Running in behind

This exercise is a shaping session for the tactic of making runs in behind the defence, which is such a vital way of creating goal scoring opportunities.

These tactics are used against a high line of defence and even on the edge of the box. Therefore, when planning tactics to eliminate the opposition back line, this type of exercise encourages forward players to break the last line of defence.

As a drill, it is designed to practise simple movements that are related to improving a player’s awareness of space, developing game intelligence, and encouraging players to understand when, and how, to make runs in behind the defence.

The simple layout of the drill is very adaptable and it can utilise half a pitch for smaller groups or the whole pitch for a full squad exercise. This is an attacking exercise but it is applicable to any area in the opposition half – running in behind is the key movement but the position on the pitch where this happens can change, dependent on the outcomes required by the coach.


Full pitch
Balls, bibs, cones, mannequins
Number of Players
10 players
Session time
Half pitch drill: 15mins
Full pitch drill: 15mins

What do I get the players to do?

Half pitch drill

We set up on a full pitch between the two penalty boxes, setting out 10 mannequins in one half, as shown [1]. We’re using five players in this part of the session.


1. Player 1 starts by passing to player 2
2. As player 2 receives the ball, he looks to link with player 3
3. Player 3 moves from behind the mannequin as if shaking off an opponent and receives the pass
4. Player 4 makes a dummy run as if to link with player 3 but instead moves into space to take the place of player 5
5. As player 4 moves, player 5 runs in behind. If necessary, he bends his run to stay onside and receives the ball from player 3

The ball starts each time at the position of player 1, who passes the ball to player 2. As player 2 receives the ball he looks to link with player 3, who moves from behind the mannequin simulating shaking off an opponent. Player 3 receives the ball and turns ready to open up play. Player 4 makes a dummy run as if to link up with player 3 but moves into space to take the place of player 5. As player 4 moves, player 5 runs in behind, bending his run to stay onside and receive the ball from player 3.

At the end of the drill, all players rotate positions: player 5 runs with the ball to the starting point, with every player (except player 4) moving forward one position ready to re-run the drill. Player 4 remains where he ended up, as he already moved stations during the drill.

How do I progress the session?

Full pitch drill

To progress the activity, we would add another five mannequins to the other half of the pitch and we would turn the drill into a full pitch exercise using 10 players, with two groups of five players running the drill separately in each half. The same pattern of movement as before is now followed on each side of the pitch, with players moving to receive and making dummy runs, as shown [2a].


1. The drill is now run on both sides of the pitch at the same time
2. The run in behind by player 5 is the key movement, but the coach can adapt the drill so the run is made in different areas of the pitch

On completion of the drill, all players then move forward one station except player 4, who has already moved stations in the course of the drill. Player 5 dribbles the ball back to the start position, as shown [2b]. He is then ready to take his turn to play the opening pass, as the drill is re-run.

This exercise needs plenty of repetition in order for the players to achieve a high level of understanding.


1. On completion of the drill, all players then move forward one station
2. Player 5 dribbles the ball back to the start position and becomes the new player 1, ready to make the next starting pass

What are the key things to look out for?

Speed of passing should be high with players restricted to one or two touches. It is important that players are moving at match tempo and are concentrating on their positioning and movement when playing between the lines of the mannequins.

Key movements include player 3 coming from behind the mannequin with a good first touch and turning with head up to see where player 5 is running.

Player 4 must make a realistic dummy run towards player 3 and then sprint away with sharp movement at the right time. Look for player 5 to run as the pass is released to player 3 – it is vital player 5 stays onside so we are looking for him to make a curved run and not break the line of the mannequins before the pass from player 3 is released.

Player 3 is the key pivot in the move and must control and turn in one movement. Make sure players understand the move and why we are running it – a switched on defence will be hard to take by surprise if the anticipation and movement from the players is not exact. In this drill, the timing of runs is vital.

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