The usual possession exercises progress through
some warm-ups involving takeovers and combination play through 4v2 all the way to 6v6 to
goals. You can choose some alternative elements in assembling your progression. The core
emphasis should include quick support, open body shape, being prepared to play the ball
first time, passing to feet, vision, and mixing short and long passes to split the defense
and to relieve pressure. To these essentials, you can add other, alternative, components
of the game to add interest and practical variety to your training session.
For example, if you want to emphasize the need for
quick support after possession is won, then you can play a 4 v 4 v 4 three team game in a
soccer shaped space, where two teams play against one. The team that loses the ball
transitions to defense immediately.
If you want to emphasize decision-making, you can
play possession games with multiple balls. For example, you can play 6 v 6 with two balls,
each team starting with one. Two win a point, a team must get possession of both balls for
Coaching the Practice
- When introducing practice, make sure you've scaled
it to your group. Make sure it is appropriate for the age. U10 boys can not drive balls 40
yards in the air, so crossing attack at U10 should finish on the ground, there will not be
any lofted balls to the far post from the opposite touch-line.
- Get to action within about 20 seconds. Introduce and
- Gather team in semi-circle, step back a step, state
your topic. Go.
- At all costs, avoid taking 10 minutes to set up
cones and don bibs.
- Don't share common grid boundaries
- Don't talk every minute of the practice. Let them
- Look for your coaching points in play, freeze
action, make one point.
- Keep corrections short. Encourage, correct,
- Keep moving to good positions to observe.
- Coach the group doing your topic, not their
opponents. For example, in teaching shooting, coach the shooters, not the defenders.
- Coach in sequence, first things first. Teach in a
- Keep it moving - move on to the next stage when you
- Adjust the space or conditions if you are not
- Compliment good play.
- Incorporate all the elements in your practice for
- Show is better than Talk, and Do is better than
- Get right into your topic. If it's 4v4 defending,
don't start 1v1.
- Use neutral players when you need to give one side
- Recognize when to rest. It is better to work for 5
minutes at full intensity than it is to drag on for 25 minutes at low intensity. Matches
can't be played at low intensity, so work towards longer periods of high intensity play.
- Relax, smile, and have fun. Your demeanor should say
"this is cool".
- Take it to the game. Get to a game at the end to see
your topic played.
Possession is tactical topic because it centers on
individual and group decision making about where to play the ball to relieve pressure on
the ball. Possession depends on individual technique for passing, receiving, turning the
ball to create space and time for decision-making, and the ability to play one and two
touch soccer under pressure.
To a great extent, the individual's key to success
in possession depends on the player's willingness to keep an open body shape to the ball
and the field of play, and to be prepared to play the ball from this ready posture.
Players who play on their toes, open to the ball and supporting players, with head up and
awareness of what's happening all around them can be exceptionally successful at holding
The key coaching points for possession are those
that refer to team shape, support in attack, creating and using space, passing, and
Team Shape and Support
- Team shape must provide support at good passing
angles to the sides, behind, and ahead of the ball. The "third attacker" ahead
must push forward to stretch the opponents to create space for the players with or near
the ball to use.
- Everyone must work hard to support the ball. Some
players must check away to drag defenders out of space, others should check to ball to
support it. If everyone comes to or checks away at the same time, there is no support.
- Supporting players should open their body shape so
that hips and eyes face the field of play and the ball. Supporting players should be ready
to receive the ball in a position to go forward or change direction on first touch.
Players should never receive the ball with their back to support.
Creating and Using Space
- Players checking away from the ball, to drag
defenders away and to create space, should bend their runs and look over their shoulder to
be able to keep the ball in sight at all times.
- Players checking back to the ball should come at an
angle to the ball to create good supporting angles, rather than checking straight to the
Passing the Ball
- Against supported defenders, all passes should be to
feet. All short passes should be on the ground. Only passes over 20 or 30 yards, depending
on field conditions, should be lofted. (Once the point of attack is changed to reach an
unsupported defender, the final pass is to space behind the defender. However, when
teaching possession, this is not a key point).
- Two or three short passes draw in the defenders
toward the ball. A long pass, struck hard, should be used to split the defenders as they
try to close down the ball. (In a match, this changes the point of attack.)
- Do not pass to unsupported players. For example, do
not pass to a player in a corner with defenders in a position to close down the player
before support can show to the ball.
Receiving the Ball
- The player receiving the ball should have a quick
glance over the shoulder just before receiving the ball to know where the ball can be
played on the first touch.
- The player receiving the ball should take the ball
off the line of play and clean it up on the first touch, and then play it away on the
second touch. Alternatively, playing the ball away accurately with one touch is good.
- After receiving the ball, open hips and body shape
to the field to enable all passing options. Otherwise, player who received ball is limited
to passing in predictable directions so that the defenders can apply great pressure to
next player to receive ball.
When teaching possession, it is very easy to
control the technical and tactical difficulty level of the exercise. These can be selected
and used in different combinations to add interest and variety to the practice. At the
extreme level, where many of these factors are in place, the purpose of the practice moves
away from "Possession" and towards "Speed of Play", a closely related
topic, in much the way that "motor racing" is related to "driving".
Same setup, just different conditions.
To increase the difficulty of a Possession
- make the space more soccer - shaped, not open, not
- add players without increasing the space
- level the sides to make it more even
- eliminate restrictions on opponents...for example
with passers outside a grid and defenders inside trying to win the ball, allow the
defenders to go outside the grid
- increase the number of teams in the exercise - like
3 instead of 2
- add psychological pressure by adding a goal - like
10 passes to win
- add psychological pressure by adding a penalty for
- challenge the team with the ball to keep it against
pressure for a set period of time - count down out loud as the time nears
- add restrictions - for example - if one player uses
two touches, the next may only use one touch
- give direction to the exercise - play to goal lines
- add goals and shooting - require possession before
- increase the number of balls in play to force
thinking and vision
Possession Warm-up Exercises
This section offers some technical warm up
exercises appropriate to training sessions dealing with possession. There are many other
such exercises that relate to possession. At the start of a possession progression,
select a couple of these warm-up exercises, and mix your stretching into pauses in the
exercises. You would not do more than a couple of these technical warm-ups before getting
into your progression.
Technical Warm-ups for Possession Exercises
- Checking Away - Partners 5 yards apart with one
ball. Player checks away 5 yards, comes back to ball, receives pass to feet. Passer checks
away to continue exercise.
- Off Line of Play - Partners 5 yards apart with one
ball. Pass to feet. Receiver takes ball off line of play with outside cut (little toe
pushes ball) and cleans up ball with first touch, passes with second touch.
- Sideways On - Partners 5 yards apart with one ball.
Pass to feet. Receiver stands at slight angle to line of play, receives ball and plays
behind standing leg with one touch, returns ball with second touch.
- V Move - Partners 5 yards apart with one ball. Pass
to feet. Receiver stops with front foot, reaches across with opposite foot, pulls ball
with sole of opposite foot to position in front of opposite foot, plays away with inside
of same "opposite" foot.
- Pressured V Move - Same as V Move, except passer
chases own pass. Receiver must stop ball, use V move to play ball off line of play,
accelerate into space left by passer, turn around, and pass ball to continue play.
- Turning Ball English Style - Partners 5 yards apart
with one ball. Pass to feet. Receiver stops ball firmly with front foot, turn hips 180
degrees in a quick turning move, play ball sharply forward a foot or two, like short pass
to self, accelerate a step. Turn and pass to partner to continue exercise.
- Turning Ball Brazilian Style - Partners 5 yards
apart with one ball. Pass to feet. Receiver slows and turns ball with inside of foot with
smooth slicing motion while turning body open to new direction of play, all the time
pivoting away from the standing leg that did not touch ball.
- Holding Against Pressure - Partners with one ball.
Player with ball tries to use turning moves, change of pace, shielding, and ball control
to hold ball in 5 yard grid. Partner tries to win ball. Don't bother marking grid with
cones, just ask players to hold in small space. If you are blessed with an excellent ball
handler, add a second opponent.
- Wall Passing - Partners with ball executing wall
pass in space.
- Wall Passing in Grid - Put the whole team into a 20
yard square, let partners with a ball do wall passes around other pairs.
- Takeovers - Partners with ball executing takeovers
with overlap and pass.
- 1-2-3 Touch (from Kerry Miller, Women's Coach,
Charleston Southern in 1993). Partners at 5 yards with ball, one touch passing as hard as
possible. Change to two touch passing. Push the pace. Finally, change to three touch
passing. First touch to stop ball, second touch push ball forward a couple of steps to
attack, third touch pass. Passer must retreat several steps immediately after passing.
Partners move up and back together very quickly, very demanding physically on the quads.
- Robbie Johnson's Drill - Team in space with 4 balls.
Players check away into space, turn, call for ball, and check to ball to receive pass.
After receiving pass, players must stop ball on front foot, turn away with ball, look to
pass. Can only pass to players who have checked away and are just turning to come back to
ball, no passing to stationary players or players who have already killed their space by
checking back to ball to early.
This section offers a list of example exercises
from which to select in developing a tactical progression to develop the team's ability to
maintain possession of the ball. These are certainly not the only exercises, these are
just a representative sample of exercises. By combining three or four of these, a
progression can be assembled.
I will leave the work of creating the Lesson Plan,
including specifying and laying out the topic, equipment, objectives, warm up,
demonstration, progression, summary, and diagrams as an artistic exercise for the coach.
The coach, familiar with the specific technical and tactical strengths and weaknesses of
the team, is in the best position to adjust the practice for maximum benefit.
In any of the exercises, you will find that it will
be more effective to have the opponents work to win possession of the ball, not just to
kick it away. Make the rules such that this is required. Otherwise, you will be chasing
cleared balls and players will be standing around.
- Pass and Chase - Groups of 6 in circles, each circle
with one ball. Player with ball passes the circle to another player, chases pass to
pressure passer into one or two touch pass. Play continuously.
- Two Balls - Two teams in medium size space (like 30
x 40 yards for U14 boys playing teams of 6) each start with a ball. Each team works to
maintain possession of one ball, win possession of other team's ball. Point for every
success, play to 3 or 4 points, move on. For 18 players, use up to 4 balls. Encourages
small group play, decision making in support of possession.
- Keep Away - Groups of 4, playing 3 v 1 possession
with 1 ball in 10 yard grid.
- 5 v 1 - Play possession, 5 v 1 in free space. Move
to 10 yard grid. With 12 players, run two groups at once.
- 4 + 1 v 1 - Play possession in 10 yard grid. Four
passers on outside, one supporting player in grid, one opponent in grid. Player who loses
ball takes opponents place. Try for 20 passes without losing possession. With 12 players,
run two groups at once. Encourage the passers to work to split the defenders.
- 7 + 2 v 3 - Play possession in 20 x 10 yard grid.
Three opponents and 2 possession players in middle of grid with seven possession players
around grid edges. Possession team tries to keep ball in grid and to complete 20 passes
without losing possession. Rotate players every few minutes.
- Splitting Defenders - Play 8 v 4 in a large space,
30 x 40 yards. Work to keep possession and to complete several short passes in order to
draw defenders in, then split defenders or make lofted pass to space away from pressure.
Push the pace so it happens quickly. Adjust the numbers to get some success and some
- Two Zones - Play 4 v 2 for team with ball in each of
two zones, like 30 x 40 yard space. Players have to stay in their own zones, can pass with
team mates in other zone. Team with ball tries for continuous possession. Add restriction,
team must make 5 passes in one half before passing to other half to get point. Defenders
get point for every ball one. Change defenders. If it's too easy for possession team,
reduce the space.
- Three Zones - Play 4 v 2 for team with ball in their
defending half, 2 v 4 against team with ball in their final (attacking) third. Leave a 5
yard empty zone between the two halves. Play to goals without goalies. Two opponents in
first zone try to pressure possession team into mistake. Possession team tries to hold
ball until its "strikers" in the final third can get away from their four
- Game - Play 6 v 6 to goals. Coach players to keep
possession and to switch the point of attack quickly to create a good isolation situation
(1v1) to create a shooting opportunity. Can add restriction, like 6 passes before any
shot, to encourage possession.