Whiteboard for the players...

Over the last few sessions I have really focused on rotation and playing through the midfield.  Here a few practices I've have used to coach this based on a 4-3-3.  The aims of the sessions are;

  • To explain rotation as a midfield 3

  • To explain movement, in relation to each other and the ball

  • To encourage playing through midfield


Above is the formation I am currently using with this group, its a GK-4-3-3 with the midfield playing with a 1 and 2.  This shape gets width from the full back (2/3) and the Wingers (7/11).  The midfield three (4/8/10) look to control the game, the number 4 looks to link the defence to the attack. The 8 or 10 must be flexible to play high like a support striker or deeper to support the number 4.

Ultimately I would like all midfielders to be interchangeable, rather than designating specific roles to each player. This practice was the first step.


Session structure

Session structure


The aim of the practices is to paint pictures for the midfield 3, we have spent 5 or 6 sessions discussing playing out from back. This is something the players have now "got" and can successfully perform in a match.  Previous sessions looked at playing from the goalkeeper into the defensive third, these session now look at how we deal with the ball centrally.

Above is the area of the pitch used for all practices, the area is quartered, I've found this is a great way for players to visualize the different zones of the midfield and really helps when working in 2's or 3's. 


Practice was unopposed but with interference and direction

Practice was unopposed but with interference and direction


In this practice the 2x Central defenders and Striker (ORANGE) play as target players.  3 sets of midfielders (RED/YELLOW/BLUE) move the ball from the central defenders to the striker.

Initially I did this backwards and forwards, so the pattern was CB - M - CF - M - CB, then I progressed to the players working directional so restarting from CB every time.  Once I had introduced this topic to the players, I really tried to let them experience it and coached mainly though challenges and suggestions, such as;

  • Challenge "As a 3 can you fill 3 of the 4 boxes at all times?"

  • Challenge "Can you combine with a midfielder before playing into the striker?"

  • Challenge "Can you rotate to receive the ball in different areas of the grid?"

  • Challenge "Can you empty a box for a team mate to fill?"

  • Challenge "Can you receive the ball in a position to play forwards?"

Once they had done this for 10 minutes we discussed the technical aspects of the movement, as we looked to make it more game related.


Passing lines and the 'diagonal pocket'

Passing lines and the 'diagonal pocket'

So after watching a lot of games, a trying to figure out "what works..." here are some guidelines/principles that might help you and your players. They are not set rules, football is random so they need to explained to players so that they might work, not fail proof by any means!

The diagonal pocket; this is a concept discussed in length below, by encouraging your deepest midfielder to be as far away from the ball as possible a few things naturally start to happen.  Firstly it opens better options for the defender in possession, in the diagram above the 4 is diagonal and it opens passing lines to the 8 and 10. Secondly, by playing diagonally the 4 tends to get a much better body position when receiving the ball, meaning he can open up to play forwards.

Same amount of players, but less passing lines

Same amount of players, but less passing lines

This diagram (above) highlights this even more, here the 4 is on the same line as the ball, so blocks the pass forwards to 8..and perhaps 10 and it also likely he is receiving the ball with a closed body shape.  

This is a trigger for rotation! 

The simplified image below shows the rotation, CB receives the ball and 4 is now inline with ball, so he moves forward emptying a space and perhaps drawing an opposition player with him.  Number 8 has recognised this and drops in to the deepest box, again opposite side. Number 10 shifts laterally to fill 3 of the 4 boxes and offer a different pass to for the CB (orange).

Rotation of midfield three

Rotation of midfield three


Next I tried to make the practices more game related, I added two full backs to support the game either side.  First we played 10 minutes of possession, so RED v BLUE with ORANGE as a support players.  This was a mulit-directional practice, again the aim was the rotation not necessarily playing it forwards.

This was beneficial, as the players had progressed from unopposed to now opposed, but with lots of support (overload).  In fact, players found this far too easy and I quickly moved on, its not a step I would bypass though as it was a natrual progression in scaffolding their learning.


Above is the last session we tried, so now the BLUES act as defenders.  You can motivate them by using the goal, so if they win possession they can score.

The midfield 3 must successfully transfer the ball from defenders to CF.  

This produces some really good pictures for the players and they had to work really hard to keep possession.  

Some pictures that came out..

  • Midfielders play quickly, as individuals and 2/3's

  • Defender plays highest midfielder, who sets for teammate to play through to CF

  • Defender stepping into midfield to draw opposition and create space

  • CF swapping with CM

  • Defender plays direct to CF

All sessions are created using academy soccer coach