Skilled soccer players move effectively off the ball -- that is, when they don’t have possession of the ball -- not just when they have the ball at their feet. A challenging soccer team spreads out over the field, always running to space, to give the teammate with the ball someone to pass to. A team that does not move effectively off the ball leaves the player with the ball only two options, each unattractive: either dribble her way down the field by herself or kick the ball aimlessly.
Give-and-go’s are one of the building blocks of possession soccer. In a give-and-go, one running player passes just ahead of another running player. The second player runs to the ball and passes it just ahead of the first running player, who runs to it and passes again. In groups of two or three, players can practice this simple passing drill, which requires players to move ahead to space when off the ball, all the way down the field until they reach the end line. The next group can begin its run while the first group jogs to the back of the line.
Mini-games emphasize passing and running to space in a small, enclosed area. In an approximately 20-by-20-foot space marked off by pylons with no nets, two teams of four or five players attempt to maintain possession. Teams count successive passes until they lose the ball to the other team, trying to connect as many passes in a row as possible. Because space is tight, players who do not have the ball play a key role in maintaining possession, as the person with the ball has little space to run and can only pass. The more effectively the teammates who don’t have the ball arrange themselves in the square and move to space, the better chance their team has of keeping the ball. If they move quickly enough, players can even execute one-touch passing, a very difficult tactic for a defending team to break down.
Set plays simulate real-game situations. In an actual game, every player has a specific position, or area of the field he is responsible for covering. Set plays teach players to use their areas of the field effectively. A set play might involve a goalie in net and three or four defenders on one team and three or four attacking forwards and midfielders on an opposing team. When the coach gives the signal to begin, the attackers, who begin with the ball, try to challenge the net. In a set play, coaches typically give specific instruction on where players should run. They might stop the play midway and point out a player’s movement that is ineffective and have the team redo the play, or commend a player’s movement off the ball.
True teamwork in soccer involves players supporting one another for the ball. Usually, whenever a player has the ball, a teammate playing behind or beside her should move in behind her in case she needs to pass back. A player might pass back if a defender is blocking her way forward or if she is in trouble. A truly selfless supporting play entails a player in front of the opposing net passing back to an open teammate who is in a better position to shoot. Coaches can instruct players to show support in a set play or set up a drill in front of the net, where one player passes back to a teammate who then shoots. Showing support requires players to show initiative and quick thinking off the ball.