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Possession Resting with the Ball

by Stewart Flaherty

Resting with the ball is a concept introduced by Jose Mourinho in his biography. Mourinho is a strong advocate of the school of thought that defending for extended periods saps the energy of a team and leads to fatigue.

Mourinho noted some interesting slants on possession, that some perceive as negative play, but in reality is keeping possession and making good decisions for yourself and your team.


Many people question why players who defend end up more tired than those who attack, is it just a mental issue? The truth is, there may be a mental aspect of defenders becoming more mentally worn out by chasing the ball only to not achieve winning possession, but the intensity level is consistently high when defending.

 If your team is not in possession of the ball, you must pressure the opponent who is in possession. If your player is not in possession of the ball, then you must track your opposing numbers run. This does not allow you any rest as you are constantly reacting to the play of your opposing team.

On the other side of the coin, if you have the ball you must create options as a team, but it is possible for players to slow runs down, or for three or four players to go forward in attack while other grab a breather. For these reasons, the team that is in possession of the ball, dictates not only the pace and tempo of the game, but forces the other team to make runs to pressure and cover. The more the ball moves around the field, the more the opposition is forced to burn energy.


Selection and timing of runs is a crucial topic to teach a youth soccer player as they grow older and begin to play competitive games on a larger field. While it is a nice coaching cliché to tell players they should “go all out every second,” and never slow down,” that is not the correct attitude to teach.

While mental focus and effort must remain high throughout a game, to physically run full speed and sprint around for 90 minutes is physiologically impossible. For this reason, you should educate a player in when to make a 50 yard run to join the attack, and when to hold and provide a safe back option.

Take into account the strengths and weaknesses of each individual player when advising them in their strategy throughout a game. If a player has an attacking gift you should set them up to succeed by allowing them to join the attack, if a player lacks stamina or is stronger defensively then they should provide a back option to players who are in attacking positions. This will allow your team to pass back and recycle possession if they are stuck for options in the attacking third.

Jose Mourinho also raises an interesting concept when a player is attacking in possession of the ball. It is common to teach forwards and wingers to dribble at the opposition and attempt to penetrate the opposing back line. Mourinho emphasizes decision making in this aspect, if a player is a gifted dribbler and finds himself in a 1 v 1 situation he should absolutely attack the defender. However, if the defender has cover this situation could be viewed as a waste of energy. It is a better decision to pass and find space as a group, rather than sprinting to the by line against 2 defenders.


Keep away and possession drills are always good for developing ability in possession. But to teach timing and selection of runs, and advise players on how to maximize their energy and pace themselves throughout a game you should do it in a game like scenario. Half field and full field scenarios are good settings to get your coaching points across.


Line up 6 attackers against 8 defenders. Line your attackers up as a line of four defenders and four midfielders. Line your attackers up as a pair of forwards and four midfielders. Teach the following coaching points in this scenario;

  • Wingers only attacking off the dribble in 1 v 1 situations.
  • One central midfielder joining attack, and the other sitting to hold and give a safe possession option.
  • Link up play between attackers and midfielders.
  •  Midfield communication.


Perform a similar exercise except this time on a full field under scrimmage conditions. To ensure success of the players you are coaching play 11 v 8. This way, a possession option will always be easy to find if good decisions are made.

Teach the concept of 3 or 4 players joining the attack at a time and looking to create a mismatch in a certain area of the field. Use the full field scenario to show the vulnerability to a counter attack if your team loses possession with all players having run forward.