Five ball control games for young soccer players

By Rich Fabrizio at

We have all seen it – a team masterfully knocking the ball around ad nauseam but accomplishing very little.  Suddenly, one or two defenders close down an attacker, there is a miscue – a poorly weighted pass or a poor receiving angle – a defender picks off a pass and there is a counterattack, most likely resulting in a goal. This type of ball possession can be very boring or very exciting, depending on which team you are playing.

Here are a few exercises gleaned from various local and international coaches aimed at improving ball control and encouraging possession with a purpose – scoring goals!


Light jogging, juggling, Coervers, free-form passing in 3s – interspersed with stretching.  Emphasize the stretching.

Dutch Game

3 teams (example; 5 reds. 5 blues, and 5 whites) in a 40×30 yard area – adjust grid to size of teams – playing 10v5, 8v4 or 6v3.  Two teams (red and blue) play keep away from the other team (white).  See how many consecutive passes you can complete.  If a red player loses the ball to a white player, the whites and blues play against the reds, and so on.  You can progress from unlimited touches to 3 touches, 2 touches and then one touch.

Emphasize sharp, crisp, accurate, and properly weighted passing, off the ball runs,  good passing and receiving angles, and good communication.  Players should keep their heads up and look long, medium and then short for passing opportunities.  Avoid continuous passing around the perimeter of the grid.  Encourage players to check into the middle of the grid to become target players.  Some of the Dutch professional teams use this as a warm-up.


More and more teams are shifting from man-to-man defending to zonal defending.  In order to disrupt these zonal defenses, teams have found it necessary for their players to be able to make sharp, accurate passes to teammates across the pitch to quickly change the point of attack.  When Johan Cruyff was at Barcelona, they incorporated this exercise into their training.  In an area slightly larger than the penalty area, or larger rectangular area (depending on skill level and success rate), play 8v8 keep-away with the restriction that no pass can be less than 15 yards or 20 yards (pick one).  Count the number of consecutive passes.  All passes should be played as hard as possible to receiving players – almost to the point of blasting it across the ground.  Players will be forced to get into receiving positions and to make good first touch receptions.  Again, you can progress from unlimited touches to 3 touch, 2 touch and then a final one-touch melee.  At first this will not go well and balls will be flying everywhere.  Be patient and stay with it.  You will be amazed at the energy level this creates, the first touch control the players develop, the crispness of the passing. Also, the players will quickly learn they have to think well ahead of every pass.

Emphasize: (1) long, crisp ground passes; (2) getting into receiving and supporting positions quickly; and (3) good first touch control – relax the foot; (4) good communication.


In a 40×30 yard grid with a 2×3 yard grid in the center of the larger grid. Two teams of equal players.

Team A puts a player in the small center grid and scores a goal every time the ball is played into the center grid player and back out again to a Team A teammate (ground passes, volleys, headers all count as goals if successfully played back out to a Team A player).  Team B tries to keep Team A from scoring.  Team B scores a goal if it completes 5 consecutive passes.  Team A tries to disrupt Team B and intercept passes. Reverse the teams.

Danish Game – With Neutral Players

In a 60×30 yard or 60×40 yard grid with 5 yard end zones at each end of the grid.  Neutral players occupy the end zones (they can be field players or GKs); no challenges in the end zone.  Two teams (red and blue) play up and down the length of the grid possessing the ball as much as possible.  Either team (in this example, red team) scores a goal when it successfully gains possession, travels to either end zone A or B (for this example end zone A), makes a successful pass into the end zone to the neutral player, receives a return pass (to any player on the passing team), then travels back to end zone B, makes and receives a return pass, and then travels back to end zone A and makes and receives a return pass.  After you intercept a pass, you can attack either end zone A or end zone B (it doesn’t matter in which direction you start), but in order to score a goal, you must traverse the grid to the opposite end zone, and return to the original end zone where you started (ABA or BAB).  Players may also use neutral players at either end zone for back passes to relieve pressure.  Emphasize ball possession while traversing the area.  You can work on one-twos, wall passes, takeovers, and selling dummies, all with the purpose of going forward.  Look long, medium and short.  GKs can participate in the end zones or on the pitch using both their hands and feet.

Danish Game – Without neutral players

Same game only with empty end zones; a team has to send a player into the end zone to receive and return a pass; no challenges in the end zone – repeat at both ends as before to score a goal.    


Set up a 12×9 yard grid: place discs at 3 yard intervals along the 12 yard length, and then place discs at 3 yard intervals across the width.  Two teams of 6 players each go into the grids as follows.


x     x     x     x     x

A     B     A    B

x     x     x     x     x

A     B     A    B

x     x     x     x     x

A     B     A    B

x     x     x     x     x


Team A tries to make accurate passes through Team B to teammates A in the 3rd grid area.  A’s and B’s can interpass or change places only in their grid.  A’s and B’s cannot leave their respective grids to receive or intercept passes.

If B’s intercept, B’s try to complete passes through team A to teammates B in the next grid over.  Teams compete to complete the most number of passes.  Extra players are divided evenly and fill in with their respective teams.  Switch A’s and B’s grid positions.

Losing team does slow shuttles while picking up a disc on each shuttle.  Winning team starts stretching and is joined later by losing team.

Team stretches together.