What should a finishing session look like for 5-11s?

Guide 5 - 11

Want to work on finishing but unsure how to do it effectively? Here, we look at how you can help your youngest players develop this key skill.

Before going into detail, it’s worth defining what we mean by ‘finishing’. Simply, it’s the art of putting the ball in the goal. And there are many ways that this can be done – just not with your hand or arm.

Picture this. You line up on the edge of the penalty area and pass to your coach, who lays it off for you to have an unopposed shot. One kick of the ball. Then to the back of the queue. And repeat.

Sound familiar?

While this is simple to organise and social – as the whole group is together and there’s time to chat – it’s still problematic. This is because it isn’t realistic to the game. Plus, it doesn’t provide the high level of repetition needed to improve performance.

By not putting them in a game-realistic scenario, players aren’t practising what really happens in a match. Sure, they’re working on technique, but not things like recognising where the real space is and moving into it, or reacting and recovering after they’ve received the ball under pressure.

In contrast, the goalkeeper is often over-worked to the point of exhaustion – due to facing shot after shot. They may also be demoralised by the number of goals they concede. After all, it’s an unopposed practice where the attacker has unlimited time and touches to pick their spot carefully.

It’s not an ideal activity to deliver.

To be fair to grassroots coaches who use this type of practice, they’re most likely repeating what they experienced as a player or what they’ve seen other coaches do.

This is understandable. But a brief analysis of how goals are scored, along with an awareness of the needs of the developing child, can help improve everyone’s experience.

While we all love to see – or score – a 30-yard ‘screamer’ into the top corner, analysis of professional goals show these aren’t the most common finish. Take Euro 2020 as an example. 82% of open-play goals were scored inside the box, and of those finishes, the majority were within 12 yards of the goal.

And with regards to how many players were in the box when a goal was scored, there were on average 4.7 defenders and 2.9 attackers – so roughly a 5v3 scenario in the penalty area. Something that’s not replicated by queuing up for a free shot on goal.

Raheem Sterling side-foots past Germany's Manuel Neuer from close range to open the scoring for England during their round of 16 match at Euro 2020.
Raheem Sterling scored after finding space between Germany's defence inside the box. Harry Kane did the same soon after. Both goals were scored from less than 12 yards out and from a central position in the area.

Using the data from Euro 2020 and the drive to make finishing practice more realistic, why not try:

  • making practices opposed
  • centring the action in and around the penalty area
  • using two goals and goalkeepers if possible
  • providing multiple opportunities for transitions and counter-attacks.

These elements will allow players to:

  • practise the ability to recognise space
  • predict where the ball and opponents will be
  • time their movement accordingly
  • react to changes in possession during transition moments.

Of course, the practices you deliver at your club will be constrained by the space and equipment available to you – and the number of players in your squad.

However, manipulating practices using the STEP principle can help. This will allow you to adjust your favoured practice templates to provide a variety of scenarios for your players to build a broad range of finishing techniques and mental pictures of the game. And as the basic practice template is well known to the players, it also promotes repetition via more time on task.


This will help inform how your practice is designed and delivered.

For example, if you work with young players, you need to match the activity to their physical development and technical capabilities.

While we may be guided by what happens in the professional game, we can’t expect the same performance from young children. For example, many goals in senior football result from set-plays and crosses from wide areas. These scenarios are beyond the capabilities of young players. Instead, the emphasis should be on using their body to protect and manipulate the ball in tight areas closer to goal.

Small-sided games or game-like activities are exciting to use, and they provide lots of opportunities for problem-solving, decision-making and creativity.

Learning through play is also very powerful. So, once the activity is in progress, you should try not to intervene – or, if you have to, do so by patiently helping players discover appropriate solutions for themselves.

Playing multiple rounds of the same practice supports the learning process too, as players refine their techniques and tactics. You should encourage them to come up with variations to the basic practice. The engagement and retention of information is much more effective when players are involved in the learning process in this way.

Young players have an innate sense of fairness. This means it’s important to provide balanced competition where the outcome is uncertain, as it supports a variety of experience and appreciation of pro-social values – such as fair play and perseverance.


A lot has been covered here, so to summarise:

  • Goals are scored in a variety of ways but often from close range and in crowded penalty areas.
  • Young players thrive in situations where: the activity is challenging yet achievable, the outcome is uncertain, they have some choice over the type of activity and the role they play, it’s free-flowing with limited stoppages, and they can play with their friends.
  • Include opposition and transition moments and adapt a few basic templates using STEP to provide repetition, realism, and a variety of finishing opportunities.
  • Let the practice flow, intervene infrequently and involve players in generating solutions.
  • Scoring and stopping goals is a key skill, so dedicating time to finishing practices in training is entirely justified. As a result, the players will love you and your sessions, but more importantly, they’ll learn to fall in love with the game. This feeling will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

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