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Soccer Possession Games

by Stewart Flaherty

Possession of the ball is the most valuable thing in soccer. You cannot concede goals or be at any threat from the opposition if you manage to retain possession of the ball. Even if you are not penetrating the opposition defensive line, possession of the ball can cause the opposition team problems on a number of levels.


An accumulation of chasing passes around the field side to side will lead to fatigue in the opposition team. It is no coincidence that elite teams such as Manchester United score a high amount of late winning goals and equalizers. Rival fans like to write this off as “lucky,” the truth is that if you keep possession of the ball well you have a higher chance of success against a fatigued opposition defense later in the game.


The shape of the opposing defense is crucial to their success. It is common, especially with younger soccer players, for an attacking team to be impatient and try and penetrate the opposition with every pass as soon as the attacking third of the field is entered.

While it is right to encourage bravery and creativity in attack, it is more important to develop good decision making. There is a time to play a through ball, but there is also a time to play a pass to an open teammate that could be to the side or even back.

If an attacking player tries a through ball every time he runs the risk of harming his team. The completion percentage for key passes aimed to break down the defense is lower, so a player who is one dimensional and tries it every time may consistently lose possession. Teams that are unable to hold possession in the attacking third cannot place sustained pressure on the opposition, and in fact end up spending a disproportionate amount of time defending and working to win the ball back. This will place them at risk of the fatigue outlined above.

As a rule of thumb, if you have a creative player you should work to develop their attacking instinct without coaching the bravery out of them. Do not criticize during a game if they try something creative and give possession away, all you will be achieving is creating a fear of failure, and you will lose the positive aspect of their attacking mentality.

Speak to them in practice or during training, advise them to avoid giving possession away three times in a row during a game, while doing this explain the fatigue element of not holding possession. By framing it in this manner, you are showing that they are serving a team purpose, rather than being criticized. Show patience as you wait for improvement, rather than creating stress if it does not happen immediately in the next game.

ACTION PLAN-Includes Three games to develop Possession

Work the concepts outlined above into your regular coaching points. Emphasize on a consistent basis the value of possession and not giving it away. It is human nature to give praise goals and assists, be vociferous in your praise of players who consistently keep possession for the team. Use the following drills to refine possession;


Mark 3 clear circles out on the field. The first circle should be 30 yards in radius, the second 20 yards and inside the first, and the third only 10 yards and located inside the second. Number the circles from 1 through 3, 1 being the smallest and 3 the largest.

Play 3 v 1 keep away, with the only restriction being the attackers must stay in the circle called by the coach, the defender is allowed to go anywhere. If the coach calls “3” all attackers must move inside the largest circle and keep the ball away from the defender, this will force good movement off the ball and longer, more driven passes. If the coach calls “1,” the ball comes inside the smallest circle more of an emphasis is on quick ball movement and finding space in a tighter area.

View the Circle drill designed with Coachfx by clicking on the image.

zig zag agility with ball


Play this drill on half a field under game conditions. Have 9 attacking players lined up as a goalkeeper, a back four, and a midfield four attacking the halfway line. Then place 6 opposition players opposite them attacking the goal, two forward and four midfielders. The attacking team scores by dribbling over the halfway line after they have completed 7 passes, the opposing team scores by winning the ball and shooting on goal. Award the attacking team on point every time they complete 7 passes and cross the halfway line, award the opposition 1 point for a shot on target, and 3 points for a goal. See the coachfx drill below.

zig zag agility with ball



Refine the rules of a scrimmage to encourage patience in possession. You do this by splitting the field into thirds, and not allowing a team to move forward from the defensive to the middle third without completing at least 5 passes. Also you could impose the restriction of at least 5 passes being completed before a goal is scored.