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Al Sadd and Persepolis FC training in Azadi Stadium. 2019 AFC Champions League

Keeping team shape – Training with a grid

A common issue in amateur football is keeping team shape during games. The drill presented in this post will help your players understand where to position themselves in real game scenarios.

The problem

Often when you start a team to play in an amateur competition (Sunday league in some countries), to make numbers you enroll players with all sorts of backgrounds and football experience. It is common to have a few players with good individual skills but that never played organised 11 aside football. Therefore, during a game players move all over the park overcrowding zones, leaving dangerous gaps or missing opportunities provided by empty spaces.

You only need one or two players that don’t know how to position themselves in the field to unbalance your team.  While many factors influence the outcome of a game,  teams with quality players but poor shape are often beaten by well organised teams with average players.

The drill in this post addresses this issue by helping players understand the field as a grid. The main purpose of this exercise is to avoid multiple players of the team rushing to where the ball is, regardless if you are defending or attacking.   


This drill closely resembles real game situations. Therefore, you are required to practice it in one half of an actual 11 aside football field. You will need 8 cones and 3 small goals (or 6 cones). Position the 3 goals in the middle line, one in each wing and one right in the center of the field. The picture below illustrates the setup.

Ideally you want to practice with 10 players and a goalkeeper. Divide the players in defense and attack. If your squad is over 20 players strong, and you have access to a full field, you can split the players in two groups practicing the same drill in each half of the pitch. It doesn’t matter if you have an odd number of players. You can play more attackers than defenders, or viceversa.

Keeping shape - Training with a grid
Drill created with Tactics Manager


This is an attack vs defense game. The main objective of the drill is for both teams to keep shape. The exercise also encourages possession football. The basic rules of the game are:

  • 2 teams: defense vs attack. Preferably 5 players each.
  • 1 goalkeeper.
  • Only 3 touches are allowed (e.g.: 1 touch to control the ball, 1 touch to change direction and 1 touch to pass the ball).
  • A maximum of 2 players is allowed in each zone at all times: 1 defender and 1 attacker.
  • Players in possession of the ball can only pass it to a teammate in a contiguos zone.
  • Defending players are only allowed to clear the ball beyond a contiguos zone if the ball is in the penalty box.
  • When the defensive team recovers the ball, their objective is to score in any of the small goals.

You can add variations to the rules, but keep in mind that the objective is for players to learn how to position in the field and maintain shape. For example, you could allow long crosses but only in the last row of the grid.

Keeping shape - Training with a grid - Overcrowding a zone
2 defenders in a zone is not allowed
Keeping shape - Training with a grid - Overcrowding a zone
2 attackers in a zone is not allowed


This football attacking drill focuses on working as a team. It is a great drill that involves every player in your team and keeps everyone moving. These are some concepts that this exercise helps to develop:

  • Players positioning. This drill is designed to give a chance to practice your preferred formation. Players get used to their positions in the field and how to occupy empty spaces.
  • Playing as a team. Although individual skills play a part in the game, limiting the number of touches forces everyone to play as a team.
  • Passing. Since limited touches are allowed, players need to circulate the ball around and in the process improving their passing technique.
  • Transitioning from defense to attack. The objective of the defensive team is to score goals too, but in a different way. Therefore is not enough to intercept the ball and kick it high and out. The defensive team must pass the ball around to score in the small goals located in the middle of the field.
  • Finishing. This drill is played with a goalkeeper. Therefore your offensive players are faced with real finishing scenarios.

You can take the grid concept further as your team gets more comfortable with the idea and with the style of football you want to play. The video below showcases how Pep Guardiola uses a grid systems to play the game in comparison to other coaches.

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