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Stay on the pitch

    Former FA county coach developer, Sally Needham, challenges players to keep the ball under control and on the pitch to avoid facing an overload in this small-sided game.

    Key objectives

    Players will develop their understanding of:

    • staying on the ball in tight areas
    • working together to keep possession
    • assessing options to make the most of an overload.

    Stay on the pitch


    Session plan

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


    Set up an area that’s appropriate for the age and ability of your players and place a goal at each end. A larger area will give them more room, making it easier to keep the ball in play. A smaller area will make that task much tougher.

    Sort the players into two teams. In this instance it’s a 5v5 game, but it can be adapted to your numbers. How teams are selected should be in your planning for the session. Think about if it’s necessary to put players together for deliberate reasons, rather than always being randomly created.

    How to play

    Like a normal game, both teams look to score as many goals as they can and have fun doing so. But here, there’s also an extra emphasis on keeping the ball under control to make sure it doesn’t go out of play – there's a twist if it does.

    This encourages both sets of players to think about how they can use the space available to them and work with their teammates to look after the ball more carefully. It also increases the chance of players staying on the ball and playing shorter passes rather than kicking it long.

    So here’s the twist. If a player takes the ball out of the playing area, or it bounces off them and goes out, they have to come off the pitch for one minute. They can come back on when the minute’s up, or if the ball goes out off another player before then. At first, only one player can be off the pitch at any one time.

    This overload gives both sides a problem to solve. In a short amount of time, the underloaded side need to work together to keep possession despite having fewer players, while the overloaded side have to figure out how they can take advantage before the numbers are even again.

    Whoever puts the ball out next takes their place on the sideline, while the player who was previously there gets back into the game.

    If the side with fewer players score, their teammate comes back onto the pitch, and one of their opponents has to take their place on the sideline.


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

    If you notice that one or two players understand the game and are forging ahead, you could set them individual challenges. If everyone understands it, that might be the best time to add a progression.

    In this example, the players are coping well with the game, so further constraints are added to make it more challenging. First, players have to score when they shoot, otherwise they go off for a minute. This encourages both sides to look for options and to get into better positions before shooting. Again, only one player at this point can be off the pitch.

    After this, the change is made that players aren’t just a like-for-like swap if they put the ball out. This means multiple players can be on the side waiting to come back on when their minute is up – or if their team score a goal. Both sides have to have at least one outfield player remaining on the pitch, though.

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


    Now you’ve watched this session, 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 session with your team, let us know how you get on by posting in The FA Community forums.

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