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5 football fitness drills with a ball

Training for fitness without a ball can be very dull and fruitless. After all, players don’t train to be marathonists. This post shares a few football fitness drills with a ball that will make your training more enjoyable.

Why conditioning with a ball

In the past, conditioning was approached separately without a ball. If you are 40+ like me, you will remember endless running sessions and all sorts of aerobic exercises. In many training sessions, you wouldn’t touch a ball at all! The belief was that team fitness would translate into a dominating team.

Today, we know that fitness is not enough and that individual and team skills must be on par with fitness, and the best way to increase skills is by practising with a ball as much as possible. In fact, FIFA recommends training with the ball using Global and Analytical methods. The former isolates elements of the game, while the latter simulates real game scenarios. The drills in this post are of Analytical nature.  

Aside from the technical disadvantages of only focussing on fitness, training without a ball is boring. Furthermore, in the context of grassroots/amateur football, you are at risk of having low attendance to your training or players simply leaving your team. Therefore, we prefer running football fitness drills with a ball and making them competitive to keep the intensity.

Drills preparation

We recommend that you use one of these drills after a warming-up. Many of the drills in this post require explosive movements,  so practising them when your muscles are cold can lead to injuries, especially the older you get.

You will need balls, cones and mannequins for the drills below. You don’t need top of the line balls for these exercises. However, when possible, train with the same balls used for the tournaments you play. Cones and mannequins are ideal, but you can use anything as markers: jumpers, backpacks, rocks, etc. Have a look at the recommended equipment below.

Drill 1 – Passing  circuit

You need four mannequins or poles to set up a diamond-like shape circuit. Each side will be 10 meters long, while the diagonals 15 meters and 13 meters long.

You can use from two players to three players for this drill. More players will slow down the intensity of the exercise as players will stay waiting in line. So, if you have a good number of players, you can have groups of players running this exercise in parallel. Then, you can make it competitive to increase the intensity by rewarding the group that finishes first the circuit.

Using as reference the animation below, the progression for this fitness drill is:

  • The red player starts sprinting in mannequin 1 towards mannequin 2 while the blue player waits in mannequin 3 to serve the ball to the red player.
  • The blue player serves a ball to the outside of mannequin 2. The red player returns the ball in 1 touch and moves to the inside of the mannequin.
  • The red player sprints towards mannequin 3 in the inside of the diamond.
  • The blue player serves a ball to the outside of mannequin 3, and the red player returns the ball in one touch.
  • The blue player passes the ball again but to the inside of mannequin 3. Since the serving player is standing in mannequin 3, these passes are quick and short.
  • The red player sprints towards mannequin 4 in the inside of the diamond.
  • The blue player serves a ball to the outside of mannequin 2. The red player returns the ball in 1 touch and sprints towards mannequin 1.
  • The red player sprints towards mannequin 1.
  • As soon as the red player starts sprinting, the grey player waiting in mannequin 1 starts the circuit.

Repeat this progression 3 times, then change the serving player. In total, each player in the group should have done 9 laps to the circuit. As discussed, if you have multiple groups, make it a competition between groups to see who finishes the drill first.

Football fitness drills with a ball - Passing circuit

Drill 2 – Ball control

You need 3 balls and 6 discs to mark a grid of two squares, as shown in the animation below. The sides of each square are 10 meters long.

Like in Drill 1, to keep the intensity of the exercise, limit the number of players to a maximum of three. If you have more players, have different groups running this exercise simultaneously and reward the group that finishes their circuit first.

Using as reference the animation below, the progression for this fitness drill is:

  • The first player starts off by dribbling the ball at full speed from the first disc to the second disc.
  • Stops the ball ideally on top of the disc or as close to it as possible.
  • Changes direction 90 degrees towards the third disc and sprints as fast as possible to the next disc without the ball.
  • Picks up the ball on top of the third disc and turns 90 degrees again.
  • Dribbles the ball at full speed towards the fourth disc and repeats the sequence above until reaching the last disc: dribbling with the ball, leaving the ball, sprint and so on.
  • Once the player reaches the last cone, repeats the drill backwards towards the first disc and leaves the balls in their original position.
  • The next player starts the circuit a soon as the previous player stops the ball on the first disc.

Repeat this progression 6 times per player. As discussed, if you have multiple groups, make it a competition between groups to see who finishes the drill first.

Football fitness drills with a ball - Ball control

Drill 3 – One-touch short passing

The setup of this exercise is simple, you need a ball and 6 cones spread in a straight line. You only need 2 players, so this is a perfect drill to practice with a friend anywhere, anytime. In a team training session, you will need plenty of space to have pair of players running this exercise in parallel.

This is an excellent drill to warm up because you’re actually on the move, so you’re getting the blood flowing and adding a technical element to it. As shown in the animation below, the progression is simple:

  • The blue player passes the ball to the red player through the first gate formed by the cones.
  • The red player returns the ball to the blue player through the next gate.
  • Players keep passing the ball back and forth as above until reaching the last gate.
  • Once players get to the end of the line of cones, they start again in the opposite direction.
  • Repeat for 5 minutes or more.

As you get familiar with the drill, increase the difficulty. For example, start with unlimited touches, followed by only two touches, and finally execute the routine using a single touch. In addition, run the exercise using the players’ weakest foot for a few minutes.  

Football fitness drills with a ball - Short passing

Drill 4 – Throw-ins

The previous drills focused on your lower body and ball control. However, you also need your upper body to be strong. Therefore, you won’t build up your arms and core muscles with a few drills. Instead, you need to target those with weight training or other alternatives. Still, exercises like those in this section and the next will increase your overall fitness and improve other football skills, such as headers and throw-ins.

The throw-in drill is a very popular drill and very simple. You only need a ball per pair of players for this drill. You can practice alone with a partner or align all the team in pairs (as shown in the animation below). The progression is as follows:

  • The red players start by throws-in to the feet of the blue player.
  • The blue player attempts to stop the ball in one touch.
  • When the ball is entirely still, the blue player lifts the ball and executes a throw-in back to the red player. Again, make sure that it is all done in a single smooth movement.
  • Repeat for 5 minutes or more.

This drill will accomplish three things in one shot: warm-up and increase the fitness of the upper body (arms and core), improve the throw-in technique and improve the one-touch reception of thrown-in. The latter two aspects are critical. It is frustrating and silly to lose possession from a poorly executed throw-in.

Throw-ins

Drill 5 – Headers and throw-ins

The setup and progression of this exercise are similar to the previous drill. However, instead of throwing the ball to the feet of a teammate, the starting player throws the ball head high or higher, and the receiving player returns it with a header. To avoid only one player heading the ball, we combine the header with the previous drill. This is the exact routine:

  • The red players start by throwing the ball at the head of the blue player or higher to allow a header.
  • The blue player returns the ball with the header aimed at the feet of the red player.
  • The red player attempts to stop the ball in one touch.
  • When the ball is entirely still, the red player lifts the ball and executes a throw-in back to the red player but this time aimed at their feet.
  • The blue player attempts to stop the ball in one touch.
  • When the ball is entirely still, the blue player lifts the ball and starts the progression above again but with the roles inverted. This means that the blue player throws the ball at the head of the red player or higher, then the red player executes a trow-in and so on.
  • Repeat for 5 minutes or more.

In addition to improving fitness, throw-in techniques and one-touch reception of thrown-ins, this drill will help players with the accuracy of their headers.

Throw-ins and headers

I hope you find these drills useful. If you like this post, please share it with your friends. As a bonus, have a look at the conditioning circuit used by Atletico Madrid in the video below.

5 football drills to improve communications

Communication is essential in any team sport. A team where players communicate well is more effective in attack and defence. This post outlines 5 simple drills to improve communications in your team.

Why is communication essential in football?

When players communicate effectively consistently, they will have a heightened sense of their teammates’ movements on and off the ball. Communication also builds trust as players rely on each other to make the right decisions.

Many of the greatest players in football have been loud or very expressive on the field. Maradona, Gascoine, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo are some prominent examples. They were outspoken in and out of the pitch. However, players don’t need to have an extrovert personality to be good communicators in the field. Messi is the best example of a shy player who is constantly communicating with his teammates, and as he is approaching the end of his career, getting better at it.  So, communication is not about who shouts the most in the field.

Communication can be verbal or non-verbal. When it is verbal, it must be concise and to the point (e.g., “man on”, “shoot”, etc.). Non-verbal communication is when players use body language. For example, eye contact or hand signals can be as effective and often more appropriate than a verbal cue. Perhaps the most common non-verbal communication example is hand signals in corner kicks. When players combine both methods of communication, they can provide more information to their teammates, which will help them make quicker and better decisions either on or off the ball.

Common phrases to use

It is essential to have a common language for verbal communication. For example, have you ever wondered how professional players from different nationalities work together during a game? The answer is simple; they only need a few key phrases. Preferable, one-word instructions. The list below includes the most commonly used expressions:

  • Man on. Indicates a player in possession of the ball, or about to receive it, that an opponent is close by. For example, this expression is usually shouted when a player is with their back to the opposition goal, and it is about to turn, but defenders are closing down. When players hear the instruction, they will look for a back or side pass option instead of turning.
  • Time. It is the opposite of Man on.There is no immediate pressure, especially from behind, and the player has Time to collect the ball and look for options.
  • Back. This word indicates that a teammate is open for a back pass. It is often used instead of Man on.
  • Turn. It isan alternative to Time that provides a bit more information.As a player receives the ball facing away from the attacking goal, it tells them that it is safe to turn the ball upfield.
  • Switch. Instructs players to move the ball from one side of the field to the other. How the switch is done depends on the context. For example, it may tell the player with the ball to kick it from one side of the field to the other.  Or, it may indicate players to change the attack to the other side of the field by moving the ball via the mid-field players.
  • Shoot. This command is self-explanatory. It is often used to ask players to finish a play rather than losing the ball and risking a counterattack. Other times it simply indicates an opportunity such as a goalie being out of position.   
  • Name’s ball. It is a reflex to call “mine” when claiming a ball (often in airborne situations). Unfortunately, although it is better than saying nothing, this command is not good enough. At times, players may not know if a teammate or an opposition player called it. Therefore, referees may call a free kick if the situation is considered dangerous or an attempt to distract the opposition. So, players should avoid “mine” and shout their name instead.  

The phrases above are probably enough for the drills described in the following section. Look at this post: On-field oral communications for a complete list of commands. Whatever phrases you agree to use, use expressions that are short, concise, and to the point; keep consistency; and avoid terms that have different meanings and can create confusion. 

Man on & Time

This is a simple passing drill that only needs two players. So, you can practice in pairs with your whole team or even at home with a friend. It is usually used as a warmup exercise.

Set two gates with cones, and separate the gates with enough distance to practice passing the ball. All that players do is pass the ball to each other while they stay behind and between the cones.  The catch is that players must shout out loud Man on or Time when they pass the ball. When Man on is shouted, the receiving player must return the ball using 1 touch. When Time is indicated, the receiving player must use 2 touches. 

Add penalty points to make this drill more interesting. For example, when players don’t shout a command or the receiving player uses the wrong number of touches to return the ball. The player with more points against at the end of the drill is punished with a fitness exercise (e.g., planks, press-ups, etc.)  

Numbers

Divide your team into 4 players groups. Using cones, mark a zone of 5m x 5m for each group and ask players to distribute outside the square evenly. Give each player a number from 1 to 4.

The exercise is a simple passing drill with a twist. When players pass the ball, they shout a number to the teammate receiving it. Then, the player receiving the ball must pass it to the player who was given the number indicated. If a player can’t remember who was assigned the number, they must pass the ball back to the teammate who just passed it to them.

If a player gives the ball to the wrong player, they get a penalty point. Players also get points against them if they step inside the box or their pass is inaccurate (more than a meter away from their target). Run this drill for 10 minutes or so. The players with the lower scores in each group win. You can punish the losers with planks or press-ups.

A quiet place

The title is inspired by the movie A Quiet Place, a thriller where a family must navigate their lives in silence to avoid mysterious creatures that hunt by sound.

Divide your team into two squads and play a regular football game. The catch is that players are not allowed to talk. They must say nothing, nada. A free kick is given to the opposition when a player speaks or complains. 

This drill encourages two aspects of the game. Firstly, it teaches discipline as players will be less likely to complain to referees, teammates, and opposition players constantly. Secondly, it encourages players to use non-verbal cues.

By playing this game, players will also realise how important it is to communicate. As a side benefit, players will also improve their field scanning and space awareness as they won’t rely on instructions from their teammates.

A not so quiet place

This communication drill is a variation of the previous game. In this case, players can speak but only use a limited number of commands. Before starting the drill, your team needs to agree to the list of phrases allowed. Free kicks are given when a different instruction to those agreed is shouted.

The idea of this game is for your team to automatise a list of commands. Then, on game day, they will naturally communicate using a set of agreed phrases. 

A variant to this game is to force players to provide instructions before passing the ball. For example, shouting Time or Man On. Again, if they don’t call instructions, a free kick is given to the opposite team.

Goalkeepers game

Goalkeepers have to be the loudest in the team. Their voice must be loud and clear in crosses, corner kicks, and situations where the defence needs to be organised.

In addition to the commands listed above, goalkeepers use two more: Keepers and Away. Keepers indicates to field players that the goalkeeper is coming to collect the ball. This instruction helps avoid collisions with the goalkeeper. It is commonly used in corner kicks and crosses and easy balls coming into the box. On the other hand, Away tells defenders to react and focus on clearing the ball to safety. It is common to hear the goalkeeper shouting this instruction when the ball bounces in the box after a corner kick or similar situations, and strikers rush in to shoot at the goal.

A fun drill to encourage goalkeeper communication with the team is to run a 5v5 regular game where only the goalkeeper can talk. The field players can only pass the ball or shoot when the goalkeeper commands it. In addition to the commands listed in this post, goalkeepers must tell the player running with the ball the teammate they want to pass it next.  This forces players to listen to their goalkeeper and the goalkeeper to be very vocal.

Like in the other drills, a free kick is awarded to the opposite team when a field player talks. In addition, a free-kick is also awarded to the opposition if a field player doesn’t follow instructions (e.g., passes the ball to a different teammate than the one indicated by the keeper).


I hope you find these drills useful. If you like this post, please share it with your friends. If you know other exercises or have any questions, leave a comment below.

Football circuit drill for 11 players

Many football drills keep players waiting in line to get involved. This football circuit drill will keep all your first team moving.

Setup

You will need half of an actual football pitch, 6 cones, 2 mannequins (optional, you can use cones as an alternative) and 4 to 6 balls minimum. Set the circuit as shown in the picture below.

You can execute this drill with as few as 6 players, but try to involve all your starting players, including the goalkeeper. Use this drill as a link between your warm-up and a global training exercise.

Football circuit
Drill created with Tactics Manager

Instructions

This football circuit drill is made up of 4 main phases: short passing, mid-range passing, sprint and shooting. The drill is a variation of an exercise used by Atletico Madrid, but we expanded it to involve every player in the team. You can see the original drill in the video below (the players in the video don’t look very motivated, your team surely can do better ), followed by our variation to the exercise.

Drill created with Tactics Manager

The progression is as follow:

  • 8 players wait in the stations to start as shown in the picture, two additional players wait outside with a ball each.
  • Player 1 passes the ball to 2.
  • Player 2 passes the ball back and runs to the first cone in the left.
  • Player 1 executes a mid-range pass to Player-3 who starts running towards the second cone (bottom left).
  • Player 5, 6 and 7 simultaneously execute the previous steps. The difference is that Player 7 next action after receiving the mid-range pass is to shoot at goal.
  • Player 4 move into Players 5 position to pass the ball to Player 5.
  • While the previous steps are executed, Player 8 shots at goals. The player must collect the ball after shooting. This fulfils two purposes: recover the ball and gain some time to allow Player 9 to join the circuit and everyone else to move into the next station.
  • Player 10 joins the circuit after Player 9 shoots at goal.
  • Continue moving players from station to station in a counterclockwise direction.

Final tips

Keep the intensity. Ask players to keep moving from station to station. Do not aim at getting a smooth transition between stations. Instead, focus on continuous movement as fast as possible. For example, if player 7 gets to the shooting station before Player 9 is ready to shoot, Player 9 should wait outside until there is a decent gap to shoot. After Player 10 is in, the progression should slowly improve, and nobody should wait in a station.

Do not wait for the goalkeeper to be ready. Just shoot. The idea is not only to keep moving but to force the keeper to have kick reactions. This will be useful in real scenarios where the goalie stops a shot, but the ball bounces straight to another striker.

This exercise will be messy the first time you execute it but will get better as players get the idea and rhythm. But, again, perfection is not the objective. Your main objective is to keep everyone moving.

Atletico Madrid Shop

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

When you start a team to play in an amateur competition (Sunday league in some countries), you enrol players with all sorts of backgrounds and football experience to make numbers. However, 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 primary 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.   

Setup

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 centre of the field. The picture below illustrates the setup.

Ideally, you want to practice with 10 players and a goalkeeper. Divide the players in defence and attack. If your squad is over 20 players strong and have access to a full field, you can split the players into two groups practising 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 vice versa.

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

Instructions

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

  • 2 teams: defence 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: 1 defender and 1 attacker.
  • Players in possession of the ball can only pass it to a teammate in a contiguous zone.
  • Defending players can only clear the ball beyond a contiguous zone if the ball is in the penalty box.
  • When the defensive team recovers the ball, their objective is to score in 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. So, for example, you could allow long crosses but only in the last row of the grid.

Keeping team shape - Overcrowding a zone
2 defenders in a zone is not allowed
Keeping team shape  - Overcrowding a zone
2 attackers in a zone is not allowed

Takeaways

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 you a chance to practice your preferred formation. With enough practice, players get used to their positions and master 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 improve their passing technique.
  • Transitioning from defence 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. Instead, 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 system to play the game in comparison to other coaches.


I hope you find this drill useful. If you like this post, please share it with your friends. If you know other exercises or have any questions, leave a comment below.

Wall passing with a third man running

Wall passing, also known as “give an go”, is the simplest and most commonly used passing combination. It is a play in which a player passes the ball to a teammate, then accelerates past a defender and receives it back. In this post, we describe a drill involving multiple wall passes with a third man breaking through the defensive line to score.

Setup

This drill requires you have access to one half of a football field. You will need enough cones to mark the pitch, 4 x training mannequins  and a good number of balls (2 minimum). Distribute the cones and mannequins as shown in the picture below. If you don’t have mannequins or can’t get hold of a football field for training, be creative. For example, instead of mannequins, you can actually ask a few team mates to act as defenders but without challenging the ball.

Ideally, you want to practice this drill with a minimum of 6 players and a goalkeeper. But, if you are struggling for numbers, you can practice the progressions with as little as 3 players and no goalkeeper. On the other hand, you don’t want to have too many players waiting in line. Otherwise, players will wait outside for too long. You want everyone moving constantly.

Drill created with Tactics Manager

Instructions

The way this drill works is to exploit the space behind the defending players. To achieve this, two players work on wall passes in the zones with mannequins while a third player waits in the narrow swimming lanes to make a run towards the goal. The progression of the drill is as follows:

  • A player starts by passing the ball to the team mate in their mannequins zone and makes a run passing the first mannequin.
  • The second player receives the ball, passes it behind the first mannequin and starts a run to the second mannequin.
  • The third man waits in the outside lanes.
  • Repeat the previous sequence on the second mannequin.
  • Once the player that started the progression receives the ball behind the second mannequin, the players complete one more wall pass around the second mannequin in direction to the first mannequin, moving away from the goal.
  • At this point the third player starts running towards the goal
  • When the starting player receives the ball between the two mannequins, they launch a long pass behind the second mannequin into the box. This last movement should set the running player with an opportunity to score.
  • The running player receives the ball and shoots at goal.
  • Players should only use two touches at all times: receive and pass; receive and shoot.

Once the first round is completed, the sequence is repeated but this time the shooting players wait in the interior lane to make a run . Have a look at the animation and video below for the full sequence.

As the players complete the sequence, change their position in the field. How your swap players will depend on how many of them are available to practice. For example, if you only have 6 players, you can move them clockwise. The players in the left zone become shooting players while the two shooting players move into right zone and the players in the right zone move to the left zone.

Start slow and increase intensity as players get comfortable. The objective is to complete the sequence as quickly as possible.

Drill created with Tactics Manager

Takeaways

Wall passing is a very effective maneuver to beat a defensive line close to the goal. This combination is the basis of many attacking patterns.

Timing and passing technique are key to a wall passing. It is important to practise the timing of the return pass so the ball is passed quickly and accurately. Acceleration after the pass is made is also important so the defender has less time to recover. When these are performed properly, it advances the ball while reducing the risk of a defender taking it away. 

In summary, this drill will improve:

  • Passing accuracy 
  • Timing – of passing and running
  • Team coordination
  • Shooting accuracy

Quick finishing drill

Shooting drills are fun but often have many players standing in line doing nothing. In this post we discuss a finishing drill that will keep everyone moving fast. You don’t need much space for this exercise, you can practice it anywhere.

Setup

For this finishing drill you will need 4 x cones , 2 x small goals and a good number of balls (2 minimum). Line up the two small goals with enough space between them, and one cone outside each of them. These cones mark the start for each team. Set the other two cones in front of each goal at about 10 metres. See the picture below.

Ideally, you want to play this game with two teams of 5 players each. But, if you are struggling for numbers, you can have fun with as little as 2 players. On the other hand, limit the teams to 5 players. Otherwise, players will wait in line for too long. You want everyone running.

Football finishing drills
Drill created with Tactics Manager

Instructions

The objective of the game is to score more points than the opposition in a set time (e.g.: 10 minutes).

Players of each team wait in line behind the cones at each side of the goals. The first player in the line runs with a ball to the cone opposite to the goal on their side. Once the player arrives to the cone, they shoot at either goal. If they score in the goal on their side, the team gets 1 point. If they score in the opposite goal, the team gets 2 points. After shooting, the player runs back to his team mates at the end of the line.

You can add variations to the game. Instead of a set time, you can set a target score. You can also play multiple rounds with teams swapping sides after each round. Another interesting variation is to introduce defenders to challenge the shooter.

Whatever variation you add, keep the intensity of the exercise. Remember that the objective is to finish a play as quickly as possible.

Takeaways

The objective of this drill is to practice dribbling and shooting at speed. Players will improve these skills:

  • Ball control at speed. Because teams are competing against each other under a time limit or to reach a target score, players must execute their movements quickly to increase the number of shots at goal.
  • Body position and balance. Players have to turn their body 180 degrees to shoot at speed. This requires good motor coordination.
  • Shooting accuracy. Ultimately, players have to score to win the game. Since the goals are small, this shooting drill encourages clinical finishing over power.
  • Passing accuracy. Because the goals are small, the best shooting technique to be used is a “pass to the net”. Therefore, this drill is also useful to improve players passing technique.

For more finishing drills like this, have a look at our other posts.

Drill created with Tactics Manager

One touch attacking triangle drill

Creating triangles in the pitch is a common offensive strategy that enables a team to quickly move the ball. The drill in this post uses a one touch attacking triangle to break the defence and create a shooting opportunity at the edge of the box.

Setup

For this drill you will need cones and a full size goal. With the cones create two lines of about 3 metres long, one on the penalty spot and the other inside the semi-circle outside the box. Locate the starting cone about 5 metres outside the box. You can practice this drill with a goalkeeper or use target nets in the goal. This exercise requires 3 to 4 players: 3 players attacking and 1 goalkeeper or target nets.

One touch attacking triangle - first pass
Drill created with Tactics Manager

Instructions

The players in the box move in opposite directions. If the front player moves to receive the ball on the right, the back player must move to the right, and vice-versa. The starting player passes the ball to the front player who in turn returns the ball using one touch. Then, the starting player passes the ball to the back player through the gap. Finally, the back player passes the ball to the front player who shoots at goal. After shooting, players rotate position.

Remember these key points

  • 3 players are required for this drill.
  • Players inside the box move constantly in opposite directions.
  • The ball is moved in triangles.
  • Only one touch is allowed (shooting is considered a touch).

One variation that you may want to consider is to use defenders to apply pressure over the players in the box . Be creative and create your own versions of this drill.

One touch attacking triangle - second pass
Drill created with Tactics Manager
One touch attacking triangle - third pass
Drill created with Tactics Manager
One touch attacking triangle - fourth pass and shoot
Drill created with Tactics Manager

Takeaways

The objective of this drill is to create shooting opportunities by moving the ball in a one touch attacking triangle. Players will improve these skills:

  • Reading the game. The back player keeps an eye on his team mate to move in opposite direction. The starting player observes both passes the ball through the gap created.
  • Creating space. This exercise encourages intelligent movements from the offensive players to open the defence.
  • One-touch passing. Quick one touch passes create gaps in the defence that can be exploited for penetration passes or shooting at goal.
  • Shooting. Do not execute this drill without a goalkeeper or target nets. You want every shooting opportunity to count.

Keep the intensity of the exercise and mix up the players movements so the drill becomes less predictable. Remember that the objective is to break the defence with quick passes.

The video below shows how to execute this drill.

Atlético Madrid possession drill

Even top professional coaches design simple drills for their teams. These drills help players to assimilate ideas and tactics. This post discusses an Atlético Madrid possession drill used by Diego Simeone in his training sessions.

Setup

For this drill, you will need cones to mark a small pitch and 4 small goals. First, divide the pitch into 2 zones and 4 swimlanes, as shown in the picture above. Set 2 goals at each side of the field between 2 swimlanes.

Ideally, you want to practise this drill with 12 players: 4 defenders and 2 strikers per side. However, if you have a bigger number of players, set up multiple fields.

Instructions

The main objective of this drill is to practice defending in block and possession. The offensive players objective is to score in the small goal on their side of the field. The defenders objective is to intercept passes and keep possession while waiting for a clear pass opportunity to the offensive players.

  • 2 teams of 6 players.
  • Play starts always with players arranged as shown in the picture above.
  • Only 2 touches are allowed: 1 touch to control the ball and 1 touch to pass the ball.
  • Defenders are only allowed to move in the swim lane on their defensive half.
  • Offensive players are allowed to move between the two swimlanes on their side of the field.
  • Only the offensive players can score.
  • Offensive players can only score in the goal on their side of the field.
  • Offensive players can’t score when they receive the ball from the defense. They must pass the ball to the opposite offensive player to score.
  • If the ball goes out, possession of the ball changes to the opposite team.

You may want to consider some variations, such as defenders needing to complete several passes before passing the ball to the offensive players. But, again, be creative and add your own rules.

Takeaways

  • Passing. The objective for the team in possession is to pass the ball to their offensive players. Moving the ball around will move the opposition and eventually create penetrating pass opportunities.
  • Positioning. This exercise encourages intelligent movements from the offensive players to get themselves within the line of a pass. The opposition must maintain good defensive shape and organization in order to prevent passing options.
  • Timing and reaction. The offensive player who receives a pass from the defence must pass to the opposite offensive player before his team can score. This rule encourages defenders to react quickly in an attempt to prevent conceding a goal.
  • Defensive teamwork. If you pay attention to the video below, you will hear Simeone and his assistant shouting instructions. They are discouraging defensive players from staying in a line. Defenders must position themselves in a slight diagonal to make it more difficult for the ball to break the defence and reach the offensive players. Therefore, one player presses on the player with possession of the ball, while the other move one step or two behind in a diagonal.

Keep the intensity in the game. In the video, Simeone is pointing mistakes and encouraging a high tempo for the exercise.


I hope you find this drill useful. If you like this post, please share it with your friends. If you know other exercises or have any questions, leave a comment below.

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Football attacking drill – Attack vs Defense

Attack vs Defense drills are part of most training sessions. These exercises help players to familiarize with the team’s preferred formation and game style. However, often the focus is on the attacking players. In this post we discuss a football attacking drill that involves all players in your team.

Setup

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

You will need 4 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. Then use the cones to make one gate outside each side of the penalty area. Position these gates just behind the penalty spot line and between the sideline and the penalty box. The picture below illustrates the setup for teams using a defensive line of 4 players.

Defense vs attack football drill

Drill created with Tactics Manager

Rules

The objective of this drill is to practice possession football by moving the ball across the park. The basic rules of the game are:

  • 2 teams of 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).
  • The attacking team must pass the ball through both gates to be allowed shooting at goal.
  • If the ball is intercepted by the defensive team, the attacking team must pass the ball again through both goal.
  • When the defensive team recovers the ball, their objective is to score in any of the small goals.

Be creative and add your own rules. For example, you may want to only allowed passes on the ground, no high crosses. You may also want to play with unlimited touches. Whatever the changes you make to the base game, make sure to maintain the spirit of the drill: working from the sidelines and an a clean transition from defense to attack.

Lessons to be learned

Attacking drills are often designed to improve individual skills (e.g.: crossing and shooting). 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 constantly.

  • Creating opportunities from the wings. The sideline gates simulate wingers running by the line. When the first gate is cleared, players are forced to circulate the ball instead of shooting at goal or crossing high to the head of a teammate.
  • 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.
  • Passing. Since limited touches are allowed, players need to circulate the ball around and in the process improving their passing technique.
  • 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.
  • Players positioning. This drill is designed to give a chance to practice your prefered formation. Players get used to their positions in the field.
  • Finishing. This drill is played with a goalkeeper. Therefore your offensive players are faced with real finishing scenarios.

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.

Fun passing drill for football: The Box

As little boys we learned football by playing with a ball on our own, our parents or a couple of friends. Simple and fun games taught us the basic skills we needed for the game. Later in life, some of us joined a club or an academy and things got more serious. Unfortunately, often coaches miss the point and forget about the spirit of the game: to have fun. I am not talking only about kids coaching, football training should be an enjoyable experience for all ages and levels. This post will discuss a fun passing drill that will make your training sessions a more pleasant experience.

Setup

The Box gets its name from its setup: two boxes in where two opposite teams play a small football game. The first box is the defense area of a team, the second box is the whole pitch.

The setup is easy. Use a set of cones and small goals to create a 7 aside or 5 aside pitch. The number of players will depend on the size of your squad. Having a squad of 20+ players turning to training is unrealistic for amateur teams. You could play this game with as few as 2 players per side.

Instructions

The main objective of this drill is keep possession of the ball by using accurate passing and good positioning in the field. The basic rules of the game are:

  • Players are allowed only 3 touches (e.g.: 1 touch to control the ball, 1 touch to change direction and 1 touch to pass the ball).
  • There are two phases when in possession of the ball: defensive possession and attacking possession.
  • To move into the attack phase, a team must complete the defensive phase. The defensive phase is done when 5 consecutive passes are completed in the team’s defensive half of the field.
  • Once the defensive phase is finished, the team in possession moves into attack. In this phase, a team is allowed to shoot to goal once a total of 10 passes is completed. This number includes the 5 passes done when defending. A key difference with the defence phase is that passes in attack can happen anywhere in the field.
  • The count is restarted once a team recovering the ball completes their first pass. If a defending player touches the ball but doesn’t complete a pass and the ball goes back to the attacking team, the attacking team can continue with their telly of passes.

There are some variations to this game that you may want to consider. Often a conflict between teams is that a player stays in front of the small goal all the time, so a variation is to delimit an area around the goal where nobody can step in. Another interesting variation is to allow the team that scores unlimited touches of the ball, the opposition must score to reestablish limited touches and score again to gain free touches. You can also use bigger goals and goalkeepers.

Be creative and add your own rules. The main point is that the game has to keep the spirit of passing the ball among teammates, forcing players with individualistic characteristics to plays as a team.

Takeaways

Although in the surface this game seems only like a fun passing drill, it actually teaches a few important lessons:

  • Accurate passing. The rules of the game focus on passing. You can only score after completing a given number of passes. Therefore, the only way of winning in this game is by players improving their passing technique.
  • Accurate finishing. Because the game is played with small goals, it encourages clinical finish.
  • Players have to play 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.
  • Transitioning from defence into attack in an orderly manner. The only way to move into attack is by passing the ball in defence instead of hoofing the ball away.
  • Players positioning. In order to keep possession of the ball, and increase the passes count, players have to move in a block and be close to each other.

Possession drill to break opposition defensive lines

This possession drill requires 8 players, 4 per side, and to setup 4 zones. The objective of this exercise is to simulate 2 attackers vs 1 defender situations in a game.

Setup and rules

The rules of this exercise are very simple:

  • 8 players, 4 per team.
  • The field is divided in 4 zones.
  • A maximum of two players is allowed per zone.
  • Only one defensive player is allowed in the zone where the ball is being played.
  • The attacking players can’t pass the ball to an immediate zone. So, two players in a zone with possession of the ball can pass the ball between each other or pass it across another zone using a mid to long distance pass.
  • The possession of the ball changes team when the ball is intercepted, goes out of the pitch or one of the rules above is broken.

Lessons to be learned

This exercise covers many aspects of the game. Obviously, the main focus is on possession of the ball by creating 2 attacker vs 1 defenders situations in an area of the field. In addition, this drill encourages accurate passing to break defensive lines.

A secondary objective of the game is to improve players’ positioning and anticipation when defending. The defending team has to intercept the ball in 2 vs 1 situations and when the ball is passed across zones. High pressure or tackling is not the solution in this scenario. Therefore players need to anticipate the opponents next move and position themselves in the passing line to recover the ball.

Another takeaway of this possession drill is that it promotes communication and coordination between teammates. Players need to fill spaces, warn teammates when defenders are close by, ask for the ball and be aware of teammates movements to avoid overlapping in the same zone.

Once you see your team is getting the idea of this drill, you can add small goals at each side to make the game more interesting. However, practicing without goals to keep the focus on the aspects of the game discussed above.

The video below illustrates how this possession drill works.


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Simple football training drills to train on your own

In previous posts we discussed passing and first touch drills. However, these football drills often need that you work with a partner. In this post we will discuss football training drills to train on your own. You will be able to improve your passing, first touch, speed and shooting. All you need is a ball and a wall.

Before you go ahead with these drills, keep in mind that your ball will wear out quicker. Please, don’t use a brand new expensive ball. If you don’t have any old balls at home, ask at your school or local sports club for old balls. They often give them away or even throw them out. My football club gives our team new balls every year. We regularly give the old balls away to our friends’ kids or charities.

Passing and first touch

Many players are comfortable with just good enough passes. This may be fine to play a pickup game with your friends, but in a tournament (amateur or professional) you must pass the ball at speed and with pinpoint accuracy. Working with a wall will help you improve your passing outside your team practice sessions.

Start by standing 2 to 3 metres from the wall. Kick the ball to the wall as if you were passing it to a teammate. When the ball bounces back, “pass” it back to the wall on one touch. Alternate feet with each bounce of the ball: one touch right, one touch left and so on. To improve your accuracy, pick a spot or a line in the wall and try to hit it every time. Aim to complete about 200 passes in total.

Once you warmed up, step back about 5 to 10 metres away from the wall. Repeat the previous drill but applying more weight to your passes. These time use two touches, control the ball with one foot and pass with the other. Hit the ball so it bounces back to you with enough speed so you have to work on taking that first touch. Complete 100 passes with each foot.

Dribbling

In the previous exercises you kicked the ball, controlled the bounce and then kick it back in the same direction you received it. However, in a real game you will change directions looking for a teammate to pass the ball, to start a run to goal or to shoot to goal. This exercise focuses on receiving the ball and changing direction.

Stay at 5 to 10 metres from the wall and pass the ball hard to the wall so it comes back to you with enough speed. When the ball bounces back to you, use your first touch to change the direction of the ball 90 degrees, either left or right. Carry the ball in the direction you’ve chosen for 5 metres or more and pass the ball to the wall again. This time when your receive the ball, turn into the opposite direction you came. Do about 20 turns to the right and 20 turns to the left.

Like with most drills, mix it up a little to make it fun. You can add cones to this exercise, so instead of running in a straight line, you can zigzag between cones. You can practice turning 180 degrees and back. If you are practicing in a place with 2 or more walls, you can practice passing to one wall and then changing direction to pass to another wall.

Ball control in the air

This exercise focuses on your ability to control balls that are off the ground. You will improve your control when you receive throw-ins, after someone heads a ball to you, a chip kick over a defender, etc. This drill is not that useful for long range passes or corner kicks situations.

This drill is simple. Stand about 1.5 metres from the wall and throw the ball against it at about your height. Control the ball when it bounces back to you. The ball should not touch the floor and you are allowed only one touch (back to the wall). There are three main progressions in this drill: keep the ball in the air using the same foot and then switch; keep the ball in the air by alternating feet; keep the ball in the air with your head. For each progression, aim at 20 or more touches without dropping the ball. If you drop the ball, start again.

Shooting

No football training drills list is complete without shooting. At the end of the day, if you take football seriously, you need to know how to shoot. Being able to juggle the ball thousand times or dribble through an entire team is pointless if when you get to goal your shoot is weak or lacks accuracy.

To practice shooting you will need space, find a wall in a park or outside your house that gives you enough room to shoot. Stand back about 20 metres from the wall. Kick the ball hard with the laces of your foot. Use both feet and work on that first touch. Control the ball with one touch and try different types of shots as the ball bounces back. Like when you practiced your passing, aim for a spot in the wall. Do this for about 10 minutes.

After your practice shooting with a controlled ball, work on first-time volleys. Hit the ball against the wall, and as it’s coming back to you, position your body to kick it straight back without controlling it.

Practice makes perfect

Follow the drills above as often as you can. The best athletes practice beyond their regular training sessions. Michael Jordan used to train shooting for hours in an empty Chicago Bulls stadium. Dennis Bergkamp mentions in his autobiography that he would spend hours practicing his control by kicking a ball against a wall over and over. However, you do need to focus in your technique. You can practice kicking the ball for hours, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at kicking the wrong way. 

Have a look at the videos below. You will get a better idea of what you can do with just a wall and a ball.


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First touch drills to improve your game

A good first touch helps you and your team to keep control of the ball. There is nothing more frustrating for a team than a player that constantly loses the ball because it bounces a metre or more away from them. You don’t want to be that player, regardless of the position your play. In this post we will go over five first touch drills to include in your training sessions. All you need is a set of cones, a ball and a partner.

One x One box

Create a one by one metre box by placing four cones on the ground with a partner about five meters away from you. Your partner will kick a decently weighted pass on the ground and you will attempt to control the ball inside of the square using only one touch. Once you do so, pass the ball back to your partner and repeat. To make the drill harder or easier have your partner adjust the weight of their pass

This is a great drill for working on basic fundamentals on controlling a pass perfectly each time. It might look very easy and mundane but this drill is consistently done by professional football players. The difference is that professionals focus on making the perfectly weighted touch every single time and challenge themselves to strive for absolute perfection.

The Octagon

Place eight cones on the ground to create an octagon of about five metres in diameter. Have your partner about five to ten metres in front of you with a ball. Your partner will kick a pass on the ground and you will take a touch through the front two cones and pass the ball back. Immediately after the pass return to the centre of the octagon and have your partner pass the ball again. This time you will take a touch through the next set of cones and pass the ball back. Repeat this pattern either clockwise or counterclockwise until you’ve gone through each set of cones around the octagon.

This drill is realistic and sharp. This drills works on taking your first touch through small spaces. If you can consistently have a great first touch, you will free up time and space for yourself in an actual game.

The Three Cone High Step

There are many variations of this drill. We will focus on a one touch pass on the ground, two touches pass on the ground, a one touch pass in the air, and two touches pass in the air. Feel free to do any variations that you like. Add one or two touches in the air with your laces, thighs, chest, head, etc. Get creative in this drill.

Place three cones in a line with about one foot of space in between them. Have two partners about three to five meters away from you on either side of the line of cones. This drill can also be done with a single partner if they move side to side along with you.

You will laterally high step through the cones until both feet are outside of the last cone. Your partner will then pass the ball on the ground or in the air and you will either hit a pass first time back to them or take two touches. Use your right foot on the right side and your left foot on the left side. Focus on hitting a perfect pass back to your partner’s foot or back to your partner’s hands every single time.

This drill is great for working on fast feet while also working to fine-tune your touch and control when your legs start to get tired and heavy. This is another staple drill done by professionals.

Man-on drill

This drill is best done with a defender on your back and a partner to pass you the ball. However, if you’re alone you can pretend that there is a defender on your back and feed a pass to yourself by using a wall. You can do the same with many of these first touch drills.

Stand about 15 to 20 metres away from your partner with a defender behind you. On go, step into your defender, push off slightly and move towards the ball. The defender follows you tightly rushing to your left or your right side as you move towards the ball. Your teammate will feed you the pass on the ground and yell instructions like man-on, turn left, right or some other agreed-upon terminology. You will listen for the command and react accordingly. The defender should apply high pressure on you without tackling the ball.

This is a great drill that replicates game realistic first touches turns and control under pressure.

Long ball trap

Create a five by ten metres rectangle at about 18 to 25 metres away from goal. Have a partner standing wide on the end line with balls at their feet. Have your partner kick a long pass into the box. You will then try to control the ball with as few touches as possible and shoot to goal. Alternate between left and right foot to trap and shoot the ball.

This drill aims to work control of long range and difficult passes. It also focuses on quickly transitioning to a shot or a pass after the first touch. Challenge yourself to make it more game realistic. Pretend you only have a very short amount of time to get a shot before you’re closed down by imaginary defenders.

For more clarity on how these first touch drills work, have a look at Matt’s demonstration below.


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The rondo – Encouraging possession football

Possession football is a playing style made popular in recent years. As a result, there are many drills designed to favour possession over a vertical game. The rondo is one of these exercises.

The rondo is a passing drill that improves player decision making, coordination, team play, creativity, competitiveness, and physical conditioning. This drill is as old as football. Rondos began as a game to relax or as a warm-up. With the pass of time, coaches made rondo a key component of their training sessions.

Setup

In a rondo, one group of players keeps possession of the ball by passing it around, while a smaller group of players tries to take possession. It is actually a game of piggy in the middle but played with the feet. Rondos take place in close proximity, with the possessing group often circled around the opposing group.

Usually, a rondo is set up as an 8 vs 2 game. Eight players stand in a circle and attempt to pass the ball to each other, while the two in the middle try to intercept it. The goal of the players outside the circle is to reach a target: 10, 20 or 30 passes. The players in possession of the ball are allowed one or two touches before passing the ball. If one of the players in the middle retrieves the ball, the drill restarts and the man responsible for losing the ball takes his place.

Variations

This drill has many variations: 6 vs 2, 5 vs 2, 3 vs 1, etc. Sometimes coaches switch rondos to a positional game. For example, two teams with the same number of players work inside a box. Players are free to move anywhere in the box. One team tries to pass the ball using only one, two or three touches while the other tries to recover the ball. Once the ball is intercepted, teams switch roles.

Benefits

The rondo has multiple benefits: it improves technique in tight areas, encourages intelligent movement and forces players to pass the ball in neat triangles. From a defensive point of view, it teaches to press with maximum efficacy, closing down passing lanes and attempting to read the player’s intentions on the ball.

In Stan Baker’s book, Our Competition is the World, Johan Cruyff says about the rondo: “Everything that goes on in a match, except shooting, you can do in a rondo. The competitive aspect, fighting to make space, what to do when in possession and what to do when you haven’t got the ball, how to play ‘one touch’ soccer, how to counteract the tight marking and how to win the ball back.”

Take it seriously

Players often see rondos as a bit of a laugh or a good way to start and end warm-ups. However, players must put 100% effort, or it is better not to do them at all. Rondos require constant work on the training ground and high levels of concentration. Therefore, players should not slack off or joke around.

The intensity of these drills is crucial. In the beginning, the ball may go outside of the perimeter of the rondo often or the passing team never reaching the target number of passes. Ask players to pay attention to how they positioned themselves, how they received the ball, whether they controlled it with their left or right foot, etc.

If you can, film your rondos to compare. You will be amazed at the results. Then, laugh with your team watching videos of rondos from professional teams and comparing them with your own team videos.

Use rondos in every training, and you soon will notice improvements in your team’s possession of the ball. Spice it up a bit and introduce your own flavour, but keep it simple. After all, rondos must be fun and simple.

Football passing drills to improve your game

Football passing drills are big part of any team training. If you want to pass the ball like Xavi Hernandez, you have to practice these drills over and over until you automate the movements. All you need for these exercises are one partner and four cones.

Gated passing

Set two cones forming a gate of about one meter wide, then set another gate five meters away. You and your partner go behind each gate. Pass the ball back and forth between the gates allowing the ball to come through the gate each time. You can do this with either one touch or two touches. You want to make sure that the ball goes right down the center of the two gates. It is important to work on creating a positive first touch in front of you.

This drill is actually harder than you think it’s going to be. It is a drill used regularly by teams of all ages and skill levels.

Looped passing

Put two cones about ten meters apart. Go around the cones first clockwise and then counterclockwise. If you’re going around counterclockwise, you want to receive the ball on your left foot, tap the ball to your right foot and then pass it with your right foot. Your partner is going to be doing the same movements. When you go around clockwise, you use your right foot to receive and your left foot to pass.

The key on the touch is using the right amount of strength. If you are too soft you’re gonna have to wait on the ball to roll past the cone to pass it back. If you put too much weight on the touch, the ball will roll out away from you and you’re not going to be able to complete a good pass.

Driven ball

Create a long lane of about five meters wide and thirty meters long. Have a partner at one end and you on the other end. Kick the ball with the laces of your boot so it’s driven below knee height. You want to skim over the ground or about thirty centimeters above the ground. The ball has to move in a straight line.

Try working on just using two touches but you can take a third touch if you need to.

Box touch

Create two 3×3 boxes boxes about thirty meters apart. You and your partner will loft the ball so that it lands right inside the box. Take a good first touch so it gets out in front of you inside the box and then loft the ball back to your partner.

This passing drill will improve your accuracy on lofted passes.

Long ball

You and your partner stand about 50 meter apart or however far you can pass the ball. Work on hitting it full strength straight and accurate every single time. You want to avoid having the ball to bounce before it reaches your teammate. A bouncing ball is harder to control and you may lose possession of the ball.

Long passes require good reading of the game and should be used sparingly. When done right, long passes create many striking opportunities.

Practice makes perfect

Include these football passing drills in every training session. Mix it up a bit, use one drill in one session, another passing drill in the next session and so on. Remember to repeat these exercises using both feet to improve your accuracy with your weak foot.


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