Recovery Runs, Counter Attacking, Acceleration and Speed Endurance

By Justin Cresser

There are times when attacking teams are deep in their opponent’s half, but are keeping possession with the players at the back. However, if the ball is lost at the back from a poor pass or a player trying to beat an opponent off the dribble, this can be very problematic as the team that lost the ball is likely to be spread out in an attempt to provide width, and therefore out of position.

When this happens, defenders have to recover as fast as possible over a great distance and therefore require good speed endurance; whereas attackers need to make rapid decisions in terms of passes and movement off the ball and therefore acceleration and speed of reaction would be beneficial qualities to have.

Today’s activity mimics the situation described above and will involve 3 attackers counter attacking against 3 defenders and a goalie. You will need half of a regular-sized playing field for you playing area. Place two cones at the halfway at the points where the centre circle intersects the line. Place a third cone on the half way line 5 yards in from right side line. Have a player stand behind each of these cones. These will be your three attackers.

Set-up another 3 cones where your recovering defenders will start. Place a cone i) 5 yards behind the cone on the halfway line near the right touchline; ii) on the bottom edge of the centre circle so that it is in line with the centre of the goal; and iii) 5 yards in from the left touch line and 5 yards in front the half-line (Figure 1). Note: the defender on the centre circle must start facing away from goal.

Play starts with the coach playing a firm ball towards the corner flag in the top, right-hand corner of the field (for the right winger to run unto). As soon as this happens,all 6 players are allowed to move (Figure 2). Note: you can also have one of the attackers at the centre circle play the ball instead of the coach.

The right winger should get to the ball ahead of the recovering left back and once in possession, the 3 attackers must combine and try and get a shot on net (Figures 3 and 4).

NOTE: The offside rule should be in place.

Encourage the attackers to try and get a shot on goal as quickly as possible. If the defenders win the ball, their goal is to play it to the coach’s feet. As soon as the goalie makes a save, the defenders pass to the coach or the ball goes out of play, have the next group go.

Make certain all your players do 6 to 8 repetitions and ensure that you vary the exercise so that it starts from the left side of the field as well. Players should rest approximately 90 to 120 seconds between repetitions. You can also tailor the activity to incorporate a variety of defenders versus attackers combinations (4 v3, 4 v4, etc.).

Coaching Points:

  • Defenders must recover towards the centre of the goal and get goal side as quickly as possible.
  • Attackers need to move the ball quickly and make creative runs in order to unbalance the defense (Figure 3)
  • Ensure the players take powerful steps when sprinting and use proper sprinting technique (arm action, foot work, etc)
  • The recovering left back must slow their steps as they approach the winger so as not to dive in
  • Encourage both attackers and defenders to be prepared to follow up rebounds


Justin Cresser – Has coached soccer at various levels both in North America and abroad (Hong Kong and Africa). His most recent position was as the Assistant Technical Director at the Soccer Club of Toronto. He has his National Diploma from the NSCAA and is also a certified strength and conditioning coach.

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