Without effective passing technique, no soccer team will really be a soccer team. It will just be a bunch of individual players.
The effectiveness of a team’s passing game can make the difference between a team that’s still learning the basics and a team that’s ready to play matches – and win them.
The connection between getting possession, maintaining possession, and using your teammates to turn possession into fluid, progressive play that can take you from defense, through midfield, to offense and goal scoring.
In fact, without a strong passing game, it’s unlikely any team will win a soccer match because they won’t be able to use interconnected play to extend from one mode of possession to the other.
So, drilling passing techniques is essential, so players:
- Anticipate the right pass to make, and
- Can make the pass effectively, reliably, and despite distance or potential interference
The following drills will help turn your soccer team into pass masters.
Soccer Passing Drills to Keep the Ball Moving
1. 1-In 1-Out
Focusing on passing, receiving, and turning skills, this drill involves players forming four lines in a square shape, with one player starting in the center.
Each player passes the ball to the player in the center, who turns 180 degrees and passes the ball to the front of the opposite line.
The center player follows their pass and joins the back of the line. The player who made the pass follows it into the center in time to receive the next pass, and so on until everyone has been in the center.
- Impress on players that they should try to pass the ball accurately along the ground
- Enthuse your players to use the inside of their foot for passing, and to make passes their teammates can receive
- Vary the distance between the lines depending on skill level
- The more skilled your players, the faster the pace, to train them in passing on the run
2. 4-on-3 Attack
This helps build the decision-making, passing, and dribbling skills of your players.
Use cones to mark out a playing grid roughly 30 by 30 yards. Put a full-size goal at one end.
Divide your players into two equal teams, with defense including a goalie in the goal, and the other members of that team line up either side of the goal.
Bring four players from the offense team into the grid, and have three players from defense pass to them, then try to defend against their attacking maneuvers.
When either the offense scores, the defense intercepts the ball, or the ball goes out of bounds, new players for each team are selected.
When everyone on one team has been in defense, the sides are switched and they become the offense for the next round.
- Focus on speed of attack, and fluidity of motion in defense, to build your players’ confidence in their instinctive decisions
- Encourage strategic decision-making on whether to pass or shoot, and encourage both attackers and defenders to work together as a unified team towards their goals
3. Grid Passing
This drill should build confidence in first touch play, with players keeping the ball close.
A drill for two players, each of whom stays within their own small cone-square (say 3×3 yards), roughly 10-20 yards apart (depending on age and skill level).
Partners pass the ball back and forth to one another, without ever coming out of their square.
Every time a player’s first touch goes outside the square, their partner gets a point. The player with the most points at the end of a predetermined time wins.
- Impress the importance of accuracy on your players, rather than power in this drill Ideally, passes should be across the floor – more aerial versions of the drill can be used, but as a separate drill
- Teach players to reduce the time between their first and second touches
4. Guard the Castle
This drill focuses on improving passing skills, especially angles and accuracy.
Set a soccer ball on top of a disc cone. That’s ‘The Castle.’
Allocate one defender and three attackers.
The defender must try to keep the castle from ‘falling’ – the ball falling off the cone – while the attackers work together, using passing skills to get clear shots at the castle. When the castle falls, the players change.
- Encourage attackers to work together and keep moving and passing, to try and open up avenues of attack.
- Similarly, encourage the defender to keep moving to narrow the angles of attack
5. Meet the Ball
This drill enhances receiving and passing skills, as well as moving to meet the ball.
Split your players into groups of three, each threesome having two soccer balls and four cones.
Arrange the players in a line, with each ‘outside’ player having a cone alongside them, and a cone 12-15 feet away, towards the center.
There should be a gap of around 8 feet between the two cones nearest the center. The middle player starts by standing in that gap.
One of the outside players passes the ball to the center, and the middle player passes it back.
Meanwhile, the other outside player passes the ball, so the middle player has to run to meet the ball in order to pass it back. And then the first outside player passes the ball… and so on.
It trains the player in the middle on meeting the ball, and all three players in effective, accurate passing.
After a pre-agreed time has elapsed, one of the outside players takes the place of the middle player, and the drill continues until all three have had a chance to be the middle player.
- This drill helps hone players’ accuracy at passing the ball on the ground
- Once players are more adept, this drill can be switched up to chip passes, drives, etc, to give more of a challenge for the middle player
6. Numbers Passing
This drill teaches accurate passing, awareness, and communication between teammates.
Split the team into two teams of 5-10 members. Give each player a number within their new team.
Inside a designated playing area, players move about as on a real soccer pitch, but are only allowed to pass to the next numerical player in sequence – 1 to 2, 2 to 3, and so on.
This will force players to be aware of the state of the whole playing area, and where their teammates are within that area.
- This can be a challenging discipline as it involves observation and forward planning. Don’t be afraid to start slow and build the speed of passing and maneuvers over time
- Encourage communication between the players, so they verbally set up their own next moves
7. One Touch Pairs Passing
This drill is designed to hone one-touch passing, no matter the age or skill levels of the players. It also develops passing skills over various distances.
Divide your team into groups of two, spread at some distance, and with a ball between them. The pair begin to pass the ball back and forth using only one touch.
After every touch, the player who has touched the ball begins to move closer to the one receiving it. This continues until the two players are too close to make meaningful passes.
The process then goes into reverse, the distance between getting larger until the players are too far for single-touch passes to reach them.
Repeat as often as you like within a given time period.
- This drill will hone the judgment of distance and power when passing back and forth.
- Make a game of it, so that each pair counts the number of passes they make. Instruct the players to apply the right amount of power when passing to each other.
8. Pass and Overlap
This drill hones the players’ passing and dribbling skills while they’re moving at speed. It helps them pass into their partner’s running path and receive a ball in the same way.
Three players in each group start around 10 yards apart and make progress by running up the pitch, passing the ball forward to a partner who does not stop running.
The aim is to pass the ball to where they will be, so they keep possession smoothly.
Whoever has the ball when the three enter the penalty box gets to take a shot at goal as a reward.
Naturally, if you have a goalkeeper, put them in, as this will also train them in anticipation and blocking from various angles.
- This drill teaches a relatively advanced skill – passing into the space where a fellow player will be. That involves judgment, anticipation, and the right power in an accurate pass
9. Pass Through Traffic
This drill builds passing, dribbling, and movement with the ball. It also develops player confidence in making shots that should be dangerous.
In a similar fashion to the pass and overlap technique, three players line up, around ten yards apart, but here, they start around the centerline.
And crucially, here, the middle player is a defender, so the two outside players must make progress up the pitch by passing back and forth while the middle player tries to disrupt them and get the ball.
If the middle player succeeds, the run is ended and the players change. If the attackers get up to the final section, they must get the ball past the defender and decide who takes the shot at goal.
- As your players advance in skill, change the size of the grid. A smaller space encourages the defender’s chances to intercept the ball during passes
- Part of the point is to encourage creativity in attacking play
- Maintain the movement in the drill, including changes of direction as necessary
10. Space Wars
This drill acts as a fun game but encourages dribbling and ball protection skills.
Divide your team into two teams. Each team attempts to knock their opponents’ balls out of the playing area, while simultaneously protecting their own balls from the attacks of the other side.
Players are not allowed to leave their balls unprotected while attempting to steal others.
When a player’s ball is knocked out of the playing grid, that player is out for the rest of the round.
When one team has lost all their balls – and all their players are therefore out – the other team is declared the winner of the round.
By dribbling to keep control of their own balls, and attacking to steal the balls of the opposing team, the teams develop several skills through the same game-style drill.
- This drill teaches players to dribble with the ball held close
- It also helps them take a wider view of the pitch and find their teammates
11. Switching Play
This drill improves the speed of play, the confidence of players, and the movement of the ball. Passing accuracy is also honed during the same drill.
Separate teams into groups of eight. Then break the eight into two groups of three attackers, and two defenders in total.
Three attackers are placed on either side of the playing area, with the two defenders in the middle.
The attackers must pass the ball through the idle of the grid without it being intercepted by the defenders.
Likewise, the defenders hone their skills at defending under severe number pressure.
Just to introduce the idea that sometimes, soccer is not entirely fair, if the defenders succeed in intercepting the passes of the attackers… the ball is returned to the attackers and play continues.
Each of the attacking groups must stay within their zones, and the defenders must also stay in the middle zone.
That reinforces the importance of strategic passing in the strike zone.
- As your players grow in skill, try varying the size of the playing area. If you reduce the size of the playing area, you make it harder for the attackers to pass the ball through the middle zone without it being intercepted by either of the defenders.
- Make sure your players keep their heads up, so that they can look for gaps in the defense and intercept the attack respectively, depending on their role in the drill.
12. Triangle Goal Game
This drill teaches your players the importance of keeping possession of the ball, while keeping both the ball and themselves in motion.
That keeps the opposing side constantly having to adapt their strategy to deal with you, rather than you having to deal with them.
The drill also helps players develop spatial awareness, which increases response time and effectiveness of eventual passing shots.
Use cones to mark out a playing grid in a 30×30 yard square.
Build a triangle, using flags or cones, in the center of the playing area, with sides around 5 yards long.
Divide your team into two teams of four players each. Add a goalkeeper within the marked-out triangle.
Each team then competes to keep possession of the ball and score goals by shooting through a side of the triangle.
Naturally, if the goalkeeper saves the shot, it is not counted.
To underline the purpose of the drill, no team is allowed to take a shot at goal without having made at least two passes prior to the shot.
- As their skill levels increase, get your players to play this drill on a smaller grid, to make the keeping of possession harder, especially through the mandatory two passes before taking a shot at goal
- Make sure players keep their eyes up so that they are looking at players and opportunities, rather than focusing on the ball at their feet
- Remind the teams that patience leading to an effective shot at goal is better than forced play leading ultimately to nothing. The drill should in itself teach them the patience of a passing game and the difference between shots that are worth going for and shots that are just flash and folly
- The drill should also instruct the goalkeeper to keep on the move, staying involved in the game and anticipating moves, passes, and shots
13. Two Teams One-Touch Passing
The two-team one-touch passing game is a drill for teams that have been around a soccer pitch a while and have more than basic level skills.
It hones the skills of ball possession and ball movement to a higher level, as players must play the game rapidly and move off the ball to support their teammates when needed.
The drill will improve the speed of the players’ decision-making and play.
Set up cones to make a square playing grid.
Divide your team into two groups, one of which start with a soccer ball. They are your offense and defense teams.
At a command from the coach, the team with initial possession starts making one-touch passes.
This continues around the playing grid until or unless the passes are interrupted by the other team, at which point, they start counting their tally of one-touch passes.
The game continues until either a set number of one-touch passes has been achieved or a set time has expired.
In the likelihood that the ball leaves the playing grid, irrespective of what they were playing beforehand, the team who last touched the ball will start the new session as defense – which is to say, without the ball in their possession.
NB – teams can take more than one touch to keep possession of the ball, but they will not get points for such moves. Only the one-touch passes will be tallied as part of the object of the game.
- As the skill level of your players increases, make the playing area smaller. Any time to make the playing area smaller, you make it harder to get passes made without interruption by members of the opposing team
- Try to keep your players constantly in motion, to best simulate the action of a real soccer match. This will train their instincts into finding openings, identifying angles, and taking their time to get the better chance of a pass
- If players keep their eyes up and open, you know they’re looking for players and opportunities, rather than obsessing over what their feet are doing to move and keep possession of the ball
Having a strong passing game is one of the main keys to having a strong soccer team.
Without a good passing game, every attacker is a lone wolf, unsupported by their pack, and can be easily picked off by a competent defense.
Without a good passing game, any defender takes on the whole responsibility of stopping any attack and clearing the ball out of the danger zone.
And perhaps most vitally of all, without a strong passing game, you can’t effectively connect your team through the middle ground.
You silo your skills in defense and offense, and have no effective way of transferring the ball from one end of the pitch to the other so you can make those chances of a shot at goal that ultimately decide whether you win or lose.
The point being that while only defenders need defense-specific drills, and only attackers need offense-specific drills, there’s not a player on any soccer team anywhere that doesn’t need good passing skills.
So more than anything other than general fitness drills, passing drills are drills in which the whole team can take part and from which they can all benefit.
Honing the skills of passing will make the whole team better, more effective, but also more unified, as passing drills make you more spatially aware, and more aware of your fellow teammates in other positions, as well as what they’ll do and where they’ll be, two, three, or even four passes ahead.
Running through the passing drills here, you should find something for every age and player skill level. If you need to tweak some things to meet the specific needs of your team – who’s to know?
If your team has an awesome along-the-ground passing game but needs more skill at chip-passes, all these drills can be easily adapted to that, or any other, method of getting the ball from one player to another.
Have fun, assess your own team’s needs, and feel free to wildly adapt the drills here so they address the type of passing skills that will help your team win more matches.