Soccer, with long halves, constant motion, and lots of running, can be one of the most difficult sports to master.
Whether you’ve been playing for five minutes of five years, the constant rush of chasing the ball and barreling across the field to get a goal can be exhausting and dangerous if you don’t have the right techniques and tactics drilled into your head.
And as a coach or a leader of a youth team, it is your responsibility to make sure soccer is not only played accurately but in a way that sustainable for the players. There are over 24 million soccer players in the United States alone, so helping your team be successful is going to be crucial.
As with any sport or skill, the key to success will be the constant and unyielding practice of the right techniques. While you can have your team and players run the ball back and forth from sun up to sun down, perfecting the art of drills is what is going to matter at the end of the day.
Keying into that muscle memory will make passes and plays far easier. And if you’ve executed the right drills, certain maneuvers may come intuitively and automatically.
To help your young players execute the right passes even when the stress of the game is higher than ever, we’ve put together our top four soccer passing drills to help your players understand how and where they need to pass. These drills will aid in accurately, performance, stamina, and overall comfort with the ball.
After we go over the drills, we’ll also be taking a look in our Player’s Guide at what you can do to further the team aside from the following drills, as well as ways you can modify these drills to best match your player's age, skill level, and ability.
What To Look For In Passing Drills
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Passing drills need to focus on a variety of factors that go into a pass. No two passes are the same—so focusing on specific angles and locations isn’t going to be effective. It takes a focus not only on a variable set of circumstances but a continuous comfort in executing passes to improve the sport.
We took a look at the following metrics to come up with our passing drills, and believe that passing drills need to focus on the following for success:
Let’s first start with repeatability.
The very nature of a drill is the ability to run it through time and time again. That means that drills need to use simple tools, such as cones or lines, and enact a motion that keeps the ball either close at hand to repeat the action without much delay in between moves.
That’s why many of our drills focus on two players. These drills are endlessly repeatable, as when one player has completed his or her portion of the drill, the next player is just beginning theirs.
Changing circumstances and speed are also important. As we’ve mentioned, no two passes are going to look the same, and while many passes use similar angles, it is going to be up to the player to assess the situation, make a few quick judgment calls, and execute a pass that’s going to deliver the ball to the right location.
We focused on drills that could be quickly altered to prevent a comfort in only one specific type of pass.
Accuracy and precision are also highly important to the sport, and the focus on these two similar but different metrics is valuable. Players with high accuracy will be able to hit the spot they were aiming for every time. However, players with high precision will be able to hit the same spot over and over again.
Many of our drills involve precise maneuvers that need to be completed accurately for their effects to work their magic. These drills also provide a teaching opportunity for coaches to inform their players of the difference between precision and accuracy. Both are equally valuable and equally important during the heat of a game.
Finally, there is the fundamental concept of footwork that needs to be worked one. We wanted to ensure that the drills we’ve chosen feel natural on the feet, and can be executed coming into and out of a run or a sprint across the field.
Players, especially younger players, may struggle to execute certain maneuvers without first stopping to collect themselves and re-position their feet. It’s important that these maneuvers focus instead on the ability to move through a drill or a motion without breaking or stopping. These drills can also be daisy-chained together to further improve footwork amongst players.
How We’ve Chosen Our Drills
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As we’ve mentioned before, we wanted the passing drills covered here to run the gauntlet of skills, actions, and overall value to the sport of soccer. However, we also needed to keep in mind the reality of youth teams, so variable and adjustable drills were key.
Everything from the size of the field to the length of play itself is variable depending upon the age of the players in the game. Picking drills that dictate certain yard requirements wouldn’t be feasible when some youth teams play on fields half as large as others.
For your team, we recommend taking some time to adjust the passing drills covered here for your field and your players. And if you’re still struggling to see how these drills could be implemented for your team, we recommend checking out our Player’s Guide at the end of the Overview for a detailed look at what you can do to ensure success for your players.
Top 4 Best Soccer Passing Drills
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To improve your team’s footwork, accuracy, precision, and more, try out the following four soccer passing drills to make sure that your team is ready and prepared on game day:
Gated passing remains one of the simplest passing drills in the sport of soccer. Here’s a quick breakdown of how it works:
Take two players and four cones, and position your player's several feet apart from each other. Make sure each player is facing each other, but not necessarily at a direct forward angle. Next, place the four cones on either side of the players, making sure to leave an equal amount of space on either side of them.
Next, have the two players pass the ball back and forth—aiming to land the ball within the two cones of the other player’s side. Players can move back and forth within the confines of these cones to ensure that they have enough room and time to stop the ball as it is passed to them.
This drill can be performed either head-on for the youngest players on your team, or at unique angles. For instance, if you have a player that struggles to pass to the right, pair them with a player that struggles with the same problem and place them opposite of each other.
This drill is quickly adjustable, designed for use on any size field, and is one of the fundamental drills used on practice fields around the world.
Looped passing takes the concept of gated passing and simplifies it somewhat. However, there is an increased focus on footwork with looped passing that is greater than its gated cousin.
You can set up a looped passing drill by positioning your players opposite each other on the field. Next, set one cone directly in front of each of them and introduce the ball. You want your players to pass to each other on a stated side of the cone. Either on the left, right, or alternating.
When a player receives the ball, they must pass the ball back on the opposite side of the cone—moving the ball to the other side on their side of the cone. Make sure to focus on alternate movements and never letting your players focus on one side of the cone for too long to prevent a dominant side.
Looped passing is less adjustable than gated passing or some of the other options on our list, but helps to incorporate basic footwork in passing. For younger players especially, looped passing will help build the muscle memory and camaraderie needed for continued success in soccer.
This basic maneuver may not need much explanation for those of you who have trained many students in the past. However, there is no age at which triangles won’t be important to practice.
All players will need to perform the triangle drill is the soccer ball. Have your students begin with their dominant foot and pull the ball back and to the left or the right, depending upon which foot is being used. Next, the player needs to pass the ball over to the opposite foot, and hit the ball back to the initial starting point of the ball, thus completing the triangle.
The triangle drill is perfect for enabling soccer players to receive and pass the ball quickly. The starting position mimics the natural position players will be in just after they’ve received the ball. Players can likewise incorporate triangles within looping or gated passing drills to improve their skills.
Highly versatile and crucial, making sure your players have excellent triangles will inform their motions throughout all other drills.
Touch Cone Drills
The final passing drill we wanted to go over was the touch cone drill—which heavily prioritizes footwork above all else.
This drill is one that’s going to require a fair amount of cones. Coaches can set up their field with cones aligned in a single-file line—with about one to two feet of space between each cone, depending upon the age of the players.
Players will then need to weave through the cones with the ball, passing the ball on the left and right side of the cones, and alternating. Players will need to focus on passing the ball without hitting or stepping on the cones.
Likewise, coaches can place time limits on the touch cone drill, or shorten the space between the cones as players maneuver down the pathway. To shake things up, coaches and instructors can cure the cone line to add another level of variability
Touch cone drills are complex for many, and not something you may be able to pull out for the youngest of players. However, we strongly recommend touch cone drills for other youth teams that may be interested in league play later on down the road.
Need to find a natural way to implement these drills into your practice routine?
For younger players, incorporating these motions into a sort of game could be beneficial. You could try adding these routines to other drills you may prefer and setting them up as “stations.” Then, you can move your team members through the different stations and call out incrementally when it’s time to move stations.
You can also run drills in a gauntlet-style setting. Have players complete a drill (or a certain number of repetitions of it) and next, run the next one. Players can compete for time-based prices or total accuracy and precision.
Drills need to be run repeatedly but also need to be executable at a moment’s notice. That’s why we recommend variating how the drills are executed. Changing the angles of the gated passing drill and curving the cone line during the touch cone drills are both great options for keeping things fresh.
No matter how you decide to run your game, we think focusing on soccer passing drills much like the four listed here will help teach your players the importance of footwork and passing in soccer. Teamwork and synergy are often the deciding factors in a team’s success, so the more you focus on working together, the better the odds are that your team will end the year with pride and a few awards along the way.