Passing into space

Focus: Smart off ball movement in a passing environment, but I have found that it has many other benefits as well.

Age: U10 through U16

Time: 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the variations used.

Equipment: Flat cones to establish the grid. Half as many balls as players.

Players: 6-20 players. This exercise is very flexible, numbers-wise.

Space: 20×20 to 30×30 area.

Set up: Grid of flat cones. I like them about 5-10 yards apart, depending on the age and skill of  the players. If I want to work 1st touch, I make them about 5 yards. Make the grid at least 3 squares wide and 4 squares deep. 4×4 or 4×5 is perfect.


c              c             c             c             c

c              c             c             c             c

c              c             c             c             c

c              c             c             c             c


Pair up the players, each pair with a ball. If you have an extra player, make one group of 3.

Basic Pass & Move:

Explain that you want them to pass the ball to their mate in another square, and then sprint to receive it in a different square. Look for instant movement after a pass.


You can vary this basic exercise enormously by putting certain restrictions on the play, such as 2- touch, ball cannot stop, passes must be to an adjacent square, passes cannot be to an adjacent square, 1-touch, player cannot enter a square that has another player exits it, player must run through the square that the pass came from, and into a new square to receive, receive and dribble into an adjacent square, etc.

If the players become too crowded in the central portion of the field (or any other portion), occasionally freeze play and have them look around at where available space is. If it still doesn’t help, restrict runs into unoccupied squares. If it still doesn’t help, freeze play occasionally and have any players who are co-occupying squares do push-up, sit-ups, or some other consequence.

Each of these variations work on a different aspect of the game.

Coaching points: Communicate. Anticipate. Make a predictable run. Find room to work.


This is a great exercise to work on smart 1st touch. Explain that you want the players to receive the ball and with their first touch, play the ball into another square. Then pass it to their mate who must do the same thing. Once again, I like to have the players move after passing to a different (preferably unpopulated) square.


Many of the same variations described above can be used with the touch exercise as well. Just make sure that you focus on the touch and not the other aspects, since this is a demanding exercises. It can be made very difficult by restricting touches to 2, with the 1st touch required to go to a different square.

Coaching points: Anticipate. Plan. Open body to the pass and prepare receiving surface before the ball gets there. Get in line with the trajectory of the ball. Communicate to your mate.

Variations provided by Gary Rue:

– all passes must be to grids at angles to the passing grid. In other words, no square or vertical passes.

– all passes must be to grids that do not touch the passing grid.

– one touch passes can be made to grids that touch; if the passer takes a second touch the receiver must move to a grid that doesn’t touch.

– first pass is to touching square, next pass is touching square, third pass is to non-touching square (i.e., short-short-long)

– 3 man passing, alternating touching square pass with non-touching square passes.

This is a physically demanding exercise and I use it as a strong warm up for passing-focused training sessions. If you do not see the work rate, they are either not making their runs properly, or are dribbling too much.