Playing out from the back

This session highlights the key fundamentals of playing successfully out through the defence to midfield. It helps build understanding and awareness between goalkeeper and back four so that, when it matters, the correct option is always selected.

The relationship between the keeper and the back four is key and has to be practised on a regular basis to instil trust and confidence when playing out under pressure. Enjoyment comes from picking the correct option to play through, and that in turn enables the team to progress up the field without risk, all the time taking out opposing players with accurate passing.

The day before a match we will touch on the key fundamentals as we practise football patterns through mannequins.


Up to a full pitch
Balls, cones, goals, mannequins, poles (optional)
Number of Players
Up to 11v11
Session time
Main practice 10mins,
Progression 10mins,
11v11 15mins

What do I get the players to do?

Main practice

We set up as shown (1) using a half-pitch with a poled (or coned) area in the centre measuring 10×10 yards. There are two back fours – one working, one resting off the pitch – and three midfield players, one working, the others resting. The aim is to work the ball out of defence and into the three midfielders, who will each rotate around the key central area. 

Each midfielder works for 30 seconds then changes with another. The back four remains in place until all midfield players have had a turn (usually this will be around 30secs each), then they change. 


1. The ball starts with the coach who plays the ball into the keeper
2. The centre-backs split and full-backs move high
3. The keeper plays to the centre-back and the ball is circulated
4. Any receiving player must look to play into a midfielder at all times
5. When a midfielder receives the ball outside of the area, he must pass the ball then return to the centre of the poles and look to receive centrally
6. The midfield player works to offer support to all centre-backs and full-backs

What are the key things to look out for?

The ‘take out’ for defenders is to know who to play into and when. Similarly, the ‘take out’ for midfielders is positional play and knowing when to make themselves available for a pass.

The skills we’re looking to see in motion here are good angles to receive, accurate and quick tempo and passing, as well as the use of dynamic movement to get into a position to receive early (and thus have more time on the ball). 

Players must be positionally correct in relation to both the ball and team mates, and when under intense pressure the safest and best option is a ball back to the keeper, who will then clear his lines. Similarly, passes should never be made to a midfielder who is out of position or off balance (2).


• If a midfielder is out of position, players will circulate the ball across the back rather than pass into a dangerous area

Centre-backs must be confident to bounce balls into midfield and receive back to circulate play across the back four.

Mistakes are usually made when players move too slowly into position. This allows opposition players time to close down and influence available options, which they must not be allowed to do.

How do I progress the session?

The session is progressed by opening the area up to a full pitch as shown (3), with mannequins placed in opposition formation. We can also add in passive pressure from staff members.


• Setting up an 11v11 with mannequins as opponents offers players a realistic ‘map’ of play around which they can build from the back

Moving on again we can also put this into an 11v11 game situation. This enables us, as coaches, to see if the practice has been embedded into their thinking and gameplay. Initially we want to see if players embrace this without being prompted.   

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