All posts by Michael Saif


By Steven Smith

Area Size: Two 12 by 12 yard grids are set up just outside the 18-box as shown. Groups are divided into five per group. Need at least 10 players plus keepers.

Teams: Four teams of five in two different bib colors

Time: 12 minutes

Objective: To be able to technically retain possession in tight spaces and release to get shots off on goal. Also, to be able to use targets to overload and penetrate defenses.

Set up and Execution:
The teams with five in the grid (Black) attempt to connect five passes and then they can go to goal. Once five passes have been made the final pass goes out of the grid and a single player releases from the grid and takes a shot on goal. If the shot is on target or scores, then the black team retains possession for the next start. If it is not on target, the yellow team now gets possession and they have five in the grid. Black players must drop two players outside of the grid and play continues in this fashion. Additionally, if the team with three intercept the ball and can get it to their target player outside of the grid, that team may now go to goal. If they put the ball on target or score they too retain possession for the next ball start-up.

Add trailing pressure to the shooter coming out of the box.
The target yellow player can become the defender after playing the ball to the shooter

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.

7v7 plus 7 wingers

By Steven Smith

Area Size: Set up a 30 x 35 yard grid as shown. Place 7 black vs. 7 yellow inside grid. Seven red players each possess a ball on the outside of the grid ready to cross.

Teams: Three groups of seven

Time: For full progression approximately 15 minutes

Set up and Execution: The black and yellow teams compete to see who can score the most out of 7 services from the red team on the outside. The services should alternate so that the black team tries to score on their end without opposition and the yellow team scores on their end without opposition. Each red server must serve one ball to each team and then play rotates.

Upon completion of one full cycle where every group gets a chance to score, now the teams will compete with opposition. The yellow team tries to stop the black team from scoring during their seven services from red and vice versa.

The thirds step in the progression is to play 7 vs. 7 in the same space with all play starting from the goal keeper. Regular game rules apply (make it take it) and both teams attempt to score on each other. Two players from each team that are not currently playing are selected to be in the flank zones without opposition. Before the two team in the grid can score and upon loss of any possession, the ball must go out to the flank and only balls sent in from the flank in the air count as goals.


In the final step the variation can be:
1. Balls from flank only count as goals
2. Balls from the flank count as two goals and regular inside the grid goals count as one
3. Players can leave the grid to defend the cross coming in from the flank players

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.

Penetration Targets with Dummies

By Steven Smith

Area Size: A grid that is 20 X 20 is set up with three dummies (or poles) in the middle as shown. Three groups of three are divided into color groups.

Teams: At least two teams but prefer three or more.

Time: 20 minutes for full progression to completion.

Objective: The objective is to penetrate either midfield flat defenses or flat back four defenses (with modifications).

Narrative: Players execute predetermined runs between or in front of dummies to receive from the passing players. Emphasis and feedback is placed on tactical decision making to penetrate the midfield or back line. Gradually adding pressure will increase the demands of speed of decision making while making great technical touch. Holding runs and staying on side is a key part of the decisions when emphasizing penetrating the back line.

Set up and Execution:
In the first activity, the emphasis is on penetrating the midfield by adjusting runs for the receiver to receive in between the defending dummies. Feedback is given by the passer to receiver to either turn, turn and go, or hold. Then the ball is delivered to the flank and the pattern continues to the next person in line.

In the second variation, the receiver posts in front of one of the dummies to receive and double pass back to the initial passer. Then the player must hold and spin off to receive again in between the dummy defenders. Timing is crucial when using this activity to beat a flat four defensive group and stay on side.

In the third variation, the activity becomes a SSG by playing 3 v 3 in the given space with the dummies still on the field. Points are gained by either passing or dribbling between the dummies while competing to keep the ball.

A final progression (not diagrammed) could be to add full sized goals to the ends of the field and complete the activity by scoring in a 3 v 3 setting. Teams can rotate when they get scored upon or after two minutes of play.

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.

Individual Ball Control Session

By Steven Smith

One vs. one skill development is essential to winning games. The teams that can efficiently dismantle other teams in one vs. one challenges all over the field will have better chances at scoring and winning games. This session is designed to develop those skills. The session can be done as a progression or in a camp setting with multiple coaches this can be done in stations and the players can rotate to each station. The order of the activities if done in a progression does not matter and is up to the preference of the coach.

Activity 1: One vs. One Target

A grid is set up 25 X 20 with teams set up at each end. One player on each end is the target player for the two players in the center. The play is continuous in nature and players can switch lines randomly.

After the first ball is served to opposite end, the attacker with the ball tries to beat the defender and serve the ball with a pass to the opposite end next player (target player). After playing the ball to the target player the passer must then become the defender.

Note: This drill designed by Zach Jonker at Petoskey Michigan HS.

Activity 2: One vs. One Four Goals

A grid is set up as shown in the diagram approximately 25 long by 20 wide with pugg goals or cone goals. Two lines are formed for attacking and defending.

The defending line serves the ball to the attackers who attempt to score on either of the opposing goals on one end. If the defender gains possession they counter attack on the opposite end. Play continues till the ball is out of play or scored and then a new set of players start again. Rotation occurs at coach’s choice with the defending line always coming from the same spot.

– Can move to a single goal.
– Coach can label goals by color and identify which color can be scored upon.
– Coach can focus feedback on defending skills or attacking skills and choices.
– Increase space and use full size goals in two locations (one on each end) with goal keepers.

Activity 3: 5 vs. 3 Limited Touch

A field is set up 25 wide by 30 long. Two teams are set with 5 on one team and 3 on the other.

Teams play against each other inside the grid. The team with 5 players can score on opposite goal but have a two touch limitation. The team with 3 players have unlimited touch. Rotate players within the grid so that all have a turn at limited touches.

Goal keepers can restart after a goal but always use make it take it rules to reward scoring.

Activity 4: Four vs. Four Multi-touch

A field is set up 25 wide by 30 long. Two teams of 4 vs. 4 play in the middle of the field while a target player is at each end (have two target players at each end with one alternating to make another group of four for rotation later).

Four vs. four compete in the grid and try to find the target player at the opposite end to gain a point. Each time a team scores they start again with a ball from the coach. The multi-touch part of this game will increase 1 vs. 1 opportunities. Each player MUST touch the ball three times or more before giving up the ball to another player or before finding the target player.

Ball could be played to targets at end that are keepers who must receive the ball with their hands (could restrict it to balls caught in air only).

Activity 5: Two Goal One vs. One

Two goals are set up as shown in the diagram at 90 degree angle to each other. Goals should be inside a box approximately 18 X 24.

The initial attacker receives the ball from line B formed at the goal being attacked. The defender comes out from the goal after service and defends the attacker. After the attacker scores (or attempts) they defend the new attacker coming at the second goal. If the defender at any point gains possession of the ball the defender can now attempt to score on either goal.

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.

How to Warm Up For a Training Session

By Mike Saif

QuestionHow do you warm up for a training session? Does it change depending on what the training session topic is?

One of the most important things for me with training sessions is to get them active right away. Although I would set up different warm-ups sometimes depending on the topic of the session, most of my warm-ups were small-sided possession games. I did these for a number of reasons.

• They were designed so that all players were moving and active
• No matter the topic of the session, playing soccer always includes passing and possession
• It was a great way to make the warm up competitive and fun

My favorite warm-up was to simply divide the players into two teams with 1 or more neutral players. So it could be 7v7+2, 6v6+3, 8v8+2, etc. This made it really easy regardless of how many players were at practice that night.

I would make the space nice and big which would make it easier to be successful stringing passes and so that the players had more space to cover and run in. Depending on the number of players, it could be a half of a field or from the half line to the penalty area, etc. I would also stipulate that once you had made a pass, you had to run into a different area of the field to make sure players didn’t stay in the same spot all the time.

Making the warm-up competitive ensured a good effort and also made it fun. I would set targets like, 10 consecutive passes or 6 consecutive one-touch passes to get a point. I would sometimes limit players to two-touch or even one-touch with three neutral players. The losing team would have to give the winning team a piggy back ride or have to pick up the cones and balls at the end of practice, etc.

Another active possession warm-up is to play 5v5v5 in the same area with the same rules as above. This time the players would be split into three teams, each with a different color bib. Two teams would combine to keep the ball away from the other team. When the defending team won possession of the ball, the team that was responsible for losing possession, would now become the defending team. In the diagram below, the dark team and white team are combining to keep the ball away from the red team.

Give these a try and experiment with others, but making sure your players are active and having fun, is always a good start to a training session.

By Mike Saif
Founder and President of WORLD CLASS COACHING, Mike has coached 12 State Championship teams and coached the 87G Dynamos to a USYS National Championship.

Endless 4v4

By Steven Smith

One grid is set up in the front third of the field using a full half field. The grid is set with the width of the 18 yard box making the width of the grid 44 yards.

Four players come from the midfield stripe or a bit closer as shown in the diagram and attack a group of four defenders who are positioned deep in the field in a zonal defense shape.

If the attacking team is successful in getting a shot off either on goal, over the end line or to the keeper’s hands, the attacking group becomes the defending group and a new group of four come from the midfield stripe to attack the newly appointed defenders.

However, if the defending group is successful in cutting out the attacking group and gaining possession, the defensive group attempts to score on any of the three small goals at the opposite end. If they are successful in scoring on the small goals then the defensive group gets to stay on the field and defend again. If they are not successful in scoring they come off the field and the initial attackers become the defenders.

Coach should have all waiting players with pinnies in their hands as the new attacking group entering should contrast in color with the defending group.

Coach can have the defending group stay on for 3-4 runs of attack prior to making any switches changing the game from an endless game to a predetermined number of attack before the switch.

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.

High Pressure to Force Long Passes

By Luca Bertolini

Liverpool have scored lots of goals this season as a direct result of their high pressure defending tactics.  There are a number of benefits that can result from high pressure defending.  This article takes a look at just one of the aims of those tactics…forcing the opposition into long passes from their own half of the field.

Looking at Klopp’s history as manager “no playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter-pressing situation”; this means that a side by side passes move often requires slow build up play, and that, on the other side, the counter-pressing can create chances within seconds.

The organization behind it is the key, as Klopp’s pressing isn’t simply a closing down but a group of players all functioning as one to smother the opposition, as they look to launch a counter-attack.

The first interesting factor is that the team recognizes when they have enough players close to the ball, who are able to press the opponent with the ball and the area around it.

The players who are not involved in the pressing around the ball must ensure that a potential long kick from one of the opponents can be controlled and they must be able to press again a second receiver, if the first pressure doesn’t work. They also have to be in a position to potentially win or intercept a wrong pass from the counter pressure, to recover the possession with the chance of organizing a counterattack of their own.

All the other players placed on the other side of the ball, recover immediately and quickly, either to join the pressing swarm or to recover goal side of the ball and to be placed in a position to be one of the covering or interceptor players; if these players are in possession, usually the moves are built up with pass combinations rather than with direct counterattack.

As we already found out in the first part, an important objective of the high pressure is to close the short pass lines and to force long ones toward the midfield area; the same happens when Liverpool’s forwards are placed inside or near the opponent’s penalty area.

After the forced long pass toward the middle third, win the second times and the wandering balls.

So forcing the opposition into long passes, gives you the opportunity to win back possession of the ball and start a quick counter attack.  There are many other benefits of high pressure defending too.  Klopp, Guardiola, Conte and more of the world’s top coaches have figured this out.

This is article is just a short excerpt from the book Scoring More Goals Through High Pressure Defending by Luca Bertolini.

Do Spain Play With a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or Both?

By Stevie Grieve, author of Modern Soccer Tactics

Spain’s formation is a source of great debate and intrigue. Is it a 4-3-3? Is it a 4-3-3-0? Is it a 4-6-0? Is it a 4-2-3-1? Is it a 4-2-4-0? Is it a 4-2-2-2?

I think it’s a combination of the above. Some matches they will ensure they have a central striker, generally Cesc Fabregas, who will rotate this role with David Silva, with Xavi and Iniesta floating around the space between midfield and defense. They play with a narrow attacking 4-2-3-1 or a narrow 4-3-3 as Alba and Arbeloa do a great job or providing width very high up the field and allowing Spain to regularly outnumber teams between defense and midfield, allowing them to play between the lines frequently.

In the final where Spain played undoubtedly their best football of the tournament, they played a combination of 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, and Xavi’s position dictated the shape. In some attacking phases with the ball in the opposition half, he would drop deep and 2 of the 3 of Silva, Iniesta and Cesc would play in between the defense and midfield with Alba and Arbeloa the full backs on the outside, with the other of the front 3 staying as a central striker. In some defensive transition phases, Spain would revert to a 4-2-3-1 with Alonso and Busquets screening the defense, with Xavi, Iniesta and Silva pressing in front, with Cesc as the main striker. When they win the ball back, they would stay in this formation and confuse the opposition as players positions and the marking responsibilities have changed again.

Xavi and Iniesta switch positions – 4-3-3 inside opposition half

Xavi drops into a 4-3-3 as Silva and Iniesta drop off from the front to offer passes from midfield. Xavi passes wide to Alba andContinue reading