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Attacking and counter-attacking

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

    Key objectives

    Players will develop their understanding of:

    • creating space and communicating to beat the opposition
    • passing with accuracy and with the appropriate weight
    • counter-attacking quickly to maximise the space behind their opponents.

    Attacking and counter-attacking

    Session plan

    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.


    It’s important to think carefully about progressions. Learning doesn’t happen straight away, as players will be figuring everything out at first. Constantly changing the game can mean players miss the opportunity to learn. So, give them a chance to have a go at solving the problems they’re facing in this activity.

    After a while, if you feel your players are having consistent success – or need additional support – you could progress the game to alter the difficulty of the challenge.

    Whenever you decide to progress the activity, think about using the STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002). However you adapt the session, make sure you keep it fun, highly engaging and appropriate for your players.

    If you want to progress the activity, you could remove the safe zone or even add a timer to encourage faster play.


    After you have looked at the session above, ask yourself the following questions:

    • How would you adapt or tweak the practice to make it appropriate to your own players?
    • What additional challenges could you set to make the practice easier or harder for individuals or your group?

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

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