Attacking with confidence

A youth soccer training session by Scott Placek

In several posts, I have advocated an emphasis on developing confidence with the ball at the feet, regardless of the position a player plays. In today’s game with the interchangeability of positions, any player may find themselves in an attacking position. Moreover, the ability to dribble confidently, whether for possession or penetration, will serve a player well in any segment of the field. A defender who is confident with the football at their feet will get you out of more trouble than they will ever get you into.

The first attribute to developing confident dribblers comes from you as the coach. You must support your players decisions to dribble, whether resulting in success or failure. That doesn’t mean that you don’t try to help them see options or discuss the wisdom of various decisions with them. But you must realize that each decision to dribble places the player at enormous risk of personal failure. You have to recognize and appreciate the player’s willingness to take that risk. If you can do that, realizing that failures will outnumber successes then you have taken the first step toward developing that confidence: you have created an environment where the courageous and creative dribbler can flourish.


Warm-up (10 minutes) Every player gets a cone and you make a circle (or use the penalty area). Dribbling in the area, each player with a ball, no defenders. The other players and the boundaries provide the match related pressure of space. Working at a reasonable pace have the players execute Coerver type moves, have them dribble with all surfaces of the foot. Encourage creativity, body feints, evaluate and correct dribbling posture. Each player will get plenty of warm-up touches if they work at a good pace.

STRETCH (5 Minutes) Stretch all major muscle groups.

TACTICAL – Without Direction (25 – 35 minutes) Back in the circle or penalty area, each player with a ball

1) Introduce the player to the two biggest assets in beating defenders – change of speed and change of direction. These two simple steps are many times more successful than all the feints, fakes and footwork. They are the building blocks for confident attackers. Have the players change speed and change direction on your call. Emphasize that dribbling speed in games is NOT maximum speed. If you are at maximum speed as you dribble, you can’t change speed to go by defenders. On the change of direction, watch that players are pushing, not cutting the ball. Cuts are emergency type manoeuvres in that they call for the ball to be changed rapidly and often out of immediate controlling distance or into space not protected by the body. Cuts have their place, but should not be a primary (or even secondary) weapon in the arsenal of tricks to beat defenders.

2) Now introduce the role of vision and how it ties to space. Encourage heads up dribbling and introduce the idea that with the ball at your feet you are looking for space. The sequence is as follows:
EYES see the space FEET push the ball to space (change of direction) ACCELERATE into the space (change of speed) Have players now dribbling look for space created by the movement of other players and perform the sequence. You should see and notice both the change of speed and the change of direction.

3) Continuing the EYES, FEET, ACCELERATE sequence, designate a “key player.” This player continues to perform the sequence, but randomly stops his ball. All players must stop their ball as soon as he does. Now the players are not only looking for space but must scan the field for the movement of their teammates.

Hospital Tag 

I like to finish the circle work with a game that players seem to like a lot. Everyone with a ball dribbles in the area. 2 taggers (also with a ball) try to tag as many players as they can in 45 seconds. If a tagger chases you out of the area or you lose control of your ball (not kicked away by attackers: this is NOT KNOCKOUT) you are considered tagged. If tagged, you keep going and try to avoid tags for the rest of the time (no player ever stops and is “frozen”) If tagger looses control of ball making tag, they are not to count the tag. Go through the whole team as taggers. You can make coaching points out of the fact that if you are constantly going to open space, you will avoid the taggers. You can also make the point that if you are in a crowd of your own teammates i.e. trying to avoid the tag) you are still at risk because there is no room to manoeuvre. I also use this game as an evaluative tool at tryouts. It tells you a lot about the mindset of players. If they are risk takers, they will often dribble AT the taggers, trying to dart away at the last moment, daring them to tag them (what position do you see that player in?). More conservative players will keep moving to distances and space opposite the taggers (what part of the field do we want this mindset in?).

BREAK (5 minutes) I use this time to describe what we are about to do, give them water etc.

TACTICAL – Unidirectional 30 minutes 1v1 in a 20×10 area. Pairs, one ball per group. Set up 20×10 areas for each pair. Each partner on a opposite end line 1) D on end line plays ball up to A 2) A receives and tries to beat D across end line Coaching Points: A moves to ball, don’t wait on it, receive it on the move D follows ball and assumes good defending position A should attack the front foot of D, force D to turn. If D turns, go by him as he shifts. If D is not set (i.e. still coming forward as you meet) push the ball into space behind D and accelerate Encourage use of feints and fakes to unbalance D If you beat D, accelerate through the end line. How many times have we seen attackers run down form behind after beating a D? We want them to continue acceleration for a good 5-7 yards to put the D out of the play. Then they come to normal speed to seek out the next chance. A pushes the play – don’t give other Ds time to get back. Try to put this D out of play as quickly as possible (to reinforce this point (“Delay helps the defence”) I condition this game to provide that A CANNOT turn his back to the Defender, but must face him up. REMEMBER this is a practice for the attacker. We want to vanquish our defenders quickly and decisively.

Switch roles every 10 balls. Switch partners frequently so all players are matched against one another. Praise creative attempts, even if they are unsuccessful.


This game is played in the penalty area. 2 defenders 6-12 yards off goal line, all other players in the goal mouth with a ball. When the coach calls “Escape” players try to get out of the penalty area (over the 18 or either side line) They must dribble over the line with control. Defenders try to dispossess and shoot the ball back into the net. If the defenders score the shot, attacker joins defenders. If defenders don’t score, or player kicks the ball over the line (as opposed to dribbling) the attacker must reenter the field through the goal mouth and try to escape again. Round continues until all players have escaped or been turned into defenders. Then remaining attackers go back to goal mouth and coach calls escape again. Game continues until only one attacker left.

Coaching points: vision – find space, sides as well as straight ahead. great chances to escape with good change of direction you are not out if you lose ball, chase and prevent shot

TACTICAL – WITH TRANSITION (15 minutes) Side against Side, to two 4 yd goals, no keepers (or full goals with keepers) Regular game with 2 modifications: no forward passes (only square or drop) dribbling gates in the field – if a player dribbles through the gate in either direction, they score a point for their team. You can set up a scoring system as you wish (i.e. goals 1 pt., gates 3 pt. other systems have given points for beating a defender, doubled points for beating the second defender, “quality points” for a great move, “brilliance points” for recognizing and attempting a good 1v1 even if unsuccessful, etc.

END MODEL TRAINING SESSION This session is good for U11-U14, and I use it even for U19 and college teams as a reminder/introduction early in the year, with a few modifications.