Coaching Speed of Play

Exercise designed by Jay Miller
U17 National Team Coach
USSF National Coaching Coordinator

This clinic was created by Jay Miller, U17 National Team Coach and USSF National Coaching Coordinator. Jay Miller taught a speed of play session at the Georgia Soccer AGM, 11 January 1997, held at the Gwinnett Civic Center in Duluth, Georgia. Jay Miller repeated the session, with new variations and new insights, at a coaching clinic hosted by Jacob Daniel, Georgia Soccer’s state coaching director, for the ODP coaches and coaching license instructors. The second session was given at Parkview High School, 12 January 1997, at Lilburn, GA.

I compiled and transcribed my notes from both clinics. Although Jay Miller worked with U16B ODP, I used the sessions to teach speed of play for U12G and U15G. The material worked really well, and U12G were playing one touch for 20 and 30 second stretches on the very first day.

I called Jay out at the ARCO Training Center in Chula Vista, and he was kind enough to look over the following lesson, beginning with Purpose, to phone in the typos, and to give permission to distribute the session to interested soccer coaches who would be willing to take the material right to the field. What a great guy!

Putting it to Use

Read the Introduction section several times to get a feeling for the material. Note that the fast passing required is really very fast passing, passes with a great deal of pace, even at fairly close range, hard enough that players will fall down sometimes. See the importance of working the players past their comfort zone in order to make progress. Laugh at the mistakes to "authorize" the kids to try new stuff and to enjoy the challenge, it will be fun.

Note that open body shape is crucial. Open to play and ready to play on first touch. Glancing around to know where to play the ball just before receiving is important. Communicating continuously and effectively is also very important to success.

How to Improve It

On the training session after teaching from the Jay Miller - Speed of Play session, I taught a defensive pressure progression derived from the Umbro Pro Training Skill Factor CD. The progression focused on small group defending by rapid change of shape to keep pressure on the ball. As I observed defenders pressuring in a 5 v 5 to goal lines in a 25 x 40 yard space, I noticed that the attacking players were playing very quickly to beat the pressure, using what they learned in the Jay Miller - Speed of Play session to keep possession and to progress to the goal line.

So, after you start teaching your team to play faster when in possession of the ball, increase the level further by teaching your team to change shape faster and pressure the ball more intensely and vigorously when not in possession of the ball.


Train players to react mentally and physically more quickly and to play faster.


Teams from other countries play much more quickly than US teams. This has been a long standing problem. Top teams have speed of thought, speed of play, athleticism, and awesome technique. Coaches have to speed things up in training sessions. Attitude is very important, as is expectation level and attention to detail, which makes the difference.


  • Quick Feet - Feet must move fast, like runners who run downhill to make feet move more quickly.

  • Intensity Level - Should work at the highest possible physical and mental intensity level during exercises. Better to work 15 minutes at full pace than 30 minutes at half speed. Can not play half speed in match. Play with full intensity, then extend period over time as players adapt.


  • Accuracy and quickness - efficient technique to play fast.

  • Over Hitting Passes - players must speed passes to give receiver time to clean up pass and turn. Slow pass gets receiver killed. Too strong a pass is better than too soft or too short - defenders can clear passes played in front, and attackers then have to recover. Passes too long go into corner, but are safe.


  • Body Shape and Team Shape - are both crucial to playing fast. Player has to fight for a good body shape and position to support quickly. Player has to think quickly and think ahead. Can’t disengage mentally when the ball is out of play.


  • Attitude - to stretch limits, must challenge team to get quick play going, characterize slow play as boring. Goofing around is OK, but when players step on field they have to be ready to start training seriously with intensity.

  • Beyond Comfort Zone - To develop speed of play, players have to train outside of their comfort zone in order to develop speed of play. Anything that is comfortable is a waste of time. Coach must insert players into an challenging environment. Not an unrealistic environment, as this discourages players, but uncomfortable. Training should be just outside comfort level, but not way out. Players have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

  • Challenge - To reach outside comfort zone, players must be challenged. Competition is challenging. For example, 1v1 to goal with keeper. Add pressure to make it real. Increase pressure to increase discomfort. Coach must keep expectation level moving ahead of players ability.

  • Seriousness Training - should be all business as soon as players step onto the field. Social time stops when the touch-line is crossed. No social stuff on field.

  • Competitiveness - have to make players care.

Technical Warm Up


Each practice’s technical warm up should contain new, fresh, innovative, interesting, and demanding material. Duration of 40 minutes is typical.

Warm Up Exercises:

  1. Two players with one ball, 6 feet apart, one touch passing, quickly. Increase the pace of the pass to make it more challenging. Goalkeepers doing same exercise. Points:

    Do it perfectly each time

    Test your partner but make realistic passes

    Don’t get caught flat footed - play on toes

  2. Two players with one ball, 7 yards apart, passing. Player receiving must clean up pass and take off line of play on first touch, and must use a fake first.

  3. Two players with ball. Juggle 4 or 5 touches, pass to partner, move to new space after passing.

  4. Partners at 10 to 12 yards, one ball, striking passes to each other as hard as possible to feet. First player to make three mistakes loses. Points:

    Challenge partner with hard pass

    Clean up each pass received and make it come ready to play a foot in front or so, not between legs (play ball out of feet).

  5. Partners with ball, 10 yards apart, as server and receiver. Server randomly strikes ball hard, challenging partner, or passes softly so that receiver has to move to the ball quickly, drop ball, recover space quickly. Change roles after 15 or 20 balls.

  6. Partners, 6 feet apart, passing quickly and striking ball firmly. Coach times for 15 or 30 seconds, players count passes. Check results, announce, challenge pairs to do better than previous best, repeat.

Tactical Progression

  1. 5 v 2 Possession in 10 x 20 Grid - 5v2.Player who causes loss of possession goes into the middle.


    Players in middle must win possession of the ball, not just kick it away.


    Challenge - As exercise progresses, add restriction: if a player on the possession team uses two touches, the next may only use one touch.

    Challenge - Time team with ball to see how long possession can be maintained.

    Body shape - players must open body shape and be ready to receive and to play ball on first touch. At the highest levels of play, details like this make all the difference.

    Exercise mechanics - requiring defenders to win possession makes continuous play possible with no pauses to shag cleared balls. Rectangular space shape gives exercise direction.

    Support - defenders work to trap ball in corner, so support must appear on both sides of ball instantly, and supporting players have to open their body shape so as to be able to receive a hard pass to feet and to be able to play a one touch ball.

    Splitting defenders - player with ball must try to split the defenders after they are attracted to ball and start to close down player with ball.

    Intensity - encourage players who choose increase the intensity of the exercise on their own, like trying to play one touch.

    Adjust intensity by changing the number of touches allowed. (Editors note: Probably can adjust space as well.)

  2. 3 v 3 v 3 in 20 x 30 Grid - 3v3v3.Play for possession, 2 teams v 1. Team causing loss of possession transitions to defending immediately.


    Defending players must win possession in bounds to become attackers.

    Limit possession players to two touches. Can add goal - 12 passes completed forces defenders to do push-ups.


    Shape - individual body shape and team shape determine quickness and support.

    Quickness - emphasize getting team shape quickly to support ball.

    Toes - play on toes, be ready to play on first touch.

    Hard Passing - passing must be hard - fast to feet.

    Pace - coach should push the pace of play.

    Split Defenders - two adjacent players should work to draw defenders by interpassing, then split defenders with pass.

    Perfection - improvement only happens at this activity when perfection is expected.

    On the Floor or Move - don’t give lofted pass unless you move to support a one touch pass or semi-control from receiver.

    Note to Coach - small group tactics is a major area of need for US teams now, including 4v4 play and smaller sided. At full-sided tactics, US teams have reached an "adequate" level.

  3. 4v4 + Helper for Attackers + 4 Target Players in 30x40 Field - 4v4 with helpers.Team with ball gets point by playing ball into target players at one end and then successfully reaching target players at other end with ball.


    When team gets goal at one end, team can score immediately by reaching other end.

    Play is continuous. Opponents transition to attack when they win ball.

    Target players work for whichever team has possession and can score and pass to each other. Team with ball uses target players to change point of attack.

    Target players are allowed unlimited touches at the beginning of the exercise, then restricted to two or one touch later.

    With larger space, can play 5v5 plus 2 players working for team with ball.


    Body shape - and position is most important component. Player must be available to ball instantly and must fight to get to good position. Running to support angle pass opens space too.

    Position - even 2 or 3 feet of difference in support position makes a big difference in ability to support.

    Fight for position - Supporting players must fight to get best possible supporting position. They have to work very hard.

    Vision - encourage players to look up and to see the whole field.

    Move the ball - Don’t let the ball stop. Stationary ball is easy to defend.

    Stop Exercise - Give players a rest by stopping the exercise. Coach can not ask for maximum performance too long, and can not just continue for 45 minutes at 75% level, because learning to play at 75% pace is useless. Need to develop ability to play at full pace for longer intervals, finally reaching 90 minutes.

    Defense - Coach defenders during the last 5 minutes to help them. In this exercise, emphasize sending 2 players to close down ball, leaving two players to deal with split pass.