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Young players play football

Passing session: attacking and counter-attacking

Richard Meek, FA coach development officer, shares a session that encourages players to attack and counter with speed.

Want to try this with your team? Download the session plan to your device and give it a go. 



Set up a 65x20-yard area and split it into the four zones shown in the graphic above. Place a goal at each end. If you’re struggling for space, use the available room to create a long and narrow pitch. Then space out the zones as best as you can. 

For this practice, we have 15 players. These consist of two goalkeepers, three attackers and four counter-attackers – with one of them waiting at the side of zone four. Two teams of three attackers wait off the pitch for their turn. Both sides have a football ready to use for when they’re playing. 

But you can adapt this to suit your numbers. For instance, you could have fewer teams and more rest breaks. Or you could have more teams taking part – either as the attacking or counter-attacking side. 


How to play

The aim of the game is to combine with teammates to score as quickly as possible. This is true for the attacking and counter-attacking sides. 

Notice there’s no mention of a ‘defending team’. For young players, using the phrase ‘counter-attackers’ instead of ‘defenders’ can increase their desire to take part and fulfil their out of possession roles. They’re not in a team that just defends. This game needs transition – so both sides are encouraged to attack. 

To start, the goalkeeper distributes the ball to an attacking player who drops into the first zone to receive. They then take the ball into the second zone. Here, they play 3v1 against one of the counter-attacking players to try to get to zone three. That’s the safe zone. Only the attacking side can go in there. 

Finally, when ready, the attacking team progress forward into the final zone. The aim is to get past their two outfield opponents and score. 

If successful, the next attacking team enter the pitch with their ball to have a go. 

If they lose possession, however, the counter-attacking side spring to life. Their extra player gets to join the field to create an overload and help launch an attack. 

You could have multiple teams waiting for their turn, depending on your numbers. To keep these sides engaged while they wait, encourage them to discuss tactics – how they plan to score. Also, ask them to observe others to see how they succeed and don’t succeed when attacking and counter-attacking. 



If your players master this game – or find it too hard – try adding a progression. For example, you could remove the safe zone or even add a timer to encourage faster play.  

But remember, learning takes time. So don't alter your activity too quickly or too much. To help, try using the STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002). This is a great way to keep things fun, engaging and appropriate. 

If you use this session with your team, let us know how you get on by posting in the England Football Community