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Coaching Possession & Pressing: Great Exercise That Trains Both!

Exercise #2

11v10 ½ Field Press

Grid: Regular Field To Edge of Center Circle

Instructions & Key Points: This exercise simulates the exact pressure of an actual game. The blue team is working the ball out from their keeper as the red team attempts to high-pressure them. The blue team is trying to break the pressure and can score by either scoring on the smaller goals or by sitting on the ball for 2 seconds or more (except the keeper).

Progressions & Variations: Add three small goals for the blue team to score on. Set a time limit for the red team to recover the ball (6 – 15 seconds) – this will increase the intensity level dramatically. Allow the red team to finish on goal once a turnover occurs. 2 touch-limit for both teams. Reduce the number of red defending players to 7 and adjust the touch-limits until 1-touch is achievable.


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New Book! “High Pressure, High Tempo Soccer Possession Training 10 Training Exercises “

Exercise #1

10v5 1-Touch

Grid: 35×30 yards

 Instructions & Key Points: The blue team of 10 players are restricted to 1-touch. The first red team of 5 players works hard to win the ball for 90 seconds as the second red team of 5 players rests outside the grid. The coach is located to the side of the grid with a large supply of balls. He will play in a new ball as soon as the red team creates a turnover. After 90 seconds the red team of 5 who were resting become the new defending team against the blue. The idea is to always have a high intensity energized defending team forcing the team in possession to make quick 1-touch decisions. Make sure players are using proper supporting distances and angles in possession. Triangles and diamonds should be apparent all over the grid. Encourage players in possession to scan the field constantly so they can make instant decisions in order to keep 1-touch possession.

 Progressions & Variations: Try 90 seconds as a starting point and then increase the time frame for the defending team as long as the intensity level stays high. Count the number of turnovers in 90 seconds to make the drill into a competitive environment. The team in possession with the least turnovers is the winner. Another variation is to allow the defending team to try and keep possession after winning the ball. Give the defending team unlimited touches as the team of 10 has 1-touch only. Try having your center midfield players stay central inside the grid to simulate their role in an actual game. Feel free to create and improvise with any of the exercises. Each condition or variable should make the players think differently and adapt. By making the players adjust they become better problem solvers. Ultimately the players are the ones on the field and they must have the ability to solve problems.  


The reason I wrote “High Tempo, High Pressure Soccer Possession Training” is because one of the ways modern soccer is developing. Teams from the college level to the highest professional level are either pressing intensely or countering. Barcelona under “Pep Guardiola” was one of the many modern professional teams that brought pressing and the “6 second rule” to the forefront. Whenever Barcelona lost the ball they immediately pressed with numbers trying to recover the ball back within 6 seconds after losing it.   They resembled a swarm of bee’s attacking the ball as soon as they lost possession. Borrussa Dortmond and Bayern Munich pressed each other at such a frantic pace in the “Champions League Final”, neither team connected more than 3 or 4 passes for the first 10 minutes, due to the intensity and discipline of their pressing. In the college game here in the United States, it is common to have teams press non-stop and play very direct once they win possession. Many of these teams focus more on the weight room and running than developing possession. The reality is that teams who are fit, strong, athletic and disciplined can pose a major problem against possession-oriented teams. In order to play attractive and effective possession soccer against athletic pressing teams, coaches must train their team under realistic similar “pressing” circumstances. If players are not forced to overcome intense pressure in training they will not be able to keep possession during an actual game under high pressure.


As a coach, I personally like my teams to play attractive possession oriented soccer. I want my players to develop the possession skills that will allow them to keep the ball if needed, instead of just knocking the ball long every time a team decides to pressure us (if the counter attack is available we may look for that longer ball if it is on).   It is important that my team learn to problem solve and think for themselves during these games and not hit the “panic button”. If a team presses us all out, we may look to play more direct to a forward running into the space behind the oppositions back line (especially for the first 10 minutes of a half). The forward would need to recognize our player is under pressure and time his run into space behind the back four. The outcome may be an instant counter attack or we may end up having possession in the other teams half. At the very least a long ball to the channel can allow us to press our entire team up the field and play in their half. Another option to break a press is to play short and then immediately switch the field to relive pressure while keeping the ball. Switching the field can often disrupt and break the press. When teams commit to pressing us, I tell my players “high winds don’t blow all day”.   I have yet to see a team on any level press for 90 minutes at the same high intensity rate. Eventually, the pressing team will become tired or their team shape will be lost (if even for a few moments) and space will open up. However, every game is unique and will end up taking it’s own course. Each game will present its own different problems to solve; which can be effected by personnel, field conditions, motivation levels, home or away, tactics, fitness levels, skill levels and much more.   I know if my team can keep the ball under high pressure it gives us options when attacking. We don’t become that predictable team that just thumps the ball into the channel or the box for a target man. I place a high value on being able to penetrate by passing and dribbling. Defenses will find it very difficult to defend against both the pass and the dribble.


What happens if the opposition chooses to drop deep and sit ten players behind the ball? At that point it is also important the team be able to possess the ball in small tight areas during the attack. Playing little 1-2 combinations and moving the ball quickly will open up small gaps in the compact defense. Opening up those small spaces will create shooting and scoring opportunities. Attacking a team that drops deep is a different aspect of possession then breaking a press, but both phases of possession are equally important. The bottom line is the ability to possess the ball under pressure in tight areas is a skill that will bring your team to the next level.  


I hope you enjoy the “10 for 10 Soccer Coaching Series”, I would also recommend you read my other soccer coaching books that cover a wide variety of material in detail.   I hope you enjoy the information and as always feel free to email me any questions, comments or thought at


INSPIRE: My Unique View Point & Book on Youth Soccer Development


     It seems like it was just yesterday that my brother and I were running around the field playing soccer pretending to be in the World Cup. We would play this made-up game that instantly transformed us into famous soccer players scoring glorious goals. I would literally play for hours with a big smile on my face. The joy I got from playing further increased my motivation to improve and play more and more and more. However, the difficult thing for me was the lack of talented players and coaches for me to learn from. Without access to experienced coaches and talented players, I decided to try and educate myself. At the time there was no internet access and soccer on television was scarce to say the least. The only feasible thing I could think of was to buy some soccer books. By pure chance, the first book I bought was one of the best soccer books I could have ever purchased; it was called “Soccer Fundamentals for Players and Coaches” by Wiel Coerver.

     The book was written to increase the technical ability of soccer players. Sequenced photographs broke down every technique, so players could follow and learn them. I took this book into the backyard and started practicing.   I practiced not for days and months but for years. I literally gained most of my soccer technical ability by following the pictures in a book. My skill level went from very low to playing at some of highest levels in the country at the time. The story sounds very simple and almost untrue, but the reality is I was motivated, and I trained every single day for hours and hours. I enjoyed training and my own improvement provided me with further motivation to keep going. Even when I went to college to play I never stopped trying to learn. I would pull some of the better players aside and ask them to show me certain things. I would then practice what they showed me and then move on to the next skill. I would eventually figure out that specialization was important in my development as well. I wasn’t the fastest sprinter, so learning more 1 v 1 moves that relied on changes of pace weren’t that useful to me. Instead I focused on skills that would benefit my body type and physical attributes. Without even realizing it, I was getting very good at the process of learning. I was asking myself the right questions and looking for the answers so I could improve. My self-belief and self-esteem were very high due to the fact that I had come so far in soccer. I really felt I could succeed at any job or any task because I progressed so far. However, there was another factor that I credit for my personal and soccer development – the encouragement from my dad and others which served as motivation and validation for my efforts. It was the small things they said like “you really have improved”, “you looked sharp today” or “your effort was very good”.  It might not sound like a lot, but encouragement is a major component to learning. Without encouragement, guidance and people who care, learning can often be stifled.

     My goal is to change the way we think about coaching and developing youth soccer players. One of the major coaching issues in youth soccer is our desire to coach kids the same as adults. Parents and coaches want their U8 or U10 teams playing travel ball. They tend to get all involved in the league standings and focus far too much on winning. As winning starts to become the main focus we lose sight of player development and the simple enjoyment of the game. Another common obstacle in youth soccer is something called “Over-coaching”. Over coaching is when coaches tell the players exactly what to do every second of a game or in training. How many times have you seen coaches calling out where to hit every pass or constantly telling players where to be on the field? This type of authoritarian or dictator type of coaching prevents kids from freely making their own choices and really learning the game. Over-Coaching will bring about a counter productive effect on learning. I propose a better way of teaching would be to have coaches set up conditions & rules in small-sided games and allow the game to be the teacher. This would help eliminate over-coaching and let the kids learn by playing while having fun!

     The next important step in the process would be asking the “Big Questions” to guide the learning process. The big questions are questions that lead players down a path to explore and learn without fear on their own. Players will feel empowered because they will actually be in control of their own learning. This concept is part of an educational method called a S.O.L.E or Self Organized Learning Environment. I personally believe using S.O.L.Es will open up a brand new and exciting approach to coaching youth soccer. S.O.L.Es involve having players work together in various small groups (each with a leader) in order to answer the big questions the coach has asked. The kids will need access to the Internet in order to research and come up with answers to the questions asked. The questions the coach asks the should coincide with the soccer curriculum. For example, the younger players might be asked to “explain two ways to pass the soccer ball and demonstrate the technique”, while an older group may be asked “how can a team break down a team that sits”? Throughout this discovery process, the role of the coach is simply to encourage the players and praise their efforts as they come up with the answers. I provide recommendations for setting up a S.O.L.E’s in youth soccer in detail later in the book.

The main purpose of this book is to share new ideas on youth soccer development in simple but highly effective ways that are easy to understand and implement. Whether you are novice with no coaching experience or a seasoned veteran coach, I believe you will find the information extremely beneficial.

     I am asking coaches who decide to implement S.O.L.E’s with their team after reading this book to let me know how their teams are progressing over the months. I am interested in hearing how the methods are working for you. I am happy to read your emails and give you my thoughts.   Enjoy the book!


Using S.O.L.E’s In Youth Soccer Development

(Self-Organized Learning Environment- SOLE )

     There hasn’t been a huge shake up in youth soccer coaching in a very long time. Yes, we have progressed in many ways since I was a kid, but nothing that is a total game changer has been introduced for years. This is where the concept of self-organized learning environments or minimally invasive learning comes into play. There is virtually no research about this when it comes to sports. However, based up my own experiences I am confident that creating and implementing self-organized learning environments or SOLEs into soccer will greatly change the way we develop and coach players. Soccer-centered SOLEs may very well lead to a major turning point in youth soccer development. I understand that this is a big statement but there are already many proven examples of how and why SOLEs work so well. What I am presenting is an easy way to introduce this concept of learning directly into your current soccer curriculum. If you prefer to keep your current curriculum go ahead and keep it, but base it around SOLEs. Before I get into the details of how exactly to implement self-organized learning environments into the soccer curriculum, let me cover a few specifics: What exactly is a SOLE and how does it work?


What is a SOLE & How Does it Work?

     The concept of self-organized learning environments was invented by Dr. Sugatra Mitra, a physicist and educational researcher. The concept started out as something called “minimally invasive learning” but now it is referred to as a SOLE. SOLE learning requires children to organize themselves and structure their own learning. using external resources usually the internet.

Basics of SOLE Learning Today:

  • Children should be put into teams of 4-5 students each. It is beneficial to have a few teams working in a room together so that they can share ideas and knowledge.
  • Each team should have one “captain” or “team leader” who is in charge of keeping order in the group. Allowing all members to contribute and collaborate.
  • Each team should have access to one computer preferably with a widescreen monitor.
  • Children that are computer savvy can start working right away on the given task. If they have no computer experience then some of the earlier time is spent figuring out how to use the computer. One of Dr. Mitra’s first experiments involved putting a computer in the wall of a slum in India to see how quickly the children in that neighborhood would pick up basic computer skills. Not only did these children lack computer skills, they didn’t speak English; yet, they not only figured out how to use the computer, they taught themselves and other English.
  • Children should be allowed to switch to another team at any time (trade).
  • Children can attempt to recruit any student to join their team that they want but it must be a trade with another group to keep group numbers even.
  • The groups are given a question by the teacher and asked to “go find the answer”. The students are not guided or coached after that point. They are just given encouragement from a mentor/teacher, internet access and the members of their group to work with.
  • Younger kids even taught older kids as they browsed the internet, sent email and played video games.
  • Children can go over to other teams to observe what they are working on. They should not feel competitive with the other teams. Rather it should be seen as a positive thing to make sure the entire class succeeds.
  • After a set amount of time the groups will present their results to the class as a whole.

Role of the Teacher/Mentor in a SOLE

     The role of the teacher is to offer encouragement and praise, for example saying things like “you worked very hard”, “I am so impressed with you” or “I didn’t know that at your age”; “I am very impressed you found that out”. When running a S.O.L.E there is no such thing as a bad question from a student. All students must feel free and be encouraged to ask as many questions as possible of the teacher or each other. However, the teacher should never directly answer the child’s question with the final answer. Teachers will ask the children to dig a little deeper or ask them if they can look in a different place to find out more information. If the children are stuck and need a hint, the teacher can give one but it is better if the teacher says something like, “I am here for you to help in anyway, but my hope is you can do as much as this on your own with your group”.

     These guidelines for SOLEs are in place for a reason. For example, allowing children to leave their group and join another prevents one child from dominating the group or another child. With regard to team size, if teams have too few group members then interaction will not be encouraged enough, which is crucial for the learning style to work. It was also found that when children were offered “easy” compared to “hard” questions, they tend to choose the “easy” questions if they were alone. However, teams or groups were more inclined to choose the “hard” questions. Lastly, using one-computer per/group forces kids to share, collaborate, communicate and come up with their own rules and roles. Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of why this learning method works.  

     In order to effectively teach the students a subject like soccer the teacher would have to ask the important “Big Questions”. Asking the “Big Questions” requires some knowledge, so students would be following a logical developmental path. A soccer coach might ask questions like “What is a 1v1 move and why would you want to learn them?” “What can my teammates do when I have the ball and need a person to pass the ball to?” or “What is does shielding the soccer ball mean in soccer and what are the important things to know about shielding the ball?”

To be most effective the questions should reinforce the planned curriculum.


SOLEs in Action: Case Study Examples

The examples are numerous but let me give you just a few that demonstrate the positive impact of S.O.L.Es to date:

  • The impact of access: An underperforming class in the slums of India, knowing no English was able to raise its academic tests scores from failing to passing. The class raised its scores so high that they actually matched the scores of their peers at one of the richest highest performing schools in India.
  • The power of discovery: 6 year old children learned to search the internet on a free computer set-up in a communal area on a street in their neighborhood, after learning how to use the computer, they eventually used their new internet skills to improve their overall academic performance in school.
  • The benefits of collaboration: Italian students with no previous exposure to English were placed into teams and asked to find the correct answers to difficult questions written on the board in only English with no instructions. Teams were encouraged to share and collaborate, eventually all teams had developed their own unique solutions/answers to each question.

The benefits of S.O.L.Es are quite remarkable and there are many examples of S.O.L.E’s in action on YouTube, I would encourage you to look them up as well as the talks by Dr. Mitra (Ted Talks). Watching the S.O.L.E’s in action and listening to Dr. Mitra should help you grasp the concept even better. The next question is can this work in soccer and sports training. My answer is “yes”.

SOLEs Proven Long term & Short-term Results

Dr. Mitra’s research was conducted in many different countries around the world. His studies proved the following be using SOLEs:

* Children became computer literate with no prior computer experience

* Children learned enough English to use email chat and search engines

* Children learned to search the internet to find answers to questions

* Children improved math and science scores drastically in school

* Children showed ability to answer questions on advanced subject matter above their years

* Children developed better social skills

* Children were able to determine what was real and a fraud when it came to information on the internet

* The internet provided the information but the children had to learn the best strategies for getting the information and making sure the group works well together with all members having a role to carry out.

* SOLEs enabled children to become independent critical thinkers

* SOLEs seem to multiply the children’s ability and intelligence.

inspire final cover-1

Barcelona Tiki-Taka Passing Pattern Drill: Penetrating Passes


1-Touch Penetrating Ball


Grid: 15×15 Yards

Instructions: The red players on the outside must make 2 passes before playing the 3rd pass through the cones into a blue player. The receiving blue player must play the ball back to the other blue player through the cones 1-touch, the receiving blue player will then play 1-touch to any red player on the outside. Blue players must stay on opposite sides of the middle cones in order to combine together. The entire exercise is played 1-touch. Key Points: Properly weighted one-touch pass, passing to the receiving players correct foot, eyes up to see the penetrating ball, blue players must open up to allow penetrating passing coming in and support for the combination, red players should be active on the outside getting into good supporting and passing positions.

1-Touch Penetrating Ball:


Playing Out of The Back In The 4-4-2 Diamond Formation: Arsenal FC Training Exercise

Exercise) Arsenal FC – Playing out of the Back 7 v 5:  

The blue team of 7 players is trying to score one of the two smaller goals. The ball starts with the keeper as the blue team attempts to build possession out of the back in the 4-4-2 diamond specific formation. The blue team is restricted to 2-touch, as they focus on opening up the field and circulating the ball. If the red team wins possession, they have a maximum of 5 passes to shoot. By making red team shoot within 5 passes, it keeps the majority of the training focused on the blue team, so they can train working the ball out of the back. The drill provides realistic and meaningful repetitions for the blue team with the objective of working the ball out of the back in the natural set-up of the 4-4-2 diamond. Set the red team up in a 2-1-2 and blue team in 2-3-2 realistic to the 4-4-2 diamond set-up.  Variation: have red team press 3 high and leave 2 back only, add another player to the red team to make it 7v6.  If the blue team is maintaining possession well the last phase would be 7v7 (actually 8v7 because the blue team has a keeper to play with). 



Barcelona Crossing & Finishing Training Session

Barcelona Crossing & Finishing

Grid: Set-up on edge of the penalty box extending to the edge of the attacking 1/3

Players: 13 Players

Key Points and Instructions:

This three-part attacking movement involves position specific crossing and finishing. The ball starts from wide with the blue teams right wingback playing the ball into the striker checking back. The striker lays the ball off to the attacking center mid who plays it wide to the winger. The winger is pulling away and back from the outside cone. The cones represent the defensive team’s back four. The winger will push the ball to the end line and look to play a cross in on the ground to the near post. The pair of strikers will make their runs into the box. The far striker runs across the box to cover the near post. The other striker stays back on an angle covering the far post. If the near post striker misses the ball or lets it run by the far post striker will finish. The attacking center mid will also make a run central into the box offering another option for the near post runner to flick the ball onto. As soon as the blue team finishes their attacking movement the red team will begin theirs.   There should be a rhythm to the pattern with proper timing of runs, firm passing, eye contact and correct foot passing.

Barcelona Crossing & Finishing 1:



Barcelona Crossing & Finishing 2: 


Grid: Set-up on edge of the penalty box extending to the edge of the attacking 1/3

Players: 13 Players

 Key Points and Instructions:

The ball starts from wide with the blue teams right wingback playing the ball into the striker checking back. The striker lays the ball off to the attacking center mid who plays it into the winger who is now running inside. The winger will play the ball back to the attacking center mid who will play it out wide to the overlapping outside right wingback.   The wingback will take the ball to the end line and whip in the cross to the near post. The pair of strikers will make their runs into the box. The far striker runs across the box to cover the near post. The other striker stays back on an angle covering the far post. If the near post striker misses the ball or lets it run by the far post striker will finish. The attacking center mid will also make a central run into the box offering another option for the near post runner to flick the ball onto. As soon as the blue team finishes their attacking movement the red team will begin theirs.   There should be a rhythm to the pattern with proper timing of runs, firm passing, eye contact and correct foot passing.


 Barcelona Crossing & Finishing Pattern 3:

Grid: Set-up on edge of the penalty box extending to the edge of the attacking 1/3

Players: 13 Players

 Key Points and Instructions:

The third progression is combination of the first two. The movement pattern is same as the last pattern with the winger making his run inside. The attacking center mid will now have the option to play the ball to the inside running winger or play it out wide to the overlapping right wingback. If the attacking mid plays the ball inside to the inside running winger will allow the ball to run through the back four (cones) and attack goal. The forwards will run into the box and look for winger to pass the ball square for them to finish.

The set-up is the same as #2 but the center mid decides to play the pass to the wingback overlapping or to the winger cutting inside.  The forwards read the play based on the pass that is made. 









Two Great Exercises For Teaching The 4-4-2 Diamond Formation

rotationmidMidfield Diamond 4v3 Overload

442diamondrealFunctional Diamond Training Exercise

Exercise#1) Midfield Diamond:4v3 Overload: The grid size can be anywhere from 20×20 to 30×30 yards.  The side goals are 2ft high by 3 feet wide.  The red team has the diamond formed and works the ball back and forth to the endline players on red (4 players – 2 on each side).  If the blue team wins possession they try and score on the two small side goals.  Add your own conditions and rules – 2-touch, 1-touch for outside players, unlimited touch for blue team etc.  I like this exercise because it works the diamond in a 4v3 situation that is most likely found in the real game.

Exercise #2) Functional Diamond Training Exercise: This exercise features the players right down the middle of the field. The blue team simulates the 4-4-2 Diamond in midfield plus the center backs and two forwards. Vary the rules so 1 player  in the diamond is allowed to leave their zone and move  into the attack following the pass, add touch restrictions to speed up play as a variation.   If the red team gains possession they have 5 passes or less to get a shot off.  The grid can be 60 yards long and the 45 yards wide.

Be sure to check out my book “Coaching The Modern 4-4-2 Diamond Soccer Formation” – due out by the end of August” – All my other books available on Amazon and link is under “Purchase Books”!





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