Functional Training to Improve a Center Forward finishing from crosses

Training should look like a moment in the game.  Address all aspects of the player in every session.


As our team creates penetration in wide areas to allow for service into the penalty area, the center forward must use his movement to create chances on goal. In this progression of activities, we are looking to improve the movement and finishing ability of a center forward, who is finishing from different types of service into the penalty area.


Set up a number of different service points around the top of the box. Place two mannequins inside the box to act as defenders. The center forward must start at the pole and attack the services delivered into the area. After each repetition, he must get around the pole before attacking the next service.


Progress this activity by removing the mannequins and adding a live defender. The attacking player continues to round the pole between reps, while the defender need only leave the 18 yard box.


Finish this activity by adding a second defender to make the activity full pressure.

Technical Aspects:
We ask our center forward to finish on the run at high speed. He must do his best to arrive on the end of each service, directing it on goal with any number of different surfaces. He should make decisive, powerful movements to get onto the ball.

Tactical Aspects:
We are asking our center forward to attack the ball in the box. He should use his movement to create space to receive the ball. We want to encourage the center forward to recognize the relationship of his movement, to the movement of the defenders.

Physical Aspects:
This type of movement requires powerful, explosive movements, good balance, and quick reactions to deflect service on goal. The players should rotate through the activity in order to maintain a good ratio of work to rest.

Psychological Aspects:
Our center forward should be hungry to get on the end of service and score goals. We must encourage the desire to attack the ball in the box. We want him to feel strong and powerful and believe he can direct every chance on goal.

Social Aspects:
We are looking for our center forward to develop a relationship with our servers. They must learn to understand when, where, and how he wants the ball to be delivered. They must learn to recognize each others nonverbal, situational types of communications.

Phases of Play in the 4-2-3-1

Phases of play in the 4-2-3-1.

Phase 1: Defensive Shape


The 4-2-3-1 in its defensive shape is characterized by its coverage of the field.  The layers through midfield and defense make it very difficult to break down with 6 players behind the ball. The compactness of the shape in defense should be short and tight.

Phase 2: Transition to Attack: Build Up Phase


The 4-2-3-1 shape transitions quickly into a 3-3-1-3. The center backs #4 and #5 split wide with the defensive midfielder #6 dropping deeper to pick up the ball. The outside backs#2 and #3 push on in an effort to provide width and drive the opposition backwards. #8 and #10 split sides in midfield, creating angles from which they can receive the ball.  #7 and #11 pin the opposition outside backs by providing width and depth on both sides of the pitch, while the #9 provides depth in attack straight down the center channel.  The important aspect of this transition is that we are able to keep and maintain possession as we move forwards up the field.

Angles created in possession

Create passing angles

Phase 3: Attack: Consolidation

Once we have successfully maintained possession across the halfway line, the shape again transitions to form a diamond between our front 4 players. The creation of this shape allows for the outside backs to join the attack on both sides, while we over load the center channel to draw numbers and keep possession.

Front Diamond
Create the forward diamond

Phase 4: Interchange of players

The interchange of players in phase four prevents us from being too predictable in attack. Any of the players can make runs in order to initiate the change of position within the team. Examples would be #7 comes wide and #2 goes inside, and/or #11 comes underneath while #10 goes wider.

Phase 5: Transition to defending: Protection
As we commit numbers into the attack, we must defend while we attack. This organization comes from the diamond, which is created at the back of our shape, between our deepest lying players.

Diamond creating our protection.
Creating defensive shape

We must do our best to establish a belief in our ability to keep possession of the ball. Only by keeping good possession can we get into our full attacking shape. The more often we can establish our full attacking shape, the more likely we will be to perform well in attack. This attacking shape will allow for us to dominate the game. We must find players with good ability to keep possession of the ball. We must teach these players to make decisions on the ball that allow for us to be successful consistently. Goals will come from the system that we use to create them. The attacking concept of the team gives the players freedom, which will give them belief that they can win games.

The most important players in the transition of this shape are the players closest to the ball. If possession is lost higher up the field, we want to press the ball. In the initial transition, #6 becomes a sweeper in front of or behind the back line, creating cover for our center backs who are split wide. If we have transitioned into our attacking shape with 6 players forward in attack, we must press the ball. The idea of this shape is to dominate the game with the understanding that at times we might be susceptible to the counter attack. The beauty of this shape is that it can easily be adjusted for different types of games.

The physical needs of our system must match the training cycles and periodization of our training program, both tactically and physically. The periodization of this shape and the effectiveness of the coach will determine the success of this type of program more so than the initial quality of players. The mindset of the players must be focused on growth, preparation, performance, and recovery.

Functional Training to Improve our ability to play through the center of midfield

Training should look like a moment in the game. Address all aspects of the player in every session.


This progression of activities focuses on our ability to play through the center of midfield. We ask these players to control the game for us by connecting our team from front to back and side to side.


Red’s objective is to keep possession of the ball. If the defenders win the ball, they attempt to keep possession, but are limited to two touches.

The purpose of this activity to is put our center midfielders in a situation similar to the game. We want them to get on the ball and connect the game for us. We want to discourage continuous movement, and encourage understanding of finding space by predicting patterns of play.



In an effort to make ourselves more unpredictable, we want to encourage our players to switch position when possible. We want the movement in these areas to be fluid and players to maintain this basic shape.



We progress this activity by adding our outside backs. More players create more opportunities for overloads. Keeping the ball in possession allows for us to get numbers forward.

Technical Aspects:

Passing and receiving are key elements in teams that value possession. Touches must be quick. Passes must be accurate. Elements of deception should be used to disguise passes and protect the ball.

Tactical Aspects:

We want the center midfields to understand where our players will be when we have the ball.  This activity naturally takes the shape of our 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. We want our center midfielders to connect the game for us. Transition quickly to win the ball back.

Physical Aspects:

We are asking these players to keep possession, which requires that they make themselves available to get on the ball. This requires quick changes of direction and constant readjusting of our position, but we want to discourage constant running.

Psychological Aspects:

We want our center midfielders to get themselves on the ball. These players must have a great desire to have the ball at their feet. They must believe in their first touch and think through the game quickly. Look for players who feel embarrassed by a misplaced pass.

Social Aspects:

These players must understand that their role in the team is to connect players. Socially these players are often leaders as they look to connect the entire team on and off the field.

Functional Training to Improve a Center Midfielder’s Ability to Turn

Training should look like a moment in the game. Address all aspects of the player within the activity.


We want to encourage our center midfielders to recognize moments when they can turn and change the point of attack. We are looking to find spaces to attack 1v1, 2v1, or 2v2 on the opposite side of the field.


A player checks into the gap between the two red cones to receive the ball. We are asking the player to turn and release the ball to the opposite line.


Players will pass and follow their pass. After passing to the middle, they will come into the middle to receive the next pass.



This progression will begin the same as above. Our center midfielder feels pressure from behind, and is forced to bounce the ball back to the first player. Once they bounce the ball, they must readjust their body shape and look to connect both sides of the field.


We are always looking for our center midfielders to create space to turn. Here they must separate from the defender so they can connect the two sides of the field as quickly as possible.

Technical Aspects:

We must be able to turn quickly and efficiently with the ball. A quality first touch which allows us to play in the fewest touches possible. Weight and accuracy of passing is key.

Tactical Aspects:

We must always know what is around us. The players must learn to recognize the correct moments to change the point of attack, based on the position of defenders.

Physical Aspects:

Turning quickly requires good core strength and a low center of gravity. Smooth is fast and fast is smooth.

Psychological Aspects:

A central midfielder must take joy in connecting the game quickly and efficiently. We are asking him to be the main cog in the team. He must be able to connect the team front to back and side to side. He must thrive in this role.

Social Aspects:

It is our central midfielder’s job to distribute the ball between all 11 players on the field. He should have a clear idea of what his priorities should be and where he will find joy. He must understand that, at times, players will get frustrated if they haven’t seen the ball recently.

Functional Training to Improve a Winger’s Ability to Attack 1v1

Training should look like a moment in the game. Address all aspects of the player in every session.

Winger 1v22

Here we are looking at a situation where either our winger has taken the ball off the opposition’s outside back, or he has received the ball in behind the outside back. The defenders are chasing to apply pressure, and we are asking the winger to attack the defenders with his dribbling ability.

This progression of activities increases pressure from a 1v1 situation to a 1v2 situation. It is important to attack defenders quickly.

Winger 1v21

The defender dribbles the ball and stops it anywhere inside the red triangle. The attacker can attack the goal anytime after the ball has been stopped. Before the defender may defend, he must first go around the yellow poll.

Winger 1v2

In order to make this activity more realistic to a match, we add a second defender to increase pressure on the attacking player. The second defender starts from the same position as the first defender. His movement is triggered when the first defender reaches the yellow poll.

Technical Aspects:

We want the defender to attack quickly on the dribble.  He must be able to run at a defender with the ball under control. This type of attacking also requires different types of release skills in order to get a shot on goal.

Tactical Aspects:

In this situation, we want to attack the defender by dribbling with speed. Either go towards the end line and cross, or cut inside and shoot. The correct choice will relate to the position of the defenders in the given situation.

Physical Aspects:

We want the player to be explosive with his dribble. He must be quick and have good balance.

Psychological Aspects:

Skill is always triggered by attitude. The winger must believe in his ability to capitalize in this situation. The ideal winger has a stronger personality in this situation and should be encouraged to express himself when 1v1.

Functional Training to Improve the Relationship in Defending Between a Pair of Defensive Center Midfielders

Training should look like a moment in the game. Address all aspects of a player in every session.


Here the attacking midfielder has turned over the ball, leaving us exposed in midfield. The red center midfielders must look to regain possession and restart the attack.

The initial responsibilities of the defensive midfield pairing is to deny penetration and delay the opposition attack. This progression of activities helps to develop the defensive relationship between a pair of central midfielders.


Blues are trying to score by passing through the red gates into a red player’s feet. This represents them achieving penetration by finding the feet of a forward or attacking midfielder.


Reds’ objective is to win the ball and counter attack by scoring through the red gates at the other end.


The next set of blues receive the ball and dribble onto the field. The reds must quickly transition to defending and prevent blue from scoring.


In this final progression, we introduce an attacking midfielder for both teams. This player becomes an active defender when the opposition cross the halfway line. This player may also be used in attack as a target player who can combine with the attacking team.

Technical Aspects:

The players must get into good position defensively. This means applying appropriate pressure and having a good angle of cover. The defenders must be on their toes and well balanced to defend.

Tactical Aspects:

The initial role of the defensive midfielder as they transition to defending is to deny penetration and delay the opposition attack. We are asking the defensive midfielder to get into a position to deny a straight pass forward. Once they win the ball they should look to counter attack quickly.

Physical Aspects:

We ask our defensive midfielders to be strong in the tackle, this requires them to have a good low center of gravity.

Psychological Aspects:

These players must understand that their job may not always be glamorous but is extremely important to the success of the team. They must be switched on at all times and focused on their objectives. They must defend while we attack.

Social Aspects:

We want the defensive midfield pair to develop a good relationship with each other. They must work together to force players into predictable patterns of play. They must be able to take and receive communication and be understanding of how their movements are related to one another.

Functional Training to Improve a Wingers Ability to Attack 1v1

Training should look like a moment in the game. Address all aspects of the player in every session.

Attacking a wide back 1v1

Our winger gets himself on the ball and races down the sideline. The opposition’s outside back goes with him to deny penetration.

This progression of activities is geared towards improving a winger’s ability to attack the outside back 1v1 as he races towards the end line.


Attacking a wide back 1v11

The winger must stay outside the line of cones. His objective is to create enough space to deliver service into the penalty area. The defender can shadow any movement of the attack, but may not cross the line of cones.

Attacking a wide back 1v12

If the winger has created enough space, he may now cut inside and attack the defender with his dribble. The defender becomes live the second the winger crosses the line of cones.

Attacking a wide back 1v13

A second defender is added to represent another line of pressure. In this case, most likely a center back giving cover to the wide back. This defender is live as soon as the winger crosses the next line of cones. The winger’s objective is attack both players with his dribble.

Technical Aspects:
We want the player to use his speed dribble and turn moves to get the defender off balance. Once the defender is off balance, deliver service or cut inside.

Tactical Aspects:
We must be able to sneak a look into the box to recognize where the defenders and attackers are in the box. The correct choice of dribble and service will depend on the position of defenders and attackers.

Physical Aspects:
We must be explosive as we attack defenders. Quick changes of direction and good balance are key.

Psychological Aspects:
We want the winger to be confident. He must believe he can take on any defender.