Today we start a new series in our free soccer resource blog. Every two weeks I will present a soccer drill from one of our soccer practice books and unpack the player and team development principles embedded in the drill. All drills in each book are assembled into practice plans to ensure that each practice offers the proper balance between the four pillars of soccer:
- Technical Skills
- Physical Fitness
- Mental Fitness
It is this balance, practiced over a season, that has led the tens of thousands of coaches who own our books to improve the performance and social environment of their teams.
We will give you a download link to the soccer drill PDF page, a link to the book that contains the drill, and then explain the four pillars of soccer using a soccer drill player development profile chart.
Youth Soccer Drill
Download the drill here: Switching Play & Flank Attack
From our book: Youth Foundation (U9 – U12)
Soccer Drill Profile:
The profile indicates that the emphasis of this soccer drill is on tactics and mental fitness. Certain technical skills will be developed and moderate fitness training is involved as well.
The entire team is involved in this full field soccer drill, making two opposing teams. However, there are three key players of the team in possession engaged at the critical points of the exercise:
- The player with the ball whom we will call the initiator
- The player who receives the first pass and then immediately plays the ball to the opposite side of the field – the pivot.
- The player making the run on the opposite side to receive the pass from the pivot – the receiver.
The goal is to switch the play from the current side of the field to the opposite side to set up a cross into the penalty box. Speed of execution is critical to utilize available spaces before the opponent closes them (and your players) down, thus preventing the cross and the resulting scoring opportunity.
Passing (crossing) and ball receiving are the key soccer skills developed in this drill.
The initiator must pass the ball to the pivot accurately, either to the pivot’s feet or into a space the pivot will run into to receive the ball. In order for the pivot to be able to control the ball quickly and set up the pass to the receiver, the initiator’s pass is preferred to be on the ground at a weight that delivers the ball at low to moderate speed to the pivot’s feet. This requires the pivot player to be relatively open when receiving the ball.
The pivot wants to control the ball with the first touch and pass it across to the receiver with the second touch. They must develop superior ball receiving skills and make sure that the first touch moves the ball into the direction of the ensuing pass. This also requires the pivot to turn their body between first and second touches. The actual pass across the field is likely a longer pass and will be in the air to go over top of opposing players and prevent them from intercepting a ground ball. It must still be properly weighted to arrive in the space of the oncoming receiver without going out of bounds.
The receiver requires to be able to control the ball at various heights while running towards it. Ideally they arrive in the desired space at the same time as the ball so that the ball is at it’s lowest speed and the receiver has a fraction of a second to get their body ready to control the ball. Then the receiver either dribbles close to the goal line to execute a cross into the target areas of the penalty box, or if the opponents prevent the cross, to stop and look for a supporting player to pass to.
The key is to execute the switch before the opponent has set up their defense, i.e. before the opponent achieves defensive shape and balance. Let’s assume the play is on the right side of the field from the perspective of the team in possession. Imagine the length of the field split into four lanes (like an Olympic swimming pool). Typically opposing players will have shifted towards the side of play with most players occupying the three right lanes. This leaves the fourth and most left lane open. The team in possession should not have a player occupying that space either.
The initiator, in possession and on the right side of the field, passes to a player to the left of them, the pivot. The pivot could be a central midfielder who is in space, or a defender moving up into space. The distance between the initiator and the pivot should not be too large. Rule of thumb is that the pivot is in the next lane. The pass from initiator to pivot is the signal for an opposite side player to start running into the left most lane. They must stay on side until the pivot passes the ball across. The pivot player does not need to know which player is making the run or when, they need to have the confidence that someone is making the run and will be in a position to receive the ball.
The receiver can be any player close to the most left lane. To avoid being predictable, receivers should vary between overlapping outside defenders, midfielders, or even a central striker.
Assuming that the switch is executed properly, attackers now move into the right positions to receive the cross and finish with a shot/header on net. The target area for the cross is a triangle from the corners of the small box (goalie box) to the penalty spot. The cross should come from as close to the goal (end) line as possible to get into the back of retreating defenders and into the run of the attackers for more power.
If the switch is not on because of poor execution or good anticipation and disruption by the opponent, then the player with the ball at the time must decide on a new play.
The receiving players on the opposite side will be sprinting repeatedly, anywhere from 20 to 50 m. The pivot player must be strong to shake off any potential challenge from an opponent and/or to shield the ball.
There must be communication (preferably non verbal to disguise play) from the pivot player to the initiator so that the initiator knows where to pass the ball, either to feet of an open player or into space to a moving player. There must also be communication from the receiver so that only one player runs into the space and other players assume supporting positions.
The initiator needs to perceive space on the opposite side of the field. If the space isn’t there, the play isn’t there. It could also be that the opponent is shifting towards the side of the ball and space will be available shortly.
The pivot needs to anticipate the pass from the initiator and either be in free space or move into free space. Then they need to perceive the space on the opposite side and decide if the switch is still on. Even if space is available they need to perceive the distance of the pass, decide on the weight of the pass, and anticipate the opponent’s movements. These decisions are all made BEFORE the pivot receives the ball and confirmed after they turn to execute the pass.
The receiver needs to anticipate the switch and perceive available space and decide when and how fast to run into that space. Other players need to perceive the receiver’s intentions and move into supporting roles. Once the switch is made all players react as quickly as possible:
- the receiver to get close to the goal line for the cross
- attackers to move into the box towards the target areas of the cross. They may need to delay the run until the cross is made. They do not want to stand waiting for the ball but attack it at reasonable speed for a one time shot or header.
- everyone must recognize when the play is disrupted by the opponent or poorly executed and then assume the appropriate team shape and balance to start a new play or pressure the opponent to regain possession.
This soccer drill, as is the case with all of our over 500 soccer drills, has coaching points and progression suggestions. I always recommend to start with minimal pressure (no or static defenders) and lower pace (to get accuracy and timing right). Once the concept is understood and executed well, complexity can be increased. The team should be able to be reasonably successful in a 15-25 minute drill session. In future practices the drill can be repeated with increased requirements.