Football Coaching Sessions: Retaining Possession as an Individual [BOOK EXCERPT]


This article is an excerpt from the book The Soccer Sessions Book: 87 Prepared Practice Sessions for Coaching Youth Players by Paul Robinson, published by Meyer & Meyer Sport, which is available on and

Being able to retain possession as an individual will help players feel more confident in their ability to stay on the ball under pressure. Once players are comfortable on the ball, they are more likely to play with their head up to assess their options. Playing with their head up is a significant milestone and a precursor towards being able to work effectively as a team player. Until this milestone has been reached, the players are not ready to develop collective actions with their teammates. This is a useful tool to help measure how much emphasis should be put on individual skills, and what the expectations can be regarding the players’ decision-making and their ability to pass the ball accurately.

Technical points:

Players are to keep their body between their opponent and the ball to protect the ball. Players are to move the ball with their foot farther away from the defender. They can change direction to try to put more distance between them and their opponent, but the small space ensures contact. Players should use their body to shield the ball. Players should slightly bend their knees to keep their centre of gravity low. A right-angled triangle can be imagined between their feet and their shoulder closest to their opponent as reference. A straight line from their foot and shoulder closest to their opponent form a ‘wall’ while their foot farther away makes the triangle. The player’s arms can be held out as a barrier to help protect their space so their opponent can’t get too close, and also helps to maintain balance. Encourage players to look up to see where the pressure is coming from so they can prepare for contact and to keep moving the ball away from danger.

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Warm-up: (area: 7×7 yards). 10-15 minutes.

  • Get players to pick an opponent.
  • Each pair will play a 1v1 shielding battle in 5×5 – 7×7 area. If you have a spare player, they can join a group to play 1v1v1.
  • Each player has a ball and tries to force the other player out of the area to score a point.
  • Find a new opponent after set period of time e.g. one minute.
  • Progression: Only one player has a ball. The other player tries to take possession from them. Switch roles after 1 minute.
  • Make area smaller (approx. 4×4).

Training Activity 1: (area: 20×20 – 20×30 yards). 15-20 minutes. King of the ring variant:

  • Arrange players so attackers slightly outnumber defenders.
  • All of the attackers and defenders share the same area.
  • Each attacker has a ball.
  • The defenders have to win the ball and keep possession.
  • If the defender can win possession, they immediately swap roles with the attacker as the game continues.
  • If the defender knocks the ball out of play, the attacker remains in possession.
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Training Activity 2: (area: 30×40 – 40×60 yards). 15-20 minutes. Shielding Game:

  • Arrange players into two equal teams and play a regular game.
  • Mark out a number of 5×5 boxes randomly around the pitch.
  • Before the team can score, a player needs to have the ball in one of the boxes for ‘X’ seconds.
  • The count starts when the defender enters the box.
  • If possession is lost or the ball goes out of play, the team loses the ability to score and have to complete the challenge again.

Unconditioned game: (area: 38×50 -45×60 yards).

Additional challenges can be applied if desired. Don’t forget the cool-down (5-10 minutes).

Rhythmic movements and static stretching.

Key questions:

  • How can you protect the ball?
  • How can you use your body to protect the ball? Why might keeping the ball moving help?
  • What different things can you do to keep the ball?

Possible challenges: try to…

  • Use your body to protect the ball. Keep the ball on the safe side.
  • Keep the ball moving.
  • Shield the ball in different areas of the pitch.

You can buy The Soccer Sessions Book: 87 Prepared Practice Sessions for Coaching Youth Players by Paul Robinson, published by Meyer & Meyer Sport on and

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