Switching forward focus

This session looks at switching play and the direction of attack. Starting with a basic passing exercise we progress it into to a challenging multi-directional possession game.

As youth-team coach, this works well with our lads. But at any level, it’s important to be able to switch the direction of attack so that the team can expose the opposition in areas where they are not set up to defend, or are ‘out of balance’.

We run this session across all age groups. The principles involved paid off in this season’s FA Youth Cup second qualifying round match against Dagenham & Redbridge. After sucking in the opposition, we switched play to the opposite wing, found space, and scored.

We allocate 20 minutes for the warm-up  and 25 minutes for the game that follows.


20×20 yards
Cones, balls
Number of Players

What do I get the players to do?

We begin with 16 players – 8v8 – and the ball in hand at all times. There are four balls per team. Each player throws to – and receives passes from – members of their team, whilst moving around (1a).

Next, the task is to throw and catch involving only opposition players (1b). Progressing further, we add eight gates randomly scattered around the playing area. Each gate is five yards wide. The ball is still in players’ hands, and now they can pass to any player, but  must run through a gate  before releasing (1c).

We’re now at a point where the players have established a theme and a multi- directional approach, so we re-run the three phases with the ball at their feet.


• With the ball in hand, passes are made to a team mate


• Now balls are played only to members of the other team


• Players can now pass to any other player but must move through a gate first.

What are the key things to look for technically/tactically?

Each player must move the ball quickly and open up his body in order to switch the direction of play efficiently and effectively. He must stay alert, always attempting to predict where the ball will go. Displaying quick, positive decision-making.

When passing the ball, we look for good weight and direction. Care and attention over the type of pass is important as well – we want players to concentrate on weight, speed, and whether the ball should be driven, punched, caressed or chipped.

How would you put this into a game situation?

In a larger area measuring 40×40 yards we play a directional game with passers, target men and screeners (2a). Starting with a 4v4 in the middle, white players score a point by getting the ball to and receiving a pass back from their target player in either of the far zones (2b). White players have a target man on each side zone. The target areas are five yards wide.

Players in the first channel are screeners, initially trying to prevent a pass reaching the target player (2c) . But should it make it through, they then need to cut out the return ball coming back the other way.

The target player is only allowed two touches. Either team scoring a point by receiving a pass from a target player then attacks in the other direction. Any move that breaks down is restarted in the middle.


• The white player looks to pass to a target man, but his grey opponent prepares to step across and cover


• A pass is made from the target player back into the middle and a point is scored


• Here a pass is intercepted and blues work quickly to feed the left target man

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