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A player runs with the ball and evades a challenge from their opponent.

Tackling session: small-sided duel

Debbie Barry, FA regional PE and coach development officer, shares a practice idea to help players work on challenging for the ball.

Session plan

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


Set up a small area suitable for your team’s age and stage of development. Our example is 15x15 yards. Within that, put four cones down, setting them up in a diamond shape with one at each end and one on each side. Then place two mini-goals at both ends of the area. 

For this practice, we have four players to create a 2v2 game. One pair starts as the attacking team, while the other is the defending team. If you have a large group to work with, put on parallel games by setting up multiple areas next to each other. 

How to play

Inspired by our diamond duel game, this activity is also about reaching cones to score points. But this practice focuses on the art of tackling and encourages quick counter-attacks. 

The attacking team starts the game with the ball. They aim to score points by working the ball to any of the three cones in front of them. Dribble it to either of the side cones, and they score one point. Reach the cone on the far side and they earn three points. If they score, play restarts from the beginning and they go again.  

Meanwhile, the defending team must stop the attackers from reaching the cones. If they win the ball back, the practice opens up into a four-goal game. They then quickly counter to score in either of their opponent’s mini-goals to earn a point. If they lose the ball, the opposition counter to score in the mini-goals at the other end. When a goal is scored, restart the practice with the attackers trying to reach the cones again.  

Play this until a goal is scored or the ball goes out of play. Then swap the roles around so the original defenders start as attackers in the next round. After they’ve had a go, tally up all the points to see who won. 

As the focus is on tackling, encourage players to think about: 

  • scanning to see the movement of their opponents, what speed they’re going at, what their dominant foot is and how in control of the ball they are 
  • recognising that a poor pass or touch can be good triggers to press and challenge for the ball 
  • using the information they discovered from scanning to dictate their own movement, speed and angle of approach 
  • working together to adjust their positioning to help delay, dictate and deny the opposition 
  • if they can make good contact with the ball when tackling to win possession cleanly and start an attack. 


If your players master this activity – or find it too hard – try adding a progression. Here are some examples:

  • Introduce an overload by making it a 3v2 game. Add the extra player to the attacking team to make it more difficult for the defenders. Or add them to the defending team to make it easier for them.  
  • Swap out the mini-goals at each end for a regular goal. Then give each side a keeper. 

Remember, learning takes time. So don’t alter things too quickly or too much. Using the STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002) can help keep things fun, engaging and appropriate.   

Once you’ve put this session into practice, share your experience on the England Football Community.