Think forward and play forward


Up to full size pitch


Balls, bibs, cones, 2 full size goals

No. of players

20 players + 2 goalkeepers

Session time

Small-sided game: 20mins, Full pitch game: 25mins

In possession, a team is at its most dangerous when a player can make a forward pass to a team mate running in a forward direction. This session creates many of these types of situations.

Players are challenged to think quickly right from the goalkeeper, launching counter-attacks by getting the ball up to the strikers as soon as possible by building play. To do this, we restrict the possession players to making forward passes only. This promotes good positive positional sense and gets the players thinking forwards before all else.

This session takes away backward and square passes until players enter the final third. I like this because it takes the players out of their comfort zones and pushes them to be positive and creative. When players are on the ball, support play from their team mates is crucial in this conditioned game.

When I’m working with senior pros I will use this session close to match day because it is fast and demanding on the mind, which I feel is beneficial for players and schools them in what the game will demand. With development players I will use it more often, because taking up the correct positions in the game is crucial for their development.


We set up an area of 70×50 yards including an 18-yard free play zone at each end. We also position a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 20 outfield players split into two teams of 11 including keepers. Both teams are set up in a 4-3-3 formation.

Play starts and restarts with a pass out from the goalkeeper. The team in possession must play every pass in a forward direction until they reach the free play zone at the opposite end, where they can then pass sideways or backwards and make cutbacks, as shown [1].


1. Here the keeper starts play by passing wide to 5, who passes out to 2. Until they reach the opposite end zone every pass must be played forwards
2. While the ball progresses up the pitch on the right, 3 and 11 advance up the pitch on the left
3. In the midfield 8 and 7 move forward into attacking positions and the ball is played into the run of 7, who passes to striker 9
4. When the striker 9 advances into the free play zone he can play backwards or sideways. Here he cuts the ball back to 8, who scores

Throw-ins can go backwards or forwards but there are no corners in this game. Instead, the ball should be returned to goalkeeper to restart play.


Next we play an 11v11 game on a full size pitch with the same conditions as used previously but now with more space for the teams to play in. We mark 30-yard free play zones at each end, which again is the only area of the pitch where players can pass sideways or backwards and make cutbacks, as shown [2].


1. Play an 11v11 game on a full size pitch with the same conditions but with more space. Play always starts and restarts from the keeper
2. Play must go forwards until in the free play zones at each end, where players can pass backwards or sideways

What are the key things to look for?

One of the key things to look for in this session is an awareness of space, with players making the pitch as big as possible with good off the ball supporting movement.

I want to see players getting on the blind side of their marker, trying to arrive in front of the marker but facing forwards. Players should also break lines with fast forward runs.

If trapped with the ball when facing their own goal and they can’t turn, I want to see players use a trick or skill to beat their opponent and continue to move in a forward direction.

The team without the ball should press high or defend in a low block, as this keeps it realistic and presents different scenarios for the attacking team.

You really do get to see the intelligence of the player develop in this session plus it also helps underline the importance of positional play. The speed of thought used in this session is fantastic and the players really enjoy the challenge.


  • Ball movementBall movement
  • Player movementPlayer movement
  • DribbleDribble
  • Optional movementOptional movement