Small sided game to teach team shape

by Pablo M22nd Nov 2019

Team shape is the ability of players to maintain the team’s formation during a game, especially on defense. Maintaining team shape is actually harder than it sounds. In this post we describe a simple exercise that will help your players to position in the field and maintain team shape.


This drill simulates real game scenarios. Therefore, practice it in a real football pitch with a full 11 aside team if possible. You only need half of the field. If your squad is over 20 players strong, you can have your substitutes practicing the same drill in the other half of the pitch.

The setup is simple, using cones, create a grid in one half of the pitch. Mark 3 to 4 rows, but not more. The number of columns depends on your preferred formation. In the picture below, the team uses a 4-4-2 formation, with a defensive midfielder and a creative midfielder. This means that a minimum of 4 columns is required. In our example a 5×3 grid is demarcated.


The objective of this drill is to maintain shape as much as possible by limiting players movement. The exercise also encourages simple passes. To achieve this, players must provide support from a short distance. The basic rules of the game are:

  • 2 teams (defensive players vs attacking players).
  • 1 goalkeeper.
  • The game starts from the middle of the park with players standing in their main formation (e.g.: 4 defenders in line).
  • When a player is on possession of the ball, only 1 opposition player can step in the same cell. This means that a maximum of 2 players, one per team, can share a cell.
  • 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).
  • Passing is only allowed to a contiguous cell.
  • Long crosses are not allowed.
  • Attacking players can shoot from anywhere.
  • If the attacking team breaks any of the previous rules, the drill restarts from the middle of the field.
  • Two defensive players can’t step in the same cell to recover the ball from an attacking player. When they do this, a free kick for the attacking team is awarded.
  • If the ball is intercepted by the defensive team, their objective is to cross the midfield in a counterattack.

Be creative and add your own rules. For example, you may want to allow long crosses in attack but only from the last row. You may also want to play with unlimited touches. Whatever changes you make to this drill, keep in mind the objective: maintaining shape and players supporting each other from short distance. 

Lessons to be learned

The main idea of this game is for players to get used to the preferred team formation by using a grid system. However, there are many other lessons to highlight:

  • Passing. Since limited touches are allowed, players need to circulate the ball around and in the process improving their passing technique.
  • Players positioning. This drill is designed to give a chance to practice your preferred formation. Players get used to their positions in the field by using the grid as guidance.
  • Playing as a team. Although individual skills play a part in the game, limiting the time players can hold the ball forces everyone to play as a team.
  • Keeping a compact shape. The ball can be passed only to a contiguous cell. Therefore forcing players to get closer in order to support their teammate in possession of the ball.
  • Avoiding overlapping players or too many players in a section of the field. Limiting the number of players in a cell avoid situations in defense or attack in where too many players are in a section of the field. Therefore, forcing both teams to keep shape.
  • Transitioning from defense to attack. The objective of the defensive team is to recover the ball and reach the midfield in an orderly fashion. Therefore is not enough to intercept the ball and kick it high and out. The defensive team must keep the ball on the ground and circulate it with short passes.
  • Finishing. This drill is played with a goalkeeper. Therefore your offensive players are faced with real finishing scenarios., including free kicks.

Other fun drills

There are plenty of drills that will help your team to work as a unit. We will add more games to the list below as we post them in our blog.


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