is to both find an option forward and be in a position to both support the attack and help screen the defense if the team lose possession.

The attacking midfielder (known as the #10)

1) looks to get behind the lines of the defending midfielders. They receive with an open body position and look to drive forwards with the ball as they enter the attacking zone they are free to shoot. If a defender comes to stop the shot, they aim to assist in one of the strikers to shoot.

2) If a striker receives the ball from another source and is unable to turn the attacking midfielder can enter the attacking zone and look to shoot after a set back to them from the striker.

If an attack slows with the attacking midfielder inside the attacking zone the deeper midfielder should look to be an option to play back to. The attacking midfielder should then drop back into the midfield zone to open up the attacking zone again and create space to attack into. The attacking midfielder’s role is to then see which option is best to attack. Below it would be to have the wide player advance further into the space on that side of the field. Other times it might be again to drive forwards and shoot or set up a striker.

Role of the #6: To help the defense playing out the back, to facilitate attacks by using their passing range and to be at supportive angles when the ball is ahead of them to recycle the ball.

Role of the #10: To get into positions behind the lines of the opposition and look to influence the attack by driving forwards with the ball or creating opportunities for others to attack and possible shoot.

Variations

  • Change the formation both teams use
  • Play with different formations for each team to challenge the player’s roles

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

Making Play Predictable

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: Quarter or Half field (depending on age of players)

Teams: 15 – 20 mins

Players: 7 v 7

Objectives

  • To stop forward penetration
  • To force sideways and backwards passes

Set-Up

2 teams set up in a 2-3-1 formation in a scrimmage like scenario.

Execution

The aim for this session is for your team to work together defensively by stifling forward progression of the opposition and frustrating the other team into backwards and sideways passes until they become frustrated. Your team must stay close together to stop penetrating passing lines into the feet of players further up the field. They cut off angles so the only available pass is one of backwards or sideways.

The defending team does not have to sit right in front of their own goal for this tactic to work. It is more effective to perform it in the middle of the field. As the opposition pass wide, the defending wide midfielder gets across to pressure the player on the ball so they can’t move forwards, the rest of the team slides across, compacting that side of the field, leaving the opposite wing open. The striker drops down to stop any balls into the center of midfield.

As the ball travels back to the CB the striker of the defending team presses the CB to force them to make a quick decision, again not allowing forward penetration. The obvious pass is sideways to the free CB. The team again slide into the middle to compact the area directly in front of or around the ball.

Now we have a little change of shape, because we don’t want to be so compact that passes out wide can break the defensive lines. Again the focus is to stop forward penetration by cutting off forwards passing options. As the ball travels to the opposite CB, the striker drops down to stop passes into the CM. The wide midfielder stays narrow to stop passes into the striker’s feet. The FB comes across to pressure the WM when they receive the ball and the CB and opposite WM slide across to cover and keep defensive shape.

As the ball arrives to the WM the FB is close to Pressure them, the WM has dropped down to block the pass into the striker’s feet again and striker drops to stop passes into the CM again, this leaves a pass backwards to the CB as the only pass available.

Players need to understand that they are working as a team to stop forward progression and not become individual and start to run all over the field. If players can win the ball when pressing then absolutely go for it, but the aim is to frustrate the other team going forward and giving the ball away by trying passes that are not on.

When the other team wins possession the defending team aims to frustrate and stop forward progression just like they experienced.

Variations

  • Add neutrals to challenge the defending team and increase the difficulty
  • Allow only 1 or 2 players to communicate to teammates to help build leaders in defense

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3