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A wide-angle shot showing a full-sized grass football pitch. Cones and footballs are spread out ready for a training session.

 

Space is one of the four elements of the STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002). Simply put, it refers to the area you use to complete your activity.

You can adjust your space by changing its size, shape and dimensions. You can also add different markings or zones. Let’s take a closer look.

 

An easy way to manipulate your team’s space is to change its size. 

 

Small spaces

These areas give your players less room to move around. This creates a high-intensity game with lots of ball contact and physical contact. Less space also encourages moments of transition (where possession moves from one team to the other).


Small spaces are a great choice if you want players to work on:

  • individual ball skills
  • using their body to protect or win the ball
  • quick decision-making. 

However, it’s important to remember that small spaces can be a challenge for novice players. A tight area also means the ball will go out of play a lot, and your team might get tired quickly.

Big spaces

These areas give players more room to move around and extra time to make decisions.

Big spaces are a great choice if you want players to work on:

  • travelling with the ball
  • long-distance passing and movements. 

However, compared to small spaces, teams experience lower levels of physical contact and fewer moments of transition. They may also feel less involved in the game.

 

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Changing the dimensions of your space 

Once you’re comfortable adjusting the size of your pitch, you can start to consider its dimensions.

Long and narrow spaces

These areas reduce the room available at the side of the pitch. However, they increase the room available in front of and behind your defenders.

Long, narrow spaces are great if you want players to work on in-possession skills like:

  • forward and backward passes
  • direct dribbles and runs
  • playing with depth. 

They’re also useful for working on out-of-possession skills like:

  • staying compact
  • covering space
  • allowing your keeper to cover and play in. 

Long, narrow spaces help players to think, look and play forward. However, they can also encourage players to do this too quickly or ignore the benefits of backward passes. Bear this in mind when coaching your team.

Wide and short spaces

These areas create more room down the sides of your pitch, which prompts movement across the width of the area.

Wide, short spaces are great if you want players to work on in-possession skills like:

  • playing with width
  • dribbling and running across the pitch
  • succeeding in 1v1s at the edge of the area.

They’re also useful for working on out-of-possession skills like:

  • staying compact
  • moving sideways to provide cover and balance
  • succeeding in 1v1s at the edge of the area.

Wide, short spaces help players learn how to be patient in their attack. They also encourage them to use the width of the pitch to create gaps and play forward. However, when using these areas, you may also spot defenders staying too far apart or attackers not trying to penetrate the defence. So, keep an eye out.

Adding markings to your space

Markings help give players a visual reference point. This makes it easier to spot the position of their team, the opposition and the available space. Here, we examine three types of marking.

Halves

As suggested by the name, this type of marking splits your area in half across the width of the pitch.

Using halves helps players practise in-possession skills like:

  • using the length and depth of an area
  • playing out from near their own goal
  • playing through midfield towards attacking players.

It also helps players practise out-of-possession skills like:

  • pressing and covering
  • staying compact to prevent the opposition playing out from defensive areas.

Thirds

Thirds are created when you split your area into three. Your markings should run across the width of the pitch.

Using thirds helps players practice the same skills as using halves. However, they can also encourage players to consider their positioning in relation to attack, midfield and defence.


Channels

Channels are also created by splitting your area into three. However, this time, your markings run goal-to-goal – down the length of the pitch.

Using channels helps players practise in-possession skills like:

  • switching play
  • using the width and depth of an area
  • filling space to help their team keep the ball and play forward.

It also helps players practise out-of-possession skills like:

  • covering
  • staying compact
  • filling space to help their team keep the ball and play forward.

Putting it into practice

As we’ve discussed, mixing up your space is a great way to achieve different objectives. To help take things to the next level, why not define your task too? This will give your players the opportunity to repeatedly practice key skills. Here are some ideas to get you started.

In possession

Objective

Space

Task

Play forward

A narrow and long area, split into halves.

Score as many goals as possible. If you score, the number of one-touch passes made before the goal equates to the number of points you’re awarded. For example, five one-touch passes equal five goals.  

Play with width

A wide and short area, split into channels.

Score as many goals as possible. If you score from a cross, you’re awarded two goals. If you score from an underlap or an overlap, you’re awarded three goals.

Combination play

A small area.

Score as many goals as possible. If you score following a one-player move, you get one point. If you score following a two-player move, you get two points. If you score following a three-player move, you get three points.

 

Out of possession

Objective

Space

Task

Press

A normal area, split into thirds.

Score as many goals as possible. If you win the ball back in your opponent’s half and then score, you’re awarded three goals. Check out this example game.

Cover and balance

A long and narrow area, split into channels. 

If your team is out of possession, occupy two of the three channels. If your team is in possession, occupy all three channels.

Defend wide areas

A wide and short area, split into channels.

Score as many goals as possible. If you win the ball in a wide area and then score, you’re awarded three goals. 

 

By combining different types of space and tasks, you can create sessions that require minimal coaching input. This allows you to stand back, observe your team and plan your next move.