Three and in

three and in

This is a classic game from the past that was played in the street, the park and the playground.

It’s a great way for everyone to have a turn in goal.

Objective: To score lots of goals!

Set up: Divide a suitably size playing area in two so there are two games going on in each half.

Split your players into groups of four plus two goalkeepers.

three and in

How to play: Keepers start the game by kicking or throwing a ball into space.

The players play against each other. Everyone is trying to score!

The keeper gets a “goal” for every save he makes and changes places with an outfield player after three goals are scored.

  • Who is the winner – the keeper or the outfield players?
  • Who is the winner between the outfield players.

Progressions: Play two teams of two against the keeper.

Players can’t enter an exclusion zone marked in front of the goals.

“The goalkeeper is the lone eagle, the man of mystery, the last defender. Less the keeper of a goal than the keeper of a dream.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Russian-born novelist

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Take your chances!

Objective: to improve your players’ ability to take scoring chances quickly.

Experience: any.

Set-up: set up an area 30 yards long by 20 yards wide or use half a seven-a-side pitch. Place a goal on one end line.

Divide your players into two teams.

Tip: if you have more than eight or 10 players, keep the lines short by setting up two or more games.

Put a neutral player, an assistant coach or a parent in goal.

How to play:

  • Both teams line up next to you at the end of the playing area opposite the goal.
  • The first players in each team turn around so they have their backs to the goal.
  • Throw a ball over their heads towards the goal.
  • They both turn quickly, compete for possession of the ball and try to score a goal.
  • They play until the ball is dead – a goal is scored, the goalkeeper makes a save or the ball leaves the playing area.
  • The next pair step up quickly for their turn.
  • The winning team is the team that has scored the most goal after one or two rounds.


Award a point for a shot on target and two for a goal.

Get your players to sit or lie on their backs as you throw the ball over them.

Finishing school

We all spend time teaching our players how to shoot but most of us don’t spend much time teaching them how to finish.

This is a shame because young goalkeepers quite often spill the ball and a quick-thinking player who follows his team’s shots will often reap rewards.

Tip: following up on shots is a basic skill that all players need to learn, not just your forwards.

The Finishing School soccer drill will help reinforce this behaviour.

How to play: Play a small-sided game and put a coach or parent in goal who is instructed to parry or drop the ball whenever a shot comes in.

Key coaching note: Don’t use your regular goalkeepers for this: you don’t want them to get into bad habits!

This soccer drill encourages players to follow up on their shots and defenders to run back with them.

Variation: Play soccer with regular goalkeepers but goals only count if the player who shoots enters the goal and touches the back of the net in less than three seconds after the ball has crossed the line. If he doesn’t, the goal is disallowed.

The box game

Objective: To improve passing, vision, movement off the ball, communication and transition from defence to attack.

Age group: U9s upwards.

Number of players: Whole squad divided into two teams of four or five (if you have more than ten players, make four teams and play two games).

Set up: Create a 40×30 playing area with flat cones. Mark out a five square yard box at each end.

How to play: One player from each team (the target player) goes into an end box. The rest of the players try to get a pass to their target player. To score a point, the target player must one-touch the ball back to one of their team mates.

Progression: When a point is scored, both target players sprint to the other box and their team attacks that end.

Where’s the goal?

This is a great way to help young players play with their heads up and work together to score goals.

Age group: U6s to U10s.

Equipment required: A pole, training vests, a playing area and a couple of balls.

Number of players: Six to 14.

Set-up: Create a scrimmage area. For ten U10s, I would use a 20-yard area.

Divide your players into two equal teams plus two players who are going to be the “goal posts”.

The goal posts hold a pole or stretch a training vest tightly between them. They move randomly around the playing area while the two teams try to score a goal by passing the ball under the pole or vest.

Play for five minutes, congratulate the winning team then change the goal posts.


  • Players score by passing to a team mate through the goal. A pass that is intercepted on the other side of the goal does not count as a goal.
  • Add a second ball.
  • Add a second goal. Players will now get more shooting chances but it’s even more important that they communicate and play with their heads up.

Encourage and praise:

  • Communication between team mates.
  • Teams that try to keep possession of the ball.
  • Accurate passing.
  • Meeting the ball (as opposed to waiting for a pass to arrive).
  • Supporting team mates.
  • Winning the ball back quickly.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

What to do if you’re being marked

As well as teaching players how to mark, they need to be taught how to react if they are being marked.

For a start, any of your players who are being marked in open play should treat it as a compliment. They are clearly considered to be good players who are a danger to the other team.

Advice to a player being marked

To shake off a marker in open play or at a set piece, try jogging slowly then putting in quick bursts of speed coupled with changes of direction.

If you’re being marked in open play and you can’t get away from your marker, turn the situation to your team’s advantage.

Take your marker somewhere harmless. You can even make him look really silly by taking him to your own goal line or a corner flag at the opposite end of the pitch to the action.

Even better, mark a different opposition player yourself. Now you’ve taken two of the other team’s players out of the game and created a lot of space for your team mates.

How to practise marking and getting away from a marker

Put your players into pairs. One is an attacker, the other is a defender. Tell the defenders to get to within two feet of their attacker (the ideal marking distance) and stay with him as he jogs around a playing area.

Play it like tag. Tell your attackers to try to get away from their marker and all your players to freeze when they hear your whistle.

After 30 seconds, blow the whistle. Check that the defenders are all still close to their attackers.

Switch the roles of each player.

After a couple of repetitions, you can progress by putting a goal at one end of the playing area and asking the defenders to stick close and stay “goal side” (nearer to the goal they are defending) of their attacker. This is the position they should be in when marking at corners and free kicks in and around the penalty box.

Sometimes, however, the marking player needs to be between the marked player and the ball “ball side” rather than goal side. In midfield, for example, and when running back into the penalty box with an attacker.

Progress your soccer drill by playing a small-sided game in which all players except one are allocated a player on the opposite team to mark. This is the only player they are allowed to tackle.

If a player marks or tackles the wrong player, a free kick is awarded.

The spare player on each team has a free role and can mark/tackle whoever they like.


You shouldn’t spend too much time teaching your players how to mark and what to do if they are being marked. But it’s an important part of their football “education” and it must not be neglected.

Share the glory!

If you coach a young team, you will undoubtedly have come across a youngster who is a talented player and striker but doesn’t like to share the glory and pass to teammates.

These soccer coaching tips look at how to tackle this problem, without squashing your player’s enthusiasm for the game.

One simple solution, and an approach that works well with young players, is to reward the behaviour you want to see in your team. Where a player won’t pass the ball to his teammates, you could set up a situation where you can praise this player for assisting others to score.

In training, play a small-sided game (4v4) where players can only score with their first touch. This will force your talented striker to pass. When he makes an assist, make sure you stop the game and congratulate him in front of his team mates.

In matches, give a Player of the Match award to whoever assists his team mates to score.

If you consistently make it clear to all your players that you are as impressed by good teamwork as individual skills, the message that you don’t need to score to be a star will eventually get across.

Attack with speed and pace

“The most important thing for a forward is speed of thought. Top players read the game.” Samuel Eto’o

It’s useful if your players are fit, strong and have the speed of an Olympic sprinter.

Fast defenders can recover from a mistake and naturally speedy attackers can use their pace to run past defenders as though they weren’t there.

But playing football quickly – and with intelligence – requires much more than athletic ability.

Your players need the confidence that comes with having a good first touch and knowing how to shield the ball.

They also need to be know what is going on around them so they can decide if they should try to take on an opponent or whether it would be better to pass or shoot.

In short, they must be able to “read the game”.

The games described below will help your players develop this ability. They are designed for 12 reasonably experienced and competent young players.

I wouldn’t ask children aged less than nine or 10 to play them exactly as they are described but you can adapt them for younger, less skilled players by allowing more touches, more space to play in or creating more uneven teams.

Speed of play – general coaching points

  • Your players will not play faster if you allow them to stay inside their comfort zone. Activities that are too easy are a waste of time.
  • Challenge your players to think, to concentrate, to work hard.
  • In small-sided games (SSGs), try freezing the play and asking the player on the ball “do you know what’s going on around you?”, “where are the opposition?” and “where are your team mates?”
  • Don’t play any of coaching game or activity for too long. Playing for five minutes at 100% match speed is better than fifteen minutes at 75% or less.
  • Remember that limiting touches and reducing the space decreases time on the ball and forces players to work harder and play faster. If your players don’t seem to be working flat out, keep making the area smaller until they are.

Before and during the activities, tell them to:

  • Move after passing to support the player on the ball. Don’t stand still admiring your pass!
  • Receive the ball with your body facing the field and be ready to pass the ball with your first touch.
  • Glance around just before receiving the ball so you know who is behind you. Tip: Make sure your players glance round before the ball gets to them, not as it is getting to them. If they take their eye off the ball as they make contact with it, their first touch will be poor.

Activity 1: The warm-up

Players work in pairs, six or seven yards apart, two-touch passing to each other. Challenge them to play perfect passes every time and play the ball hard. Then move to one touch.

The first player to make three mistakes loses.

Key coaching points: Stay on your toes, keep ball out of your feet and don’t let the ball stop.

Activity 2: 4v4 to target players

Three teams of four play in a 40 yards long by 30 yards wide playing area. Two teams are on the pitch and two players from the third team stand on each end line. These are the target players.

The teams on the pitch score a point by passing to a target player at one end then passing to a target player at the other end of the pitch.

The first team to score three times is the winner.

Progress by limiting the number of touches the players are allowed.

Key coaching point: Talk to each other!

Activity 3: 7v4+1

Seven players (team X), four players (team Z) and one target player work in the same playing area as above.

Team X tries to keep the ball away from team Z which must try to put pressure on the team X player in possession of the ball and cut off passing channels.

If team Z wins the ball, it earns a point.

Team X gets a point by passing the ball to the target player.

Rotate the players between the teams every three points.

Key coaching points: Team X – support must appear on both sides of ball instantly. Team Z – put immediate pressure on the ball carrier, try to force a mistake.

Finish with two 3v3 SSGs on small pitches with small goals. Look for and highlight any examples of fast, intelligent play.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.