Training Movement Without the Ball

By Mike Smith

This session is focused on small groups of players working together to defend the space behind them.

The fact is most of a soccer game is played off the ball. Because of this, great technical skill is needed to take advantage of the short time a player does have the ball. However, there is a lot of coaching to be done, and improvement to be seen, in “off ball “ work.

The following drill, which is also great for working on technical ball skill, focuses on how players are moving to support possession, open passing and attacking lanes, keep shape, anticipate runs and improving overall timing and communication. I use it primarily to teach good shape, body position, spacing, supporting angles, timing and early movement off the ball.

9 players, 1 set of training vests, 1 ball and 20yd x 20yd grid. The coach will have an extra supply of balls at their feet in case a ball goes way out of play. It is important the coach stress the need for everyone to focus on possessing the ball, as this is not a clearing drill.

Three teams of 3 players each. One team is in the center of the grid as the “defending” team. The defending team must stay inside the box and cannot tackle the ball away from the feet of the players outside the box. It is free soccer (2 v 3) inside the box.

The other two teams become one team and basically play a game of 6 v 3 keep away when they all combine.

To start the drill, one team on the outside of the grid passes the ball across to the other team on the other side of the grid. This pass is free.


The player who passes it across and one more supporting player move into the grid to create a 2 v 3 against the other team.

The focus is on keeping triangles with the remaining team outside the grid and making quick passes.


The goal is  to then send the ball back across to the remaining player on the other side of the grid, who can move along the line freely to support play.

When this happens, the two players who were in the center snap back in line with their original team and the player from the other team who passed it across, and one more player from that team enter into the grid to again create the 2 v 3 with the defending team.

Play then becomes fluid.

Balls that do go out of bounds are kicked in from the line, the kick in is free.

IF the defending team wins the ball, they simply have to have every member receive a pass and then the team the ball is stolen from becomes the defending team.

“Points” can also be awarded for completion of a set number of passes by the possessing team to indicate when to switch and the overall “winner” of the drill if needed.

The opportunities for coachable moments are endless. I use this drill multiple times per week. Initially I make a couple stoppages to point out the main focus of the days lesson ( shielding, ball across body, closing down spilts, making splits, etc…) and then allow several minutes of free play. This is also a good pre game warm up activity that most players seem to enjoy.


By Mike Smith
Currently the Head Coach for University Heights Academy Boys Soccer in Hopkinsville, KY , Mike is in his 14th year as a high school head coach with 23 years coaching experience overall  and 34 year as a student and fan of the game. He holds a USSF D License.

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