Passing Combinations

UEFA A Licence Coach, Tim Wareing, operates his Academy in Belfast. The ex Academy Director of Irish League side, Lisburn Distillery, shares his latest elite session with The Soccer Store. All the equipment that Tim uses can be purchased direct from The Soccer Store.  The focus this week is on passing.

It's a pet hate of mine that with some coaches the first they do at training is send their players for a run as they arrive.  I want my players good on the ball & enjoying the sessions so the first thing they see is the ball.  Below is a typical warm up with the ball.  I delivered this to my younger group at the academy aged from 6-10.

Warm Up With Ball

Warm Up With Ball


Dribbling warm up with the ball with series of turns & movements.


All players have a ball & dribble inside a 30 x 30 yard area.


All players dribble around the grid with their ball attacking space. Players should listen to the instructions called by the coach. Encourage players to attack space, use different fakes, moves & turns.


  1. Players exchange balls with each other.
  2. Stop their ball & take another one.
  3. Stop their ball, jump in the air (while calling their name) & take another one.
  4. Stop their ball, touch the ground with both hands, then take another one.
  5. Stop the ball, roll it back with the sole of the foot, then take another one.
  6. Stop the ball, sit down, get up quickly & take another one.
  7. Stop the ball & take another one away at pace.
  8. Stop the ball, jump & shoulder charge the opponent, then take their ball.
  9. Stop the ball, jockey back three steps, then take another one.
  10. Stop the ball, run to touch the other ball, then run back to their own.

Add more as you please.


  • Dribbling skills.
  • Close ball control.
  • Lots of touches, left & right foot.
  • Head up.
  • Turns & change of direction.
  • Awareness.
  • Attack space.
  • Speed.

The main focus of the session today was passing.  Although I generally don't like boring drills I introduce a gate for a target that the players must make accurate passes for the ball to go through.  For a bit of fun you could play a game of 'donkey' that if a player makes an wayward pass they receive a letter.  Adds a little competition & helps keep players focus.

Passing / Receiving Through Targets

Passing / Receiving Through Targets


Passing accuracy.


One ball between two players.  Players should face each other 5-10 yards away from each other with a mini gate set up in the middle.  The gate should be approx a yard wide.


X1 passes to X2 through the gate placed in between the players.  X2 controls the ball & passes it back through the gates to X1.  Players count how many passes go through the gates successfully in the time limit.


  1. Condition passing foot.
  2. Players have to control with the left & play with right foot & vice versa.
  3. Reduce time.
  4. Increase the distance.
  5. If players miss a gate - there score returns to zero - keep count.


  • Use inside of the foot.
  • Lock ankle square to the target.
  • On toes to receive a pass - move into line with the ball.
  • Communication - call partners name.
  • Try to be quick but maintain accuracy.
  • Help partner with straight passes.

I soon progressed the session so that players had to think how they received the ball along with shifting the ball.  This encouraged a good open body & worked on first touch as well as changing the angle of their pass.

Passing / Receiving Through Targets 2

Passing / Receiving Through Targets 2


Passing accuracy & shifting the angle of the ball.


One ball between two players.  Players should face each other 5-10 yards away from each other with a mini gate set up in the middle.  The gate should be approx a yard wide.


X1 passes to X2 through the gate placed in between the players.  X2 takes the ball to the outside of the right foot & plays back down side of markers to X1.  X1 keeps playing the ball through the centre cones.  X2 uses alternate feet & plays back down alternative sides - reverse roles.


  1. Players then use the inside of the foot & take the ball across the body.  Use disguise before making a move & playing the ball back to a partner.
  2. Reduce time.
  3. Increase the distance.


  • Use markers as a defender.
  • Take the ball out of the feet & make crisp passes back.
  • On toes to receive a pass - move into line with the ball.
  • Communication - call partners name.
  • Throw a dummy / disguise movement.
  • Quick change of feet after a dummy to make a quicker return pass.
  • Look up before passing.

As I wanted the session to become more game realistic & offer more freedom for the players we took away the cones & used the open pitch.  We simply encouraged them to take up positions to receive the ball & form a triangle shape in groups of 3.  I was that encouraged on how they performed we then operated the session open play.  Basically we had 12 players & 4 balls on the go.  It was great to see how well they carried this out!

Combination Play

Combination Play


Combination passing.


Players spread out over half a pitch.  1 ball between 3 players.


Players begin with playing any combination of passes to each other & moving anywhere through the half of the field.


  1. 1 player must now play a series of give-and-go with the other 2 players.
  2. Once a player has performed a give-and-go, 1 of the other players does a takeover (1 play dribbles the ball toward another player & then leaves the ball for the other player to take.)  This will alternate the passer each time.
  3. Players make the following combinations; short pass, long pass, take-over.
  4. Finish with players being given free roles & allowing to make / receive a pass from anyone.


  • Communication & understanding.
  • Players should use 1 or 2 touches only & use both feet.
  • Speed of play.
  • Quality passing, weight & accuracy.

As always it is important to keep that theme throughout.  We finished with the 5 Goal Game so that players were awarded points for dribbling & passing through target gates.  There was also bonus points on offer for passing combinations.

5 Goal Game

5 Goal Game


Possession & combination game focusing on changing the point of attack.


2 equal teams play on half a pitch.  5 mini goals / gates are set up within the area using poles or dome cones.

You can adapt the size of the area & the amount of mini goals set up to suit your group.


Teams combine to score a point through dribbling through the gates, passing through the gates or score a bonus point by playing a 1-2 / give-&-go through the gates.

Players are not allowed to score back-to-back goals in the same gate.


  1. Add more mini goals / gates.
  2. Colour code certain gates, i.e. gates on the wing to encourage good width.


  • Good first touch.
  • Quality passing.
  • Movement & work rate on / off ball.
  • Don't force it through gate, look to open up & switch.
  • Always receive ball side on.
  • Awareness.
  • Communication.

This was a nice session.  The players really enjoyed it & it offered progressions that challenged the players.  We have some terrific little talents that have a hunger to learn & carried everything out so well.  Let us know how you get on with your squad.

Guest Blog by Matthew Nickels on IFA CPD in Association with Seaview Enterprises

Matthew Nickels is a coach with TW Sports & attended a CPD event organised by the IFA in association with Seaview Enterprises.  Below he shares his notes from what was discussed in the morning session.  The event took place at Seaview, home of Crusaders FC.


Nigel Best opened by discussing the evolution of Grassroots football.  His central focus was on comparisons with the same on the continent.  The most prominent countries he mentioned were Spain, France & Portugal, as they have continuously generated high quality players over a sustained period.  Belgium was also mentioned based on the players generated in the current 19-22 age bracket.

Observations from a study visit were given.  At 4 clubs visited, that were not even top flight clubs, each had their own 4G pitch provided by the local council, free of charge. This was used by all their age groups, 4 times a week, with each age group having 2 outfield coaches & a goalkeeping coach.

With rates of £60 plus per hour for similar facilities here this is not possible.  The IFA are encouraging effective coaching to maximise the limited contact time, & Pascal is developing the new Youth Certificate.  Nigel believes the Youth certificate is degraded by coaches refusing to do anything non UEFA.

The current level 1 is also being revised due to concerns over how technique is coached.  Age specific methods of coaching technique will be included in future courses.

In study visits games are attended.  This is an important part of learning systems of play.  On a TV screen you can only see where the ball is, however, when at a live game you can also see what is happening where the ball is not.

Nigel concluded the introduction with comparisons between a development coach & competitive coach.  He asked those present which they were, or indeed if they were a bit of both, but warned suppressing the competitive coaching element was difficult & important.

What technical aspects are increasing/ decreasing in top level football?

More of…

-          Fast Transitions/ breaks

o   Arsenal selection of players influenced by speed over 30m.  When defending there is usually only 1 left forward.  Success in transition depends on speed of support.

-          Combination Play

o   Barcelona often look like they are going nowhere with 1 touch passes.  However this draws the opposition and they then exploit the space created.

-          Screener

o   1 or 2

-          Match Intensity/ Tempo

o   Coaching better technique provides players the ability to take in more visual cues & therefore make better decisions.

o   Analogy given of driving a car.  When a learner you have to look at the gearstick, the pedals & even the wheel.  You can’t take in the information the mirrors are giving you.  After practice this is not required & you can even monitor your mirrors subconsciously.  4 sources of information, constantly updated without focus.

-          1 Striker

o   Coach single striker roles, don’t expect to deal with being marked by 2 defenders

-          Defending 4-5-1

-          Attacking 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1

-          Tactical Flexibility

o   Coach player understanding of roles

o   Prepare multiple systems

-          Middle to front attackers

o   How do you mark between the lines

-          Long Diagonals

o   Now an important technique for a modern CB

-          Technical Quality

o   Technique on its own is not sufficient, application of technique under pressure is what makes it game relevant.


Less of…

-          Back 3

-          Sweepers

-          Man to Man Markers

-          Less Space (make quicker decisions based on less time)

-          Predictable movement (i.e. running straight lines up channels)

-          Defenders on the posts

-          Set Play Frequency

-          Twin Striker Play

-          Less Offside Decisions (deeper defending)

o   Coach centre forwards to play behind the defenders

§  Out of sight

§  Creates further space for midfielders

§  1 yard head start when attacking in wide positions

-          Advanced Pressing

o   Triggers

o   Pressure high up the pitch is for Barcelona only.  Their interplay is short, they are always compact.  When they lose the ball in the final third there are 4 or 5 players to press collectively early.  This is difficult to replicate in other styles of play.

-          Long Ball Back to Front

o   Described how some centre backs will mark channel side to intercept, with their partner covering the goal side.

-          Rigid 4-4-2

-          Comebacks after conceding first goal

-          Midfield schemer

Transition (counter attack)

-          First Pass Forward

-          4 types;

o   Classic - back 3rd to front quickly to 1 or 2 attackers

o   Collective - regain in midfield area & group attack with 4 to 5 players

o   Advanced - retrieving ball high up & a few attackers exploit

o   Solo - individual creates by running from around half way line

-          Fast break Principles;

o   DEFENDING - disorganised; space behind; low numbers; square passes

o   ATTACKING - interception; reaction time


§  Trigger - i.e. clearance, interception

·         6 seconds to exploit

§  Transfer - running; passing; combinations

§  Target - Shot

-          Counter the counter attack

o   Quickly reform

§  Midfield at half

§  Defence around 25 yards from goal

o   Press Ball

o   Midfield Screener

o   Defending Deep

o   Technical Fouls



-          Don’t just coach a player to look, what they see is what is important.