All posts by Tom Mura

Small-Sided Game for Crossing and Finishing

By Sean Pearson

Area: 40 x 30 yards

Time: 20 mins

Players: 6 v 6


  • To understand the different types of cross
  • To understand when to use a certain cross

Set Up
Three areas, 2 end zones 10 x 30 yards and a middle zone 20 x 30 yards. 3v3 in the middle with 2 players for each team on the outside. 2 goals with a GK in each one.

The aim for each team is to get the ball out wide to either wide player and for the wide player to cross the ball into the end zone and have runners meet the ball and attempt to score. The first cross we will look at is a low cross behind the defense.

The cross is played early and on the ground because there is space to play the ball on the ground to the striker and the opposite winger who is allowed to come off their line and attack the cross. The cross is played with the inside of the foot with pace into the space ahead of the runners so they can attempt to score with a one-time shot.

If the team scores, then the next ball starts with their GK. If they miss or the GK catches the ball, then an immediate attack on the other goal can start. First do not allow defenders into the end zone to allow success at crossing but after some success allow 1 or 2 defenders in. No-one is allowed in the end zone before the winger receives the ball.

The next cross is a cut back. Encourage the wingers if they do not see the space available for an early cross to drive to the touch line. The striker should make a run to the near post dragging a defender with them (if not the winger can play the striker) thereby allowing the deeper player at the top of the end zone to be free. The winger then cuts the ball back on the ground for the attempted shot.

The last cross is a deep cross. This should happen when there is no space to play in behind the defense and the winger does not drive to the touch line. Because of the positions of all the players, a high deep cross to the back post and the opposite winger is what is needed.

If no cross is an option due to pressure, then players can pass backwards to a team mate but then all players must reset to their original areas.

Throughout this game, you are looking for understanding from your players to recognize the different scenarios and to execute the cross that best fits the scenario. If they recognize the scenario but fail in their technique, encourage their decision and help with their specific technical miscues to help them in the same scenario next time. Try not to discourage them from not trying when they understood the type of cross they were supposed to put in but they could not execute.


  • Add a neutral to overload the players able to receive the cross
  • Apply more pressure to the wingers from the beginning
  • Take the end zones out to see if the information was taken on board in a normal game situation

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

Pressing to Win the Ball in the Midfield

By Sean Pearson

Area: 40 x 32 yards (2 x {8×32} 1 x {24×32})

Time: 15 mins

Players: 6 v 6 + 2


  • To recognize where to pressure in the middle third
  • To win the ball in the middle third and maintain possession

Set Up
3 areas, two end zones and 1 large middle area. In each end zone, there is a 2v1 in favor of the defenders in the middle zone there is a 3v3+2 neutrals to become a 5v3. The aim of the team in possession is to cross the end line of the opposite side. The aim of the defending team is to win the ball in the middle third then advance the ball past the end line they are attacking.

When beginning play the striker in the end zone should look to cut the pass off between the 2 players and force the ball into the middle on one side or another. The defender in the opposite end zone reads the body shape and direction that the striker is sending the play. At this point they enter the middle zone and press the neutral on that side. The 3 players in the middle lock on to a player and man mark them all on the ball side. Lastly the defender left in the opposite end zone slides across to maintain compactness on that side. Now players are in position to win the ball in the middle third of the field.

Depending on the decision of the player on the ball and the distance of the defender from the receiving player, (1) players can stop the player from turning either forcing the ball backwards or win the ball if they try to turn. Or (2) anticipate the interception. The aim is to get the ball past the end line so when a player wins the ball in the middle third the player with the ball is allowed in the end zone with 1 other player. Adding the striker this makes a 3v2.

If the team in possession is able to switch the ball to the other side of the field then the two players who start in the end zone need to switch rapidly as soon as the pass is played backwards.

If the ball is able to be played to the center of the field as opposed to either side, it is important you players are able to get themselves back behind the ball to deny penetration and the two players in the defending end zone step up to keep the distance compact. They should look at the body shape and try to read the direction of the next pass. If it is backwards then the midfielders should step up again but if it is across the field then this is a time they could either (1) intercept or (2) pressure the neutral to stop forward progress.

It is important for your players to understand how to deny penetration and force the opposition into compact areas where there is a high risk of turnover. Then what is the best way to move the ball forward. If the forward direction is not initially on, going backwards is allowed as that is the game of soccer.


  • Add goals and GK’s
  • Allow the 2 defenders to enter the middle zone if they have the ball
  • Only allow the player with the ball to enter the attacking end zone with the ball

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

Attack v Defense

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 45 length, 5 yards wider than the penalty area on each side.

Time: 15 mins

Players7 v 6


  • To understand if the team can counter attack or maintain possession
  • To decides how the ball should move forward


Depending on the age and physical capability of the players you coach the area should go just under the halfway line, however you can adjust the distance how you see fit. The defending team is in a 4-2 formation with a GK and the attacking team is in a 2-3-1.


Firstly, in order to perform attacking transition your team must first defend. With 2 midfielders in the center of the field the attacking team’s easiest open pass is out wide. The job of the defense is now to make the area around the ball as compact as possible to deny penetration and force mistakes. The FB engages the winger and the rest of the defense slides across. The midfielders also slide and drop down to stop penetration. The attacking team attempts to score in the goal the team that transitions scores by moving the ball past the end line, by pass or dribble.

When the defense wins possession the first thought should be can we go forward? The second question, if the answer to the first is yes, is how? Should the player in possession drive forward with the ball (Red1) or pass the ball (Red2)? Then if the they pass should the receiving player then (Blue1) Drive or (Blue2) pass? This is your preference as a coach, my preference is generally, if there is space, to drive at speed. But the ball moves faster than players so if there is a teammate in a better position then pass.

If the attacking team plays into the #10, again the team compacts the space around the ball to stop penetration and force a turnover.

When the defending team wins the ball, if there is no space to go forward quickly then players have to make a decision of where to go. Do they pass forwards or backwards? But now the mentality changes to build up play (still attacking as you have the ball) over quick counter attacking.

If your players do go backwards and the attacking team press, there is the option of your GK playing over the top of them into the space behind them. For this your FB’s will need to be aware of the space and make forward runs into the area.

The important thing your players must understand and recognize is if they can go forward, then when and how they can. If they can’t they must understand that there are other options. Attacking transition is as much about recognizing when you can counter attack as it is about the actual attack.


  • Play with different formations
  • Set a time limit of crossing the end line if your players decide there is space to counter attack.
  • Add a line the last players must reach as the ball crosses the end line to force the whole team forward at the same time.

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

Four Corner Game

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 42 x 36 yards

Time: 20 mins

Players: 4 v 4 + 5


  • To decide the where, when and how to play a long aerial pass
  • To decide early which body part to use to execute a close control of the ball (chest, thigh or foot)


1 large area with 4 areas in the corner with a neutral in each area. 4v4 with a neutral in the middle and spare balls around the outside of the area.


In my opinion 1st touch is the most important technical skill in soccer. In order to do everything else good close control from your 1st touch is essential. It’s what allows players to build confidence and be calm when receiving the ball under pressure.

As often and as early as possible use the overload in the middle to find space to use your laces and aim for a neutral in a corner at a distance the individual player can make. You can also use the neutrals in the corners to pass to on the ground to keep possession if there are no other options to pass to. The neutral receiving the ball has a 5yard area to control the ball with, using a body part which is suitable compared to the height of the ball when being received, which to start with no one can challenge them in. When this is successful you can give the team a point.

The neutral then looks to play out to open players on the team including the neutral in the middle if they are available. When receiving this ball, if possible can this player then play another long pass into a different neutral. You want as many repetitions with long passes and aerial control as possible so don’t be concerned with adding a set number of passes after or before each long pass.

When a neutral has the ball, they can also find a long pass option straight away. This could be to 1) another neutral in the corner if they can reach 2) The neutral in the middle or 3) a player on the team in possession. Eventually allow pressure into the areas where the neutral has possession or as the ball is travelling towards them to increase the game realism.

This allows all players to benefit from playing and receiving long passes to work on their aerial control. You can swap the 3 groups as often as you want to become neutrals on the outside. Once the defending team wins possession they aim to score points the same way.


  • Add goals to go to after a successful aerial control
  • Increase/decrease the area & numbers depending on your team’s/player’s age & ability
  • Only allowed to play long passes with 1 touch (advanced)
  • Have to pass the ball to a team mate with 1 touch (advanced)
  • Add curl to the passes with the inside or outside of the foot (advanced)

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

Passing to Penetrate

By Steven Smith

Three Squares

Area Size: For groups of six’s or seven’s a square grid of 44X44 (progressively smaller sized grids inside of larger grid)

Teams: Three groups of six or seven (or other numbers as coach chooses)

Time: 10-12 minutes

Objective: Increase passing skills in teams of all developmental levels


Taking risks and connecting passes can often be counter to each other.  This activity will help players find good connecting passes under pressure and in a fairly chaotic setting with many other movements happening at the same time.

This activity emphasizes connecting passes while under controlled pressure (level of pressure controlled by coach).  The athletes will need to move to position themselves for connecting passes by short movements. This movement and communication necessary under strict pressure of time and space can have a great effect on connecting passes in game settings.

Set Up

Two groups of six to seven players occupy three grids one inside the next (see graphic below).  The idea is for the group on the outermost grid to connect passes to the group on the innermost grid.  Start off with each of the outer players possessing a ball to attempt to pass into the center grid.  The middle grid is occupied by defenders who cannot leave their grid but works to intercept passes that come through their grid.

The focus is on the outer grid group of players for feedback from the coach.  Their movement around their grid is essential for finding the line of passing that will enable them to connect with the inner grid. This means the coach can give feedback on keeping the head up, keeping the ball moving and looking for opportunities.  The key cues essential for connecting passes of posture, eye contact and verbal communication are essential as well and the coach can focus on those cues.

Players rotate grid locations with their group after a time limit or after all of the starting balls have been knocked out of the grids by the defending group.



Add goalkeepers to the inner group for receiving with their hands.

Add goalkeepers to the middle defensive group who can use their hands to intercept passes (increases difficulty for the outside group).

Add competition with consequences for the losing groups by counting the number of completed passes before their balls are knocked out by the defending group.

Reintroduce balls knocked out and play for time only and count completed passes.

As balls are knocked out of play by the middle group the players on the outside grid can combine passes together before attempting to pass the ball to the inner grid.

A player on the outside grid with the ball can attempt to dribble through the middle defended grid to reach the inside grid.  When this occurs a player from the inner grid must run to outside grid to maintain team balance.


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.

Transition to Defense

By Steven Smith

Over the River

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


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).


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.


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.

Transitioning to Attack

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 28 x 32 Yards

Time: 15 mins

Players: 4 v 4 + 1


  • 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.


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.


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.


  • 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