When to press and when to drop

This session is all about teaching players when to press and when to drop as a defensive unit and it encourages them to identify and respond to the visual triggers shown by their opponents.

As a practice, it allows for the consistent repetition of the key triggers but within varied circumstances, helping players to quickly reference the visual information available and select an appropriate response.

It influences the fundamental skill of pattern recognition, which allows players to become proactive in their behaviour through the early identification of potential threats and the selection of appropriate responses.



Up to 55×40 yards


Balls, bibs, cones, 1 full size goal,
3 small goals

Number of Players

Up to 11 players + 2 goalkeepers

Session time

Visual triggers: 20mins

Progression 1: 15mins

Progression 2: 15mins

What do I get the players to do?

Visual triggers

We set up an area of 50×40 yards, with the length divided into two separate areas, one of 20 yards in length (Area A) and the other of 30 yards in length (Area B). We position a full size goal and a goalkeeper five yards outside the end of Area A. In Area B, we mark out three small gates approximately six yards from the line separating the two areas, and we position three small goals at the end of the area.

We’re using 10 outfield players divided into an attacking team of four (the reds) and a defending team of six (the blues). The four attackers and two of the defending team start in Area A, and the four remaining defenders begin in Area B.

The attackers in Area A must pass the ball to retain possession under pressure from the two defenders. When the opportunity arises, the attackers should look to play a long ball forward in the direction of one of the target goals at the opposite end of Area B, as shown [1a]. If they are successful in hitting the target, they score a point. This is aimed at testing the players’ technical competency.


1. The red attacking team keeps possession in Area A until creating an opening to score
2. Two blue defenders press the ball in Area A and should try to restrict the attacking options of the reds
3. The reds have two ways to score. Here they score by passing into one of the goals in Area B
4. The four blue defenders in Area B work as a unit to stop the blues scoring. They should respond to the visual triggers. Here they stay deep and try to prevent a pass played in behind

The attackers can also score a point by driving forward into Area B and dribbling through one of the cone gates, as shown [1b]. However, once they have dribbled through the gate they can no longer score in the target goals at the end of the area, but if pressed by the defenders, who must react accordingly to any threat, the attacker can turn and pass back to a team mate in Area A and play continues.


1. Here a red attacker scores by dribbling through a cone gate. He can’t now score in the small goal and must try to recycle the ball
2. The four blue defenders in Area B work as a unit and respond to the visual triggers, pressing high as the attacker dribbles into their area
3. The reds score another point with the recycled ball because the blues don’t recover their shape quickly enough
4. If the blue defenders win possession, they must try to play the ball into the full size goal in Area A as quickly as possible

If the defenders gain possession, they should look to play the ball into the full size goal as soon as possible.

How do I progress the session?

Progression 1

Using the same basic set-up as in the main practice, we would progress by adding an attacker to Area B, who stays close to the four cone gates, as shown [2]. He can receive from his team mates and can either score by passing into one of the target goals or by dribbling through a cone gate.


1. Progress the activity by adding an attacker to Area B who starts close to the four cone gates
2. The extra red attacker receives a pass. He can either try to score by dribbling through a cone gate or by passing into a target goal
3. Here the blue defenders respond to the threat of the extra attacker and press high to win the ball

By adding an extra attacker, this means the defenders have to consider an additional threat and it requires an adaptation to their defensive line and a greater prioritisation of risk.

Progression 2

An alternative progression would be to replace the three target goals in Area B with a two-yard end zone. A goalkeeper is positioned in the end zone, as shown [3], and to score a point the attackers must pass the ball for the keeper to receive at below head height. The keeper is free to receive anywhere in the end zone. All other rules and principles would remain the same.


1. An alternative progression would be to replace the target goals in Area B with a two-yard end zone and a goalkeeper
2. The red attackers must play a pass to the keeper. If he receives the ball at below head height, they score a point

What are the key things to look out for?

This is a defending session and the key consideration for the players is to use the available visual triggers to help them understand the risks – in other words, we want players to be able to read the game successfully.

We want to see the two defenders in Area A pressing the ball and restricting the options of the attackers. If the attackers manage to beat the press and make either a long pass or a forward run into the other area, this would provide the visual trigger for the four defenders in Area B. In response to the circumstances of their opponents’ possession, the four defenders would be required to either sit deep and protect against a pass behind, or press high because an attacker is free to run through a gate, or to split their defensive line and narrow off more as both attacking options may be present.

It’s important that the defenders work well as a unit and communicate with one another. They should also recover well when necessary and be composed on winning back possession, so they make their shot at the opposition goal count for them.

What are the typical mistakes players might make, and how do I avoid them?

Sometimes players don’t spot the visual triggers. This means they fail to recognise the threat and don’t understand how to prioritise their response to an attack.

Another typical problem is that players fail to co-ordinate the movement of their defensive line and don’t work together as a unit.

How can I adapt the session?

If changes are needed, the basic principle of the session – pattern recognition – can be maintained, whilst allowing coaches to adapt the organisation in order to suit personal formation preferences, such as playing with a back three or using three defensive midfielders in Area A.

The relevance for players coached in any format of the practice remains valid if they are then required to operate in a different defensive shape. They simply transfer their ability to recognise patterns to slightly varied circumstances, but the key decisions remain the same.

How long doss the session last?

The timings and duration of the session can vary and are dependent on player progress.

The challenges set by the practices can be adjusted through the depth of information and subsequent performances expected.

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