Line passing

Coaching objective: to improve passing and receiving skills, communication and decision making.

Experience: U9 upwards.

Set-up: split your players up into equal teams of four, five or six.

Two teams per 40 yards long by 30 yards wide area, marked out with flat cones.

How to play: the teams spread out, a ball is given to one team and the game begins with a free pass, i.e. it cannot be intercepted.

The objective for the team in possession is to keep the ball away from the other team and get a point by passing it to a player who can stop the ball on (or within a few inches of) one of the side or end lines.

The ball cannot be dribbled to a line, it must be passed.

A team that “scores” keeps possession and tries to score on a different line.


Points can only be scored on the two end lines (not the sidelines).

Restrict the number of touches.

Make the pitch bigger or smaller to decrease/increase the pressure on the players to make quick decisions.

Improve your players’ passing skills

As anyone who coaches very young children knows, you don’t see much deliberate passing in matches involving four, five or six year olds.

Very young players are totally focused on the ball. They might have a rough idea of where the goal is but they really don’t “see” their team mates, even if one of them happens to be in a position where they could receive a pass.

Goals are scored when players force the ball into the opposition’s net. There is no subtlety, no clever little touches around the box. And why should there be? The children are playing the game the only way they know how, without constraints, and it works!

But the time comes when even the most skilled player on your team will find it hard to batter their way through the other team’s defence.

When children have been playing for a couple of years or so, the gap between the naturally skilful players and the rest starts to narrow and the child that used to dribble past four defenders and score is suddenly running into “brick walls” and losing possession.

That’s when youth football coaches start thinking about how they can encourage their players to move into supporting positions (places where they can receive a pass) and for the ball carrier to get his or her head up and pass the ball before they are tackled.

The three games I’ve described below will help your team develop into a good, passing side but it won’t happen overnight. Eventually, the day will come when your team manages to string two, three, even four passes together. And that’s one of those days you won’t forget – the day your team started to play “proper” football!


There are certain key skills that must be present before your players can be expected to get their heads up, pass and move to supporting positions.

They must be able to pass the ball accurately and with the right amount of pace over short distances. They must also be able to receive the ball confidently and be able to hold off an opposition player who challenges them for the ball. Developing good peripheral vision is also important.

Four common mistakes to watch for:

A hard first touch: the ball should not bounce off the receiver’s body. It should be received gently and kept close to their body but not so close as to make it difficult to pass. A ball should not be “trapped”.

Not being in line with the ball: many children tend to be side-on to the ball as it arrives, attempt to control it as it passes them and end up missing it altogether. They will find it much easier to get a touch on the ball if they move their body so that they are facing the direction of the ball.

Not choosing the right part of the body to receive or pass with: young players should be encouraged to receive a ground pass with the inside of their foot and direct it away from pressure before passing. Initially, passing should also be done with the inside of the foot. Passing with other parts of the foot can come later.

Inaccurate or weak passing: to improve accuracy and power, your players should be taught to plant their non-striking foot so that it is pointing in the direction they want the ball to go and lock the ankle of their kicking foot as they strike the midline of the ball. The leg which is used to kick the ball should follow-through in the direction of the pass.

How to encourage your players to move after passing.

The first step is to emphasise the need for players to move immediately after they pass the ball. At this stage it is not important where they move to, they just need to move.

Set-up: place your players in groups of four in 15-yard square playing areas with five cones inside it. Each player stands by a cone. One ball per group.

How to play: The player with the ball passes to another player and immediately runs to the spare cone.

Challenge your players to play with speed and accuracy – five minutes without a mistake is a good target.

How to encourage players to move into a position where they can receive a pass.

Once your players have got used to the idea that they must move after passing the ball, it is time to introduce some purpose into their movement.

Set-up: use the same player groups and the same playing areas as above.

How to play: three players try to keep the ball away from the fourth player. Emphasise to your players the need for immediate movement to a place where they can receive the ball after they pass. The key concept is to keep out of the defender’s shadow.

How to encourage players to use full width of pitch.

It is rare to see a team of eight or nine year olds make full use of the playing area in training or on match days. The whole match is often played in a narrow channel down the middle of the pitch.

Set-up: play 4v4 on a 30 yards long by 20 yards wide area with goals at each end. Place two players on each touchline just outside the playing area. Their job is to receive passes from players on the pitch and pass back to the team that passed to them. Touchline players can move freely up and down the line. They cannot be tackled.

Make it a condition that goals cannot be scored unless the ball is played to a touchline player during the build up.

Putting it all together.

Play a small-sided game with two conditions: that all restarts are made by the goalkeeper who must roll the ball out and players are limited to three touches of the ball.

Coaching your players to use the full width of the pitch, get out of defenders’ shadows and move immediately after passing to a place where they can receive a pass back.

Play games like these for several weeks and you should begin to see an improvement in the way your team plays. Your players will begin to pass the ball more, support each other better and keep possession of the ball for longer periods.

Look out Arsenal!

Hit the channel

This is a good way of practising passing into space and to a moving player. It also requires discipline and concentration from your players if they are to succeed. That said, I’ve seen six year olds perform this soccer drill as well as 16 year olds so with a little patience and encouragement, it is suitable for any age group.

Skill level: Any.

Set up: Two lanes with flat cones three yards apart, three yards wide and 30 yards long.

Split your players into four groups: Place a group of players at the end of each of the channels.

One player has a ball.

How to play:

1. On your signal, the player with the ball starts to run down his channel.

2. At the same time, a player in the group at the other end of the other channel starts to run down their channel, towards the ball carrier.

3. When the player with the ball gets within passing range, they pass across the gap between the channels to the player running towards them and continue their run to the other end of the channel.

4. The player who receives the ball controls it and passes to the player at the front of the group facing them and continues their run, joining the group the ball was passed to.


Develop the drill

1. When the players are comfortable passing across a narrow gap between the channels, increase the size of the gap.

2. Put a curve or zig-zag in the channels.

3. Reduce the number of touches each player is allowed.

Coaching tip: Challenge your players to perform this drill at pace without making any errors for two minutes.

How to correct technical errors

It is worth running a refresher session with your soccer players every so often, to remind them how to receive the ball, keep it, pass, tackle and shoot.

It is especially important to do this with young players because bad habits can quickly creep in and, if they are not corrected promptly, they will be very hard to eradicate later.

Key coaching points:

The ball should be struck with the inside of the foot as close to the heel as possible, certainly no further forward than the middle of the arch of the foot.

The foot should be made into a firm striking surface by lifting the toes slightly above the heel as the ball is struck.

The non-kicking foot (sometimes called the plant foot) should be alongside the ball as it is struck and pointing towards the intended target.

Young children often don’t know where they should be looking when they pass. Make sure they are looking at the ball at the moment of impact, not the player they are passing to.

The ball should be struck firmly and the kicking leg should follow through towards the target.

And if your players get it right, make sure they don’t stand admiring their perfect pass.

Children often seem to think that their job is done when they pass to a team mate. Make sure they always move to a supporting position after they pass – they should want to get the ball back!

Common Mistakes

These are some common mistakes and how to correct them:

  • If the ball is struck with power but off target – the player has not pointed their non-striking foot at the target.
  • If the pass lacks power – the ankle was not locked when striking the ball, the player is hitting the ball with the side of their toes rather than with the arch of their foot or the top of the ball is being struck, forcing it into the ground, instead of the middle.
  • If the ball goes in the air – the player has struck the ball below the centre line.
  • If your player looks unsteady (or even falls down after passing) check the position of the plant foot and that the follow through is straight.


Don’t let your players develop bad habits. Continually checking how your players’ perform the basic skills and correcting their errors is just as important as teaching the skills in the first place.

Barca Keepaway

Objective: To improve your players’ core skills: Their ball control, passing/receiving, support play and ability to keep possession.

Age range: U7s to U15s.

Number of players: Eight.

Equipment required: Flat cones, training vests, one ball.

Set-up: Mark out a 15-yard square within an 18-yard square.

Divide your players into two teams.

How to play: One team (the passing team) plays in the smaller playing area. The other team (the defenders) wait outside the playing area in the larger square.

  • The game lasts for two minutes and begins with one defender entering the central playing area and trying to take the ball away from the passing team.
  • After 30 seconds, a second defender is added to make the game 4v2. Thirty seconds later, a third defender makes it 4v3 and finally the last defender enters to make it 4v4.
  • Feed in a new ball every time the ball leaves the playing area.
  • Count the number of successful passes the passing team makes in two minutes.
  • The passing team and the defending team swap roles and the game is played again.
  • The team that makes the most successful passes wins.

Coaching points: Encourage players to scan the playing area before receiving a pass.

Players’ first touch should be away from pressure.

Progression: The defending team is restricted to three, two or one touch of the ball.

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

Moving the goal posts

Objectives: To improve passing and encourage players to keep their heads up when in possession of the ball.

Age group: U5s to U10s.

Set-up: Create a 30-yard square and divide your players into two teams.

Take one player from each team and give them a three-yard rope or pole to hold. This is the “moving goal”.

You stand outside the playing area with a supply of balls.

How to play: The players holding the moving goal move freely around the grid.

  • The two teams try to score in the moving goal.
  • The first team to score three goals wins the game.
  • If the ball leaves the area, keep the game moving by putting another ball in play.


1. Play with two balls (this also makes the game easier for younger players).

2. Reduce the width of the moving goal and/or restrict players to two or three touches.

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

Exclusion zone

Age group: U6s to U12s.

Number of players: Ten.

Equipment required: Eight “traffic” cones, some flat cones to mark out the playing area, one ball, training vests to differentiate the teams.

Set-up: Create a playing area suitable for the age of your players. For U6s, I would use a 20×15 yards area. For U12s, a 40×30 yards area would be more suitable.

Mark a five-yard-wide exclusion zone at both ends of the playing area.

Place four traffic cones, spaced a few yards apart, in each exclusion zone.

Divide your players into two teams wearing different coloured vests.

How to play:

The object is to knock over the opponent’s cones with the ball.

The ball must be kept below head height.

Players must stay outside the exclusion zones, except to take a goal kick.

Players can only take as many touches on the ball as there are cones still standing in their opponent’s exclusion zone, i.e:

  • 4 cones standing – 4 touches
  • 3 cones standing – 3 touches
  • 2 cones standing – 2 touches
  • 1 cone standing – 1 touch (very difficult and only suitable for older players!)

If too many touches are taken, give a free kick to the other team. All free kicks are indirect.

If the ball goes out of play, start with a kick in from the side line, or a goal kick from inside the exclusion zone.

Play for 15 minutes or until one team knocks over all four opponent’s cones.

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

The coconut game

Objective: This coaching game helps improve accuracy of passing and shooting.

Age range: U7s and upwards.

Difficulty: Medium.

Number of players: Whole team.

Equipment: A few flat cones, one ball

Set-up: Divide your players into two evenly matched teams.

Tip: Keep the teams small. If you have more than 10 players, make four teams and set up two games.

  • Create a 30×20-yard playing area.
  • Place five balls on top of cones on the goal line at both ends of the pitch.
  • Mark out a five-yard exclusion zone with flat cones at both ends of the pitch.

How to play

The objective for both teams is to knock all five of the opposition’s balls off their cones by shooting/passing a ball at them.

Players are not allowed to enter the five-yard exclusion zones in front of the balls.

The first team to knock all five balls off at one end is the winner.

Coaching points:

Emphasise good technique (“which is the more accurate – using the side of your foot or the laces?”), quick decision making (“if you hesitate, the chance is gone”) and making support runs off the ball.

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