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1v1 Attacking Skills

Ages 7+; Materials: Cones, balls, pinnies; Players: 4+

The minimum number of cones needed to adequately mark the exercises is two for each player (preferably the flat kind). However, the markings are more ideal if four cones per player are available, with the extra two preferably, though not essentially, of the short upright triangular kind. The main exercises require one ball for every two players. However, the preliminary warm-up exercises require one ball for each player to be done properly. It is strongly desirable to have pinnies available for at least half the players for the end-of-practice scrimmage.


This practice focuses on developing the essential skills that an on-ball player needs to get past a defender who is trying to keep him away from the goal. To build success, the practice gives the attacker ample time to control the ball and face the defender, rather than exposing the beginning attacker to more intense pressure when the ball is received.

Efficient Field Pre-Setup

This practice lends itself well to an initial setup that minimizes the amount of cones that must be moved to set up each succeeding exercise. For most of the exercises, your players will be divided into groups of either four (ideal) or three (ok), as needed to make the numbers work.

EACH group works in its own grid. A minimal setup requires 8 cones per group; for 3 player- groups this means two cones per player is not quite enough, and you need two more. In an optimal setup, each group would have 14 cones. The symbols used are: (o) flat cone strongly preferred so that players can step on it without injury; (x) flat cone is preferred; an upright triangular one will do OK; (X) upright triangular cone is preferred, a flat cone will do OK.

Grids are made as follows (if 8 cones are used):

(o)             (o)

(X) (X)

(X) (X)

(x) (x)

The middle cones on each side are set to divide the grid into thirds.


Suggested Games: Classic Keep-Away: One person is the defender until they make a control touch on the ball with the sole of their foot, or the ball goes out of the grid off another player. Person responsible for either losing the ball out or to the defender becomes the next defender. For this practice, add the limitation that players must hold the ball for at least two touches, to encourage players to control the first touch. This will give them the idea of possibly beating the defender themselves, rather than immediately being able to pass responsibility off to someone else. Another option is modified Keep-Away in which every player but one or two has a ball, and tries to stay in the grid without having their ball stolen by one of the players momentarily without a ball. Defender has to make a legitimate takeaway to convert the other player into the new defender.

Directed Warm-up Phase

Send everyone the length of the available practice field and back two or three times, with each player to go as fast as they can with the limitation that they must touch the ball at least every third step. Use standard straight-ahead dribbling technique. Do stretches, then play Red Light/Green Light, with the coach asking for cuts to right or left with inside or outside of the foot. Stretch again. Now, work on the following moves:

  1. Hook the ball to the right or left with the instep of the foot, and pull it along in the other direction;
  2. Do magic hop (check), then push ball behind support leg with checking foot.
  3. Pull ball under the body with the sole of that foot, pivoting on the other foot.
  4. Do quick acceleration cut with the outside of the foot, pulling ball along so that it remains in contact with the dribble foot.

Space players along the field with plenty of room between players, and have players head towards a row of cones, trying to make a 180 degree turn as close to the line as they can and still do maintain control. Stretch again. Now, on your command, have players execute a sharp cut to the outside, followed by a sharp cut to the inside, then a sharp cut to the inside, followed by a sharp cut to the outside. Make sure to keep them widely-spaced to avoid collisions.

Individual Work

Divide those present into groups of 4 (preferred) or 3 (ok), and assign each group to their own grid. If you really have to, make one group of 5, but this sometimes will cause one player to sit out some of the time in that group.

First Exercise

Taking defenders straight on and cutting around them (10-15 min)

Divide each group in half, sending one half a few yards beyond the end of a grid 12 yds.*25 yds., and the other a few yards beyond the other end, so they are 25 yards apart facing each other. While you don't have to use the cone grids or divide players into groups for this exercise, it helps. You need one ball per group.

P1 and P2 are at the end of the grid, while P3 and P4 are at the opposite end. P2 passes the ball to P3 and begins immediately trotting straight toward P3, who receives the ball and begins dribbling straight at P2. P3 must dribble straight for P2, and waits until P2 is just out of reach of the ball to make a sharp 90 degree cut to either side, and then a quick 90 degree cut back to go around P2. P3 then passes to the ball to P1, and P4 becomes the new defender while P3 continues on to the end of the grid left by P1 and P2 goes to the other end to get in line to be a defender.

Ideally, the players should pace/space themselves so the cut-around occurs about a third of the way across, i.e. about where the respective middle cones are, and be on guard against the lines creeping together (which kills the space needed for this exercise to work). This exercise moves quickly, giving each player lots of chances to experiment with choosing the right moment to make the cut, and making the cut itself under nominal pressure.

Coaching Points:

  1. The cuts must each be made to *sharp* angles, particularly the first one, which must be laterally across to minimize exposing the ball to the defender. Use either the inside of the left foot or the outside of the right foot to make a cut right, and vice versa.
  2. The closer the attacker can safely come to the defender before making the cut and still be out of range of the defender's tackle, the better, because that minimizes the defender's time to react and turn or attempt a tackle. This is something an attacker has to experiment with to find the closest distance they can still succeed at which should be approximately two yards in front.
  3. It's easier to beat a defender who is in a position to pressure an attacker trying to get by them, if the attacker approaches the defender straight on then cuts sharply around them. It's harder to beat the defender by trying to avoid them at an oblique angle, because the defender can get turned and match the attacker's momentum rather than having to guess which way the attacker will go. A defender rushing at an attacker too quickly head-on is the easiest of all to beat, which is exactly the favorable condition this exercise attempts to set up for the attacker.
  4. The attacker should try to watch for the defender getting caught directly facing them or with their weight mostly on one foot, particularly if it's the front foot, and take advantage of it by making the cut in that direction.
  5. With or immediately following the second cut, the attacker should take a couple of steps to accelerate by the defender, ideally moving toward the space directly behind the defender. This effectively "shuts the door" on the defender, making it more difficult for them to recover and pursue.

Second Exercise

Taking defenders straight on and cutting around them, with defender restricted in movement, but free to attempt tackle (10-15 min)

This exercise has all the same aims and coaching points as the first exercise, but introduces more opportunities for the defender to pressure the attacker while still restricting the defender's pursuit with conditions that favor success for the attacker.

If you have set the grids up so that they are side-by-side, then you can use the same grids for this exercise. You will need about 3-4 grids, which form a chain of boxes to create a Tunnel of Death. A defender is placed at the top of each box in the Tunnel.

Attackers take turns going through the Tunnel, taking on each defender in succession. Defenders are free to tackle for the ball, BUT must always keep at least one foot touching the cone. They can switch feet, but this slows them down which is the whole point of the restriction, in addition to limiting their ability to pursue the attacker. Switch attackers and defenders periodically.

Coaching Points: The coaching points are identical to those in the previous exercise. However, the object here is to give attackers a chance to experiment with defenders who offer some realistic pressure, but in an amount the attacker can control by how close they dare come before making their cuts.

  1. The main point of emphasis is to discourage attackers from taking the lazy way out by going by wide of where defenders can possibly reach and still touch their cone.
  2. Attackers must keep moving forward, and not dally indecisively just out of reach of each defender trying to get courage/thinking up a way to go by. Just do it, and if it doesn't work, try something else, but try something each time, quickly, and keep moving! There is no time to stop and think in a game.
  3. The attacker should be discouraged from simply blasting the ball by D1 so hard it can be gathered or simply whizzes past the next defender as well, without being gathered in-between under the control of the attacker. This is about learning to beat a defender under control, not kickball or blast-and-outrun, which is totally inadequate to rely on in games.

Continue this exercise, but give the defenders increasing freedom by allowing them to roam freely on the line. For more advanced players, you might allow the defenders to defend at walking speed in their own box. Ultimately, you will want to allow the defenders to defend at full speed, but it will take a lot of practice before your players will reach this stage.


Take a short break, and set up the field for an end-of-practice scrimmage. Instead of goals, however, initially set up two opposite, shallow zones at each respective end, but otherwise make the field a small normal size suitable for the number of players.

Divide players into two teams, with goals being scored by making a controlled touch on the ball in your own shallow goal zone (which encourages ball control, and not kickball or blasting it unthinkingly). Start play with restriction that each player cannot pass it to another player before the second touch to encourage thinking about taking on a defender rather than immediately kicking it off to another player's responsibility. Eventually, add a pair of cones at either end as goals and end with an unrestricted scrimmage to goals but still encouraging players to take defenders on 1v1.

Updated 11 April 1999
Overview | Principles | Resources | Guidelines | Practices | Game Day | Very Young | More Reading