This is our ninth post in the Possession Series here. This is a follow on from our Passing Angles installment.

This installment is not really about your players’ ability to look up with the ball. While that is a definite prerequisite, what we’re actually covering here is the tactical side of how you leverage the technical skill of being able to (and comfortable with!) looking up under pressure.

As your possession IQ increases and players get comfortable with shielding the ball, playing the way they’re facing, giving good supporting angles, etc., the better they will be at connecting many short passes in succession.  The longer they do this in a smaller space, the more opponents they will draw towards them. At some point there will an equal amount of opponents (or greater) in the vicinity of the ball. At that point it becomes very difficult to retain possession.

Your players need to understand that the longer they keep the ball in a small space, the more pressure they will face. So players need to constantly be scanning the field to understand where the balance of players is favorable to them, oftentimes this means they need to find the more difficult passing options that let them recapture numerical advantages.

Because your players are likely younger and will have difficulty connecting long passes (let alone passes that require height), I recommend you instill some simple guidelines for your players that you will work into your small sided games and scrimmages:

  • Look for a pass to the MOST open player in your passing radius. I define the passing radius as the distance that your team is comfortable and capable of connecting passes reliably. This increases as players age. If the ball carrier has a 8 yard passing option but is under tight coverage, make sure your player takes a quick scan of the field 15+ yards around to find a more open player
  • If the ball gets passed back, the receiver’s first look should be to switch
  • After three passes in the same area, the ball carrier should be looking to switch to an open part of the field

You can put restrictions in your small-sided games to enforce this:

  • Balls must be switched at least once before a team can score
  • The ball must be touched by both “wings” (left and right) to score
  • Any pass back that doesn’t result in a switching attempt is a turnover. When you try this one, the other team will get very good at playing the switch which is good thing, but that means the switch may not be there. As long as the receiver of a pass back glances up to look for the switch, I would count it–but they still need to play it if it’s a viable option
  • Divide the playing space into a 6-9 square grid, limit the number of passes inside any one grid

The last post in this series is Play the Way You Face.