Category: Training

4vs4+2 with neutral players providing depth

Structure: The playing field is 30 meters long and 20 meters wide. There are two mini-goals placed on both sides. Those can be seen as a pass through the halfspace, for instance.

Rules: The game is played 4vs4 on the mini-goals with a fixed direction of play. The two neutral players support the team in possession of the ball and have a maximum of two touches. Furthermore, they are not allowed to leave their position but can move along their side. Therefore, placing the mini-goals a few meters behind the field would be optimal.

Variation: The players between the goals are each assigned to a team and are allowed to move into the field once the ball is lost. Consequently, dynamic situations arise in which one player presses backwards.

Coaching points: By using a 4vs4 one can basically train all aspects of football. Consequently, all relevant group and individual tactical aspects are present. The creation of triangles, the correct positioning, the support of the ball carrier, or to look for the deepest positioned player are all coaching points. Defensively, it is all about correct shifting, diagonal positioning, isolating the opponent and recognizing pressing triggers.

In case you are interested in our other small-sided games, head over to this part of our website to find all training content:

You can download the small-sided game with instructions here:

Practicing the halfspace switch

Structure: The playing field resembles the wings of a butterfly. On each diagonal side of the field, a mini-goal is placed. I would recommend to use the width of the box and make the field approximately 25 meters long.

Rules: The game is played 5vs5+1. The neutral player supports the team in possession of the ball. Furthermore, a fixed direction of play is established.

Variation: To support the team in possession of the ball, the field could be divided into different vertical lanes, with specific rules for the occupation of each zone. In a further step, the direction of play could be changed. For example, a team could then attack the goals at the bottom left and top right. This in turn leads to more diagonality and interesting interactions, especially in terms of preparing the counter-pressing for a potential turnover.

Coaching points: The main principle we want to train with this small-sided game is the use of switches in order to get access to the centre diagonally. Therefore, the butterfly-shape is used alongside the mini-goals representing a pass into the ten-space. As a consequence, the main focus of this small-sided game lies in the principles of creating pressure and finding the free man facing the opponent’s goal. Fulfilling the principle of creating pressure requires the usage of our sub-principles attract and switch as well as the offer of two passing options for the ball carrier.

In case you are interested in our other small-sided games, head over to this part of our website to find all training content:

You can download the small-sided game with instructions here:

Three-zone game with ice hockey rule

Structure: The field is as wide as the box and is extended to the halfway line. Two mini-goals are placed on the centre line. The field is divided into three horizontal zones. In order to replicate the passing lanes during the build-up phase, the first zone is shaped like a pentagon.

Rules: Yellow builds up from behind and tries to score a goal. Red counter-attacks on the mini-goals. There may always be a maximum of four players from yellow and three from red in the pentagon. The transition to the middle zone can be made by a pass or dribbling. In the transition to the attacking zone, the ice hockey rule applies again. Thus, players are only allowed to enter the attacking zone without the ball.

Variation: To further promote diagonal passing in the middle third, the pentagon shape can be extended to the whole field.

Coaching points: A diagonal structure should always be established in the build-up. Using the 4vs3 numerical superiority requires quick ball circulation with the intent to attract the defenders on one side or in the centre and then quickly switch into open space. To advance, the play over the third-man can be a useful tool, thus should be coached. After moving forward and entering the middle third, it is crucial that the players performing the build-up move forward in order to offer passing options or prepare for a potential counter-attack.

In case you are interested in our other small-sided games, head over to this part of our website to find all training content:

You can download the small-sided game with instructions here:

Practicing pressing triggers

Structure: Once again, we use an octagonal field to encourage diagonal passing. The field is divided into nine zones with two large goals installed. We play 7vs7 plus goalkeepers.

Rules: There is no corner kick or throw-in, but the game starts again and again at one of the goalkeepers. The defending team may first position a maximum of one field player in the build-up area of the team in possession of the ball. Only when the ball has been played in the middle third and has returned to the build-up zone may the defending team move freely in each zone. This procedure starts again after each interruption.

Coaching points: We would like to train our principle of high pressing, paying particular attention to the issue of pressing triggers (sub-principle). Furthermore, aspects such as correct steering and the correct use of the cover shadow are focused on this small-sided game. Last but not least, players should get a feel for preparing a pressing situation as well as identifying the correct trigger as a unit.

Improving attacking play and the involvement of a striker

Structure: The game is played in an octagon with large goals at the ends. The field is divided into three horizontal zones of equal size. Thereby, the central zone is further divided into three zones (one very large and two small). In addition, the central zone consists of three vertical lanes.

Rules: The game is played 8vs8. The team in possession of the ball must always occupy the small horizontal central zone on the border of the attacking zone (as the blue team in the picture). Furthermore, all vertical lanes must be occupied at all times to secure the proper structure for quick switches. The attacking third may only be entered without the ball (ice hockey rule). However, before entering the final third, the team in possession had to pass the ball to the striker in the small zone.

Variation: The small horizontal zone may be flexibly occupied, as long as it is occupied.

Coaching points: The idea is to improve attacking plays involving the striker. Thus, trying to play the deepest possible ball as well as provide layoff passing option is crucial. Runs behind the last line to take advantage of the play over the third / fourth. Equal occupation of the space and positioning on different horizontal lines. Creating diagonal pass lines.

You can download the small-sided game as a pdf-file here:

Small-sided game to improve information processing and decision-making

Structure: The shape of the small-sided game is a circle. The reason is fairly simple. By taking a circle-shaped playing field, one takes away one reference point for the players – the sideline. Consequently, they have to focus more on the other reference points instead and learn how to position according to those. Within the field, three mini-goals are placed which are all marked by a different colour.

Rules: The initial game is 4vs4+1 with the aim of keeping the ball. It is the coaches task to indicate a colour either by shouting it, using a code or using coloured cones. For instance, we often use calculation tasks where a certain result indicates the colour. Furthermore, by naming an object or a football club, the players first have to process this information before arriving at the correct solution. The team that wins the ball must then counter-attack on this mini-goal and is awarded two points. If they counter-attack on one of the other mini-goals, one point is awarded. 10 passes in a row for the team in possession of the ball add up to one point as well.

Variation: In a further step the coach can also hold up a coloured cone as a signal instead of calling out the colour. As a result, the players have to constantly look around and wait for possible new information.

Instead of using cones, three neutral outfield players can be used. All wear different coloured shirts. Once the team in possession passes the ball to the neutral player with the yellow shirt, the team in possession is allowed to attack this goal.

Coaching points: Constant scanning of the environment, information gathering and processing. Quick decision making. Correct structure in possession of the ball. Staying connected to reach every player and mini-goal on the pitch is crucial. Besides, a good structure in possession allows for a quick recovery of the ball after it is lost.

Small-sided game: focusing on quick counter-pressing

Structure: The game is divided into nine zones. The entire playing field forms an octagon. On the diagonal sides, mini-goals are placed. The game is played 8vs5.

Rules: The red team gets one point if 10 successful passes are played in a row. The blue team gets one point if, after losing the ball, they manage to counter-attack quickly on one of the 4 mini goals or to play 5 successful passes in a row.

Variation: The aim of the red team is to transfer the ball from one side to the other. Therefore, a direction of play is created for the red team.

Coaching points: Quick counter-pressing. The aim is to reduce the space near the ball. Diagonal pressing and the conscious steering of the opponent, plus working in triangles for mutual protection are different sub-principles. Furthermore, individual details such as the correct use of the covering shadow can also be trained within this small-sided game.

Small-sided game to practice the use of the cover shadow in pressing scenes

Structure: 5vs4 is played in a 25 meter wide and 40 meter long field. In addition to the large goals at the ends of the field, two triangular mini-goals are placed in the centre.

Rules: The team in possession of the ball tries to score a goal. Scoring a goal is rewarded with one point. A successful pass through the triangular mini-goals counts as an additional point. However, the triangular goal may only be played through by the direction of play. Passing back through the triangular goal is not rewarded with a point. In the first step, the red team constantly attacks, while the blue team counterattacks on the big goals – the triangular goals can’t be used by them.

Variation: The game is played in both directions. Consequently, a neutral player is installed (4vs4+1) and the triangular goals become diamond-shaped goals.

Coaching points: Use of the covering shadow to keep the opponent from being out of the pressure situation, depending on the direction of pressure. If the goal is directed outwards, the diagonal pass into the centre should be prevented. If the shadow is directed inwards, the diagonal pass should be directed outwards.

Game-related possession game in the hexagon

Structure: The game is played in a hexagon divided into four zones. By means of the field form, vertical passes along the line are to be prevented. The field is 20 meters wide at its widest point and 35 meters long, depending on the level of skill of the players. The aim of the small-sided game is to make the ball circulate from one side to the other.

Rules: The game is played 5vs5+4, with the neutral players always being positioned in the smaller zones at the ends of the field and not being allowed to leave these zones. For the offensive team, both central zones must be occupied by at least two players.

Variation: It does not matter who occupies the end zones as long as two players from the team in possession of the ball do so. Dynamic swapping is allowed.

Coaching points: creating diagonal passing lines; occupying different horizontal and vertical lines to make quick changes of sides; creating depth – looking for the deepest positioned player.

How to Best Utilize the Play-Practice-Play Methodology Outside of the Grassroots Level

A few years ago the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) decided to reorganize most of their coaching education methodology, which included launching their new grassroots coaching pathway in an attempt to rejuvenated player development across the country. The focus of their new launch was the creation of the Play-Practice-Play (PPP) Methodology, based off new research in child and adolescent development. PPP sets out guidelines for grassroots coaches to structure their practices in hopes of maximizing players time on the ball, for players to enjoy the game, and to make practices as game-like as possible.

Although PPP can be fairly controversial, depending on who you talk to within the United States, and has some shortcomings, USSF admits this is not the one-all methodology. Rather they hope for it to be a foundation methodology to get all grassroots coaches across the country on the same level with federation down coaching education.

Also important in understanding what PPP is, is acknowledging it is directed for grassroots level soccer. For the USSF this is defined as a team with vastly different ability where most players are new to the sport. It should not be taken as the methodology that USSF wants every team in the country playing.

So below I want to briefly describe what PPP and what areas of the methodology are particularly interesting and could benefit coaching a team in a competitive result-based environment.

What is Play-Practice-Play?

As mentioned above, PPP is a methodology aimed at creating a foundation for grassroots coaches across the United States. The methodology has coaches break down the game into four phases, attacking, attacking to defending, defending, and defending to attacking; but at the grassroots level the focus will be on the attacking and the defending phases.

Each practice is centered around one phase of the game and 2-3 age appropriate player actions (example at U10s: create passing options, create 2v1 during the attacking phase). PPP is not a curriculum, therefore the methodology does not have an overarching structure of practices and topics for a season. Rather grassroots coaches are encouraged to assess what player actions need to be practiced based off how much players are learning in the previous practice or match.

PPP’s most unique feature is how the practices are structured. Under PPP, each practice is divided into three 30-minute phases. The first play phase, the practice phase, and the second play phase. Lets break down each phase and what the expectations and characteristics are.

First Phase

The first play phase is how each practice should begin, by immediately placing arriving players into small sided matches. This could either be 2-3 fields of either 2v2 or 3v3. The purpose of this is to, first maximize the time on the ball for each player, and second to begin introducing the topic and key questions for the session. These first questions should not require an answer from players, instead the goal is for them to begin implementing them in their small sided games through self-discovery and exploration.

Next, based off observations, takes players aside individually or as a group and give brief feedback. This is an opportunity to relate observed actions and behaviors and connect them to the key questions for the session. This is the first opportunity to engage players and listen to their answers or thoughts on the desired actions and behavior.

Second Phase

The second phase of a PPP practice is the practice phase. This phase is a training drill that replicates a game but is modified to emphasis where on the field the desired action should occur. If the topic is attackers 2v1 and creating passing options during the attacking phase then the drill should be placed in one of the attacking third of the field with the defending side having a goalkeeper in the appropriately sized goal.

This phase looks typically like a traditional practice. The coach is expected to make adaptions based off the players behaviors, possibly making it easier or more difficult to achieve the desired behavior. The coach is also encouraged to stop play and make adjustments on player’s actions. The key area in this phase is making sure the coach sticks to the same key questions and topic that has already been introduced. Its fine to briefly address a reoccurring defensive error but coaches should be aware to not change the entire focus of the practice.

Third Phase

The third and final phase of the methodology is another ‘play’ phase, like the first phase, and is the phase that could potentially be replicated for a competitive result-based team. The core of this phase is essentially an end of the practice scrimmage. The team is split into two even teams with goalkeepers on an appropriate size field and there are no additionally rules, players play according to the laws of the game. The players just play a game, 11v11, 9v9, 7v7, which ever works best for the players at your session and age group.

However, there are a few key focuses for the coach in this phase. The first, unlike a traditional approach, the coach in this phase should not seek to stop play and correct a players decision. Instead, the coach should be replicating a game-like atmosphere and conditions in which the coach is simply observing their players’ decision-making and actions. The thinking behind this approach is that it allows the players to implement the session’s objectives and desired action in a game-like scenario, without a coach holding their hands and pointing out mistakes. If a coach is stopping play each time a player makes a mistake and the coach is now making the decision for the player and does not allow for the a player to development through self-exploration. Further, since this hands-off approach promotes self-exploration, players will be forced to improve this decision-making and problem-solving skills.

This approach also gives the coach a chance to assess themselves and ask important questions such as how well is the coach communicating the desired actions. There is a gap between teaching an action to your players and them learning. Sometimes this gap is overlooked but by allowing time to let your team play in a match like atmosphere without the coach interjecting, you can assess the learning that has been done by your players.


This can be implemented either at the end of a single session or purposely placed throughout your season depending your game model, goals of your players, and the cycle of actions you are teaching. For an example, if a coach haas a team that are looking to build out of the back through your defensive midfielder, the coach can organize 2-3 small sided fixed games throughout the week where the coach can stop, give players immediate feedback, utilize leading questions, and communicate desired actions. At the point in which you are ready to move into the next cycle, let’s say attacking the final third through your wingers, you want to check how well your previous concept has translated to your players.

This is where making a planned session and effort to create a game-like atmosphere without the immediate feedback from a coach can allow a coach to see how much the players have learned from the coach’s teaching.

An alternative to the above example could be, if a coach and team are in a result-based environment, implementing this hands off session can allow a coach to see if players have understood the tactical adjustments made in relation to an upcoming opponent.

To conclude, although Play-Practice-Play model is intended for grassroots teams, the third phase of the methodology can be translated to teams in various environments. The ability of a coach to differentiate the gap between their teaching and the learning of players is crucial in successful player development. Further, for a coach to create a hands-off approach and allow their players to play in a game-like atmosphere to evaluate the players understanding of desired actions creates a productive environment for an entire team.