Position specific development

The object of this session is to give players the opportunity to work on some of the individual requirements for their specific positions in the appropriate areas of the pitch. The players are challenged technically to execute some of the key skills for their positions – the focus of the attacking players is on creating chances and scoring goals, while the goalkeeper and the defenders concentrate on stopping chances being created and goals being scored.

Players tend to enjoy this exercise as it gives them the opportunity to practise aspects of the game that are related to their positions. As managers and coaches, it is important that we strive to develop and improve individuals, even those at the top level. This practice provides a platform for that individual development.

This session could be run on a weekly basis, or it could be linked to a tactical focus for an upcoming game. For instance, if you are playing a team against which you want to create overloads in wide areas and attack from crosses, you can adapt the session to ensure you get the outcomes you want.

Two-thirds of pitch
Balls, bibs, mannequins, 1 full size goal, 2 mini goals
Number of Players
15 players + 1 goalkeeper
Session time
Total: 50mins

What do I get the players to do?
Phase 1
We set up on two-thirds of a pitch with a full-size goal in its normal position and two target goals positioned midway between the penalty area and the halfway line. Two mannequins are placed on the halfway line and another two are positioned just outside the D of the penalty area. We are using a goalkeeper and 15 players, split into 5 red defenders and 10 blue attackers, starting as shown [1].

The goalkeeper begins play by throwing the ball to the red left back, who plays the ball down the line outside the wide mannequin. The blue right back receives the ball and plays with purpose to the nearest centre midfielder, who quickly moves the ball on to the other centre midfielder.

The midfielder hits a diagonal aerial pass for the red right back to head clear to the blue left winger. As the blue left winger receives the ball, the blue left back makes either an overlapping or underlapping run to go 2v1 against the red defender. The blue left winger and left back combine to cross the ball into the box, where two active blue strikers make appropriate movements in an attempt to beat the one active red centre back and score past the keeper.

If at any point the reds manage to gain possession of the ball, they should pass into the mini goals to encourage good habits in transition.

When the ball is finally dead, players immediately reset and move on to phase 2 of the session.

  1. Phase 1 begins with a throw from the keeper to the red left back, who plays the ball outside the mannequin to the blue right back
  2. The blue centre midfielder hits a diagonal aerial pass to the red right back, who heads the ball clear to the blue left winger
  3. The blue left back goes on an overlapping run, combining with his team mate to beat the defender and cross
  4. Two blue strikers make runs in the box and attempt to beat the red centre back to the cross
  5. In each phase of the session, the reds should pass into the mini goals if they gain possession

Phase 2
In this phase, play starts with the blue right winger taking on the red left back in order to deliver a cross into the penalty area, as shown [2]. The two active blue strikers and the left winger should make appropriate runs in the box in an attempt to evade the attentions of the red centre back and right back. One of the blue attackers should meet the cross and try to score past the keeper. Ensure the attackers vary their movements, so they don’t make the same runs as in phase 1.

As soon as the ball is dead, play moves on to the third and final phase.

  1. As soon as the ball goes dead in phase 1, players reset and phase 2 begins with the blue right winger taking on the defender and crossing
  2. The two active blue strikers and the left winger make runs in the box and attempt to score from the cross
  3. The red centre back and right back are both active and should defend the cross

Phase 3
As soon as the players have reset, play starts with the blue striker moving off the mannequin to receive a diagonal pass from the blue centre midfielder. The striker lays the ball off to the other blue centre midfielder.

As this exchange of passes is happening, the other blue striker starts a carefully timed run across the line and in behind the mannequin to receive the ball and finish first time on the turn, as shown [3].

  1. As soon as phase 2 ends, players reset and phase 3 begins with the blue striker coming off the mannequin to receive a diagonal pass
  2. The centre midfielder receives a lay off from the first striker and passes into the path of a well-timed run by the second striker
  3. The second striker receives the ball behind the mannequin and finishes first-time on the turn

What do I get the players to do next?
Repeat all three phases but this time work the opposite side of the pitch. For example, this time phase 1 would begin with the goalkeeper playing an opening pass to the red right back.

How do I progress the session?
For the first part of the session we would usually start virtually unopposed so the players get used to the pattern of play and the timing of passes. When the understanding of the session has been developed, the defensive players (the reds) can be more competitive and additional defensive players can be added to the practice to increase the pressure on the attacking team. This particularly applies to phase 3, where you can introduce centre backs to mark the strikers.

The patterns of play can also be varied to keep players engaged.

What are the key things to look out for?
As this session links from one phase to another and has many different aspects, the technical demands are high. For the attackers, the quality of passing is essential, particularly in terms of the accuracy and weight of pass. We also want to see a high quality of delivery from wide areas and excellent movement off the ball, with well-timed runs and a desire to attack the ball in the penalty area. The ability to finish efficiently is the final piece of the puzzle.

For the defenders, there are opportunities to defend 1v1 and 1v2, as well as defending balls played into the box. With this in mind, body shape, positioning, angles and distances are vital, along with a desire to keep clean sheets.

The goalkeeper gets repetition in terms of distribution to full backs and dealing with crosses and through balls.

What are the typical mistakes players might make, and how do I avoid them?
Concentration can lapse in between the different phases of the session. Players need to recognise the change in their roles and where they need to be positioned for the start of the next phase.

As it’s a linked session, the outcome of each phase can be compromised if an error is made. To remedy this, ensure the coaches have a couple of balls each, ready to feed in at the point of any breakdown in play.

Another problem is that strikers can get lazy with their movement as the session progresses. To avoid this, make sure they remain alert and demand high standards from them.

How would I put this into a game situation?
Run a small-sided game set in the final third of the pitch, with an emphasis on attacking in wide areas.

How long does the session last?
After a warm-up (not shown), the first part of the session would start with players familiarising themselves with the patterns. To do this we would run phases 1 to 3 unopposed for 10 minutes. We would next run the three phases for 15 minutes, this time with defensive players set the challenge to compete as if it was in a game situation.

Progressing the session, we would run the activity for a further 15 minutes, varying the passing and movement patterns and adding in additional defenders to challenge the attacking players appropriately.

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