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Birds eye view of a youth football match. A player on the blue team sees the run of a teammate and plays a through ball for her to run onto.

To successfully receive a pass, there are a lot of elements players need to get right. The technique they use to control the ball and what they do with it afterwards is key. So, it’s understandable to focus on this. But thinking of the ‘before, during, after’ framework – a helpful tool for coaches to observe skilful play – maybe the ‘before’ phase needs the most attention. 

So, let’s look at what players need to do off the ball.  

When preparing to receive a pass, players should: 

  • see the path of the ball and the defender  

  • see the movement of their teammates  

  • see the space they want to use 

  • move to create a good angle to receive the pass  

  • move into a position to play forward  

  • move into position at the right time 

  • have a connection with the passer. 

As the list shows, some of our six core capabilities are vital to preparing off the ball. 

To put this all into context, imagine a player looking to create space for a through-ball. This type of pass goes beyond the defensive line for an attacker to run onto. 

First, before the ball is played, the receiver needs to scan to read the game. They need to recognise where the space is and judge when the pass is ready to be played.  

They can then think carefully about their movement and where to be. Cunning positioning can provide an advantage here. A great example of this is moving to be ‘blindside’ of the marker. It’s a way of hiding where the defender can’t see you. Often this means going against the natural flow of the game, which can go against a player’s habits. But it can be beneficial when preparing to receive, especially beyond the last line of defenders. Being blindside also allows the receiver to see the ball and the opponent, as well as being able to run forwards without having to turn.  

Finally, underpinning everything, there needs to be a connection between the ball carrier and the receiving player. For effective passing and receiving to take place, it’s vital to get a connection through eye contact, body language or non-verbal signals. Then, if a well-timed, accurate pass is played, the attacker can break through the defence.  

To see this in action, check out the practice below from former FA national coach developer, Paul McGuinness. Towards the end of the video, there’s a clip of Raheem Sterling making a run. The clip highlights that it might not always be on to clearly open up space for a pass. So, sometimes a run across the front of the defender and into the space inside is an effective alternative.