Keeping possession

This section offers a list of soccer coaching exercises that will help develop your players’ ability to maintain possession of the ball. By combining one or more of the exercises with an appropriate warm up, a suitable practice plan can be assembled.


In any of the exercises, you will find that it will be more effective to have the opponents work to win possession of the ball, not just to kick it away. Make the rules such that this is required. Otherwise, you will be chasing cleared balls and players will be standing around.

Pass and Chase – Groups of 6 in circles, each circle with one ball. Player with ball passes the circle to another player, chases pass to pressure passer into one or two touch pass. Play continuously.

Two Balls – Two teams in medium size space (like 30 x 40 yards for U14 boys playing teams of 6) each start with a ball. Each team works to maintain possession of one ball, win possession of other team’s ball. Point for every success, play to 3 or 4 points, move on. For 18 players, use up to 4 balls. Encourages small group play, decision making in support of possession.

Keep Away – Groups of 4, playing 3 v 1 possession with 1 ball in 10 yard grid.

5 v 1 – Play possession, 5 v 1 in free space. Move to 10 yard grid. With 12 players, run two groups at once.

4 + 1 v 1 – Play possession in 10 yard grid. Four passers on outside, one supporting player in grid, one opponent in grid. Player who loses ball takes opponents place. Try for 20 passes without losing possession. With 12 players, run two groups at once. Encourage the passers to work to split the defenders.

7 + 2 v 3 – Play possession in 20 x 10 yard grid. Three opponents and 2 possession players in middle of grid with seven possession players around grid edges. Possession team tries to keep ball in grid and to complete 20 passes without losing possession. Rotate players every few minutes.

Splitting Defenders – Play 8 v 4 in a large space, 30 x 40 yards. Work to keep possession and to complete several short passes in order to draw defenders in, then split defenders or make lofted pass to space away from pressure. Push the pace so it happens quickly. Adjust the numbers to get some success and some difficulty.

Two Zones – Play 4 v 2 for team with ball in each of two zones, like 30 x 40 yard space. Players have to stay in their own zones, can pass with team mates in other zone. Team with ball tries for continuous possession. Add restriction, team must make 5 passes in one half before passing to other half to get point. Defenders get point for every ball one. Change defenders. If it’s too easy for possession team, reduce the space.

Three Zones – Play 4 v 2 for team with ball in their defending half, 2 v 4 against team with ball in their final (attacking) third. Leave a 5 yard empty zone between the two halves. Play to goals without goalies. Two opponents in first zone try to pressure possession team into mistake. Possession team tries to hold ball until its “strikers” in the final third can get away from their four opponents.

Game – Play 6 v 6 to goals. Coach players to keep possession and to switch the point of attack quickly to create a good isolation situation (1v1) to create a shooting opportunity. Can add restriction, like 6 passes before any shot, to encourage possession.

Difficulty Factors

When teaching possession, it is very easy to control the technical and tactical difficulty level of the exercise. These can be selected and used in different combinations to add interest and variety to the practice. At the extreme level, where many of these factors are in place, the purpose of the practice moves away from “Possession” and towards “Speed of Play”, a closely related topic, in much the way that “motor racing” is related to “driving”. Same setup, just different conditions.

To increase the difficulty of a Possession progression –

  • reduce the space
  • make the space more soccer – shaped, not open, not square
  • add players without increasing the space
  • level the sides to make it more even
  • eliminate restrictions on opponents…for example with passers outside a grid and defenders inside trying to win the ball, allow the defenders to go outside the grid
  • increase the number of teams in the exercise – like 3 instead of 2
  • add psychological pressure by adding a goal – like 10 passes to win
  • add psychological pressure by adding a penalty for the losers
  • challenge the team with the ball to keep it against pressure for a set period of time – count down out loud as the time nears
  • add restrictions – for example – if one player uses two touches, the next may only use one touch
  • give direction to the exercise – play to goal lines or goals
  • add goals and shooting – require possession before shooting
  • increase the number of balls in play to force thinking and vision

Possession warm ups

These warm ups are recommended for this type of session.

Wall Passing – Partners with ball executing wall pass in space.

Wall Passing in Grid – Put the whole team into a 20 yard square, let partners with a ball do wall passes around other pairs.

Takeovers – Partners with ball executing takeovers with overlap and pass.

1-2-3 Touch (from Kerry Miller, Women’s Coach, Charleston Southern in 1993). Partners at 5 yards with ball, one touch passing as hard as possible. Change to two touch passing. Push the pace. Finally, change to three touch passing. First touch to stop ball, second touch push ball forward a couple of steps to attack, third touch pass. Passer must retreat several steps immediately after passing. Partners move up and back together very quickly, very demanding physically on the quads.