Possession in Tight Spaces

By Steven Smith

This training session will focus on the importance of maintaining possession of the ball in very restricted spaces. It is likely designed for more senior players who have strong technical ability but is designed to increase that ability under pressure with little time and space.

Activity 1: Three Squares

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.

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.
Players may attempt to dribble through the middle grid and a player in the inner grid must then switch places with the dribbler on outside grid.

Activity 2: 4 V 4 Plus 1
Short field of 28 yards by 25 yards wide. Two field set up with space between and full size goals on both fields.

Players compete 5 vs. 5 or 4 vs. 4 plus one neutral all time attacker. Switch competition every three minutes with an incentive for the winner each game.

Activity 3: Twenty One

Possession oriented play is essential to the modern game of soccer. Many of the activities to develop possession allow for maximum success by giving space for possession or by giving extra attackers to the possessing side. The ability to control the ball in possession in tight spaces is often ignored in training session by prioritizing success and space.

This activity emphasizes possession while having to concentrate and think more than just one step ahead. The athletes will need to move to position themselves for maintaining possession in very tight spaces (much like the full sided game when compressed to a certain portion of the field). This movement and communication necessary under strict pressure of time and space can have a great effect on maintaining possession once the game whistle blows.

Two teams of seven players occupy a rectangular grid in any portion of the field. Coach serves the ball to either color team for initial play. Each successful pass is counted in sequence until the score of 21 is achieved. Every ball that goes out of play is left out and the coach starts a new ball without hesitation to the team who did not knock the ball out of bounds. Quick transition to the new ball is essential. Once a total (not sequential) 21 passes is achieved the game ends and the losing side must respond with a consequence such as a series of sideline to sideline sprints and the game resumes. A third team waiting in the wings can substitute for the losing side and begin possession by being served the first ball.

Add goalkeepers to the end who can play the ball with either their feet or to the hands (coach's preference) but the pass to the goalkeeper does not count as part of the total completed passes toward the accumulation of 21 passes (see drawing 2).

By Steven Smith Head Coach at Hope College, Holland, MI

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