This is a session that coaches players in how to build up to counter-attacking, and it uses a whole/part/whole method. That means we take on new ideas before breaking them down and revisiting. Certainly it means that technical weaknesses can be identified, isolated and practised in parts, making the key principles easier and quicker to learn.

This is an important structure and an even more important topic, given the prominence that counter-attacking play has in the modern game.


60×40 yards
Balls, cones, goals
Number of Players
Up to 6v6 plus keepers
Session time
45-90mins depending on ages/ability

What do I get the players to do?

Variable counter-attacks

Setting up as shown (1a), reds and blues begin from opposite ends – there is a keeper in each goal. At first, two red attackers move forward against a solitary blue defender, who comes to meet the pair, and is looking to hold his ground in plotting an interception or tackle. Once the first move ends, another blue enters the pitch and it sparks a 2v2 coming back the other way (1b). This sequence continues up to 6v6. The premise is always on attackers to score quickly, drawing defenders and passing with intelligence, but being aware of the offside line (at half way), and the fact that as numbers grow the defensive team will become more organised in formation, and tougher to penetrate.


• We begin 2v1, as reds look to plot a route past the blue defender in order to score in the goal


• Once the first attack is over, a new blue player enters and the counter-attack comes back in the other direction as a 2v2 situation

Single-goal attacks

We now strip the task back to a single goal challenge, with the keeper feeding the ball into the area for one defender and two attackers to chase (2). If the defender gets to the ball first he can kick it out of play, but if the attackers reach it they now turn and counter-attack against their lone opponent. Again, we progress by gradually adding players.


• In the single-goal attacking practice, the keeper plays out for a lone defender to battle for the ball with two reds, but the pair gets there first, turning to mount a swift counter-attack back to the top goal

We might now return to the original counter-attacking game, correcting technical or tactical errors as they arise and asking players to build on lessons learnt.

How do I put this into a game situation?

In a match set-up, we play 4v4 progressing to 6v6, asking defenders to keep an intentionally high line so as to provoke challenging counter-attacking scenarios (3).


• In the 5v5 game situation, players return to a ‘whole’ scenario, putting learnt skills and principles into practice

What are the key things to look out for?

We break the skills needed for good counter-attacking down into four areas. The first of these is assessing technical strengths, with players needing to dribble, pass deep, defend, shoot (with accuracy) and show excellent timing of pass. Psychologically, players must make excellent decisions, relaxing on the ball whilst displaying excellent concentration and the ability to ‘turn it on’ at any point.

In terms of physical prowess, we’re looking for pace and agility, with players being able to change direction with the ball quickly. And finally socially, we want to see good communication and cooperation, excellent teamwork and organisational skills, plus the wherewithal to consolidate play when the situation dictates it.

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