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October 20, 2010 • Soccer

Soccer: Drilling transition movements into players

One of the beautiful things about the game of soccer is its free-flowing nature with the constant transitioning of teams from attack, to defense, and back to attack.

Photo: Sarah Jones, Wikimedia Commons

Because of this free-flowing nature, the two most important transitions occur:

  • The moment a team loses the ball and goes from attacking to defending.
  • The moment a team wins the ball and goes from defending to attacking.

These transitions are critical to the success of a soccer team. Individual players, groups and the team as a whole must understand their roles and have the ability to make split-second decisions during any change of possession.

To simplify, the transition to defending requires a decision to press right away and try to win the ball back, or to drop off and cover dangerous spaces to prevent a killer counterattack. Often, both decisions are correct. When the ball is lost in a given part of the field, the team may press with certain players, and drop off and cover with others.

On the other hand, the transition to attack requires the decisions to immediately attempt penetration or to keep possession of the ball and to probe for a better opportunity to penetrate. To improve play during these match transitions, players must have plenty of experience in these situations during training.

Use the following training session to work on both attacking and defending transitions.

The warm-up

Use this warm-up activity to get the players technically and mentally ready to play quickly. This is critical in gaining attacking opportunities in transition.

Jim Hall Soccer Drills1DIAGRAM 1: Warm-up drill. This simple drill starts with a player passing to one line, then the pass receiver passes back to the original line (as shown — have players work on passing and receiving with opposite feet and different rhythms), then a player speed-dribbles from one line to the next with the ball being exchanged with a defensive takeover. The defender who stole the ball then dribbles back toward the original line and completes the same exercise with a new player in line, and so on. The drill concludes with a player passing to a checking player from the other line.

The receiver turns and dribbles back to the original line to leave the ball for the next player.

4-on-3 continuous transition game

Start your transition progression with a simple 4-on-3 game.

Jim Hall Soccer Drills2DIAGRAM 2: 4-on-3 continuous transition. in this drill game, the field is comprised of two 18-yard boxes on top of each other, to make a 44-yard-wide-by-36-yard-long field. Split your squad into two teams with half of each team positioned at each post. The attacking team has four players on the field of play going against three defenders.

If there is a shot that misses, the new attacking team sends four new attackers on the field and the defending team sends out three new defenders.

If the ball goes out of bounds on the touchline, the team on whichever side of the midfield that the ball goes out on becomes the attacking team. Both teams send in new players.

If the goalkeeper saves, or the defending team wins the ball, play just continues. One variation is to award the short-handed team two points for a goal.

Transition in this game is continuous and involves all players, including the goalkeepers. Even those players outside the field are involved because they must be ready to feed balls and also keep their numbers organized for the next transition.

The transitions during this game are critical because the nature of the field means that almost all players are in a dangerous scoring area.

Increase the stakes and make it more competitive by playing to eight points with the losing team having to suffer a penalty.

7-on-5 transition game

This is a physically demanding transition game to run at practice.

Jim Hall Soccer Drills3DIAGRAM 3: 7-on-5 transition game. The field for this game is 75 yards long and 50 yards wide. Have a supply of balls at each end of the field, so the players who are waiting (or an assistant coach) can serve new balls to keep play moving.

One team always plays with seven players, and the other always has five players. Play for a predetermined amount of time before switching roles. You may also keep score the entire time with the short-handed side earning two points for each goal. At the end of the total time, the losing team has a penalty.

In this game, the coach controls the rotations of players. Because the game is so demanding physically, and we want the players giving maximum effort while they are playing, we keep rotations short.

The coach also controls where the ball starts in this game. Sometimes the ball is started with the short-handed team, sometimes with the team that is up in numbers. This gives you control over different transition situations, providing ample coaching opportunities.

Always split the two teams with an equal amount of defenders, midfielders and forwards, and simulate your system of play with the numbers-up team. If possible, have a different coach working with each teams. If there is only one coach available, determine which squad needs the most guidance from you.

Coaching points

In both transition games (4-on-3 and 7-on-5), you want the players to gain certain understandings. One of these is that the team with numbers-down may find itself numbers-up in a certain area of the field, and that group of players should be ready to press if it is defending, and accelerate the attack if it wins the ball.

Another understanding is that the numbers-up team may find itself numbers-down in a certain area of the field. If they have the ball, you want players to realize this, so as to not force penetration. We want them to keep possession and probe for a better opening.

Of course, when there is a numbers-up opportunity, we want them to accelerate the attack and look to penetrate.

Finally, you want the numbers-up team to press defensively as high as possible and win the ball as close to the other team’s goal as possible. While doing so, however, they must stay compact and balanced defensively so they are not opened up and suddenly numbers-down in a dangerous area of the field.

8-on-8, 11-on-11

Finish the session with an even-sided match, either 8-on-8 or 11-on-11, depending on your numbers. The focus during play should be making correct decisions during transitions, which you have building toward the entire session.


Jim Hall was formerly head boys soccer coach at Vista High School in San Diego, Calif., where he led the team to the CIF semifinals three times in six years. Since taking over at Chaparral High (Colorado), he has led the boys to the Sweet Sixteen twice, and the girls to the quarterfinals once. Hall was an All-American as a player at Edgewood High School in West Covina, Calif., and played collegiate soccer at Cal State Northridge.


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