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A group of girls play football

In football, pressing is when pressure is applied on the player or the team that’s in possession. It’s a skill used in all areas of the pitch – to win the ball back, dictate play, or delay the opposition.  

Pressing happens at all levels, too. Whether it’s a game down the local park or under the iconic Wembley arch. Sure, our England teams have highly sophisticated game plans – plans that drastically differ from those in the grassroots game. But that’s fine. Pressing appears in lots of different ways and looks quite different through the ages and stages of development.  

 

So, what can pressing look like? Here are some sample scenarios. 

  • A primary-age player simply shows desire and enthusiasm to run after an opponent that’s on the ball. 
  • A player reacts to a ‘trigger’ that suggests there’s a chance to win possession – such as a poor first touch or pass.  
  • A player loses the ball but immediately applies pressure on their opponent (an approach called ‘counter pressing’).
  • A team coordinate their movements to apply pressure, make play predictable and eventually win the ball back.  

To see pressing in action, watch the video below.  

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Here are three ideas you can use to help your players develop their pressing skills.  
 

1. Encourage players to scan  

To press effectively, players need to know when to apply pressure. This means they need to be able to spot relevant triggers. So, to help your team identify things like an inaccurate pass or a loose first touch, encourage them to scan the pitch. This will allow them to take in the bigger picture and see what’s going on – which supports informed decisions.  

 

If you’re working with primary-age players, try asking them to play like meerkats. You may start to see them getting into a habit of keeping their heads up and looking around.  

 

2. Challenge them to win the ball back quickly

Being able to win the ball back quickly from your opponent gives you a huge advantage. Simply put, swiftly turning defence into attack offers your team a great chance of exploiting space and scoring goals. 

To encourage pressing with urgency, try challenging your players to win the ball back within five seconds of losing it. In training sessions, if they do this successfully and their team scores from the following counter-attack, reward them with three goals – rather than one. This offers an incentive to regain possession quickly.  

 

3. Build connection and understanding  

While one player could go and press an opponent, it’s much more effective when teammates read the same signals and react as one. So, it’s essential for your team to understand everyone’s roles and to work together – ‘one in, all in’.  

For instance – while it would be great – the first player to press might not win the ball back. Especially if you’re up against highly technical players. So, how their teammates support behind the initial press is important. If they combine well, it can mean that the ball is won or intercepted after a few bouts of individual pressure.  

To support a press, players need to understand how to cover and balance. It’s also vital for them to know how their role may change within the three roles of press, cover and balance. Having good communication skills can help to solve this challenge.  

To help your team work on this, start them off in small-sided games, like a 3v3. This provides an easier environment for players to talk in and can help encourage a sense of connection. With fewer players on the pitch, there will also be more space for the team on the ball to exploit. This makes it more important for the other team to work together and create an organised press. 
 

For further insight on pressing, check out this Coachcast episode