Attacking Team Shape And Off The Ball Movement For 9 v 9

Wayne Harrison was the Technical Director for Youth for the Al Ain Football and Cultural club in the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. In his time in Charge the youth teams won SEVEN National Champions at Youth Professional Level in the United Arab Emirates in 2 years. The most successful professional academy in the country. 6 Finishing Championship Runners up. The academy was Voted the Top Professional Academy in the UAE by Marco Monte of Inter Milan the Consultant for the Abu Dhabi Sports Council in 2011. Also beating teams such as Inter Milan, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Raja of Morocco in tournaments at U15 and U16. 

Here is the second example of some Coaching Clinics he taught to the 40 plus full time coaches he oversaw; all entirely relevant to what is being taught today.

Part 1: Back Four Defending and Attacking Team Shapes


  1. Passing And Moving Warm Up 
  2. Defensive Team Shape
  3. Attacking Team Shape
  4. Coordinated Movements In Wide Areas
  5. Shadow Play Rehearsal
  6. High Pressure On The Ball
  7. Low Pressure On The Ball 
  8. Team Shape Defensive Positions 
  9. A Comfort Zone Game Developing Width In The Play
  10. Using Four Zones To Teach Team Depth In A 9 V 9
  11. One Word Commands For Team Shape And Movement

Session Plan Preparation And Progressions

  1. 9 A Side Playing A 3-1-3-1 System
  2. Two shapes with cones attacking and defending (exaggerate this difference) have them run through this a few times. Different colored pinnies
  3. Warm up: pass and move through the attacking team shape, standing still to receive, then coming to receive and pass; and then checking away to check back, but with everyone moving through the team with several balls going. Two touches. Now give and go at each station
  4. Now one ball and 9 players passing through the team with the coaches commands as to where the ball should go. Players stay on the cones in their positions
  5. Now movement forward through the field and scoring on goal in a shadow play
  6. 2nd ball for defensive team shape (using the defending cones as a guide as to where to recover to)
  7. You can have an offside line as a guide; even though no offside (to keep the distances between units correct)
  8. Encourage the full use of width
  9. Use whistle to signal the players to pass backwards
  10. Can bring in the wide players to let fullback’s get forward (visual cue when the center midfielder gets the ball). We do not do this at all in games
  11. Bring in opponents: increasing the numbers as we improve until eventually a 9 v 9. Defenders win it pass to coach, then recover into defensive set up and play from keeper again
  12. Show when their striker is pushed up and offside, let him go when we have the ball and we push up and leave him (ok they win it play a long ball and score, so what)
  13. Show areas where the ball is and who has it as to what we do at the back. for example, we have it, we push up and leave them behind us; as soon as they win it we drop back immediately to pick them up. the distance the ball travels if they try a long ball gives us time to recover
  14. They have it in their defending third, we press and stop the delivery, so we push players up, especially if we win possession
  15. We have possession moving forward so we all move forward as a team and maintain distances between units
  16. We have possession in the attacking third (even if they leave someone behind us) and tell the keeper to be the sweeper; encourage to push up to the half way line at all times
  17. Play a game with half way line rule (all players over the half way line before they can score)
  18. Emphasize as we push up and have possession, in their half we outnumber them because they may have one or two cheaters behind us, so we could be 8 v 6 
  19. Emphasize when we win the ball defending short and tight, keep immediate possession with low risk play to give us time to get wide and long when we attack and change our shape from defending to attacking.
  20. Can do 4 zones so all players have to be in three zones only (except keeper). set this up first. can explain this idea at the end when we have a game


  1. Pass and follow in the team shape. You can do this for any team size, 6 v 6, 8 v 8, 9 v 9 or 11 v 11
  2. Change the routines.
  3. Several balls going at once and everyone moving.
  4. Develop: Have players check to the ball to receive.
  5. Develop: Have players check away to check back to the ball.
  6. Play one and two touch.
  7. This is getting the players to check and receive the pass. Check away to come back into the space created.
  8. Follow the pass, lots of repetition. Two touch plays, receive and move the ball into space with a turn with one touch and pass with the second touch.
  9. Pass to the back foot of the player or behind them to move them. Player receiving can point to where they want the pass to go.
  10. Develop: Give and go, 1-2 with the player passing to you.
  11. Pass with the outside of the front foot.
  12. Now playing give and go’s, to develop the play and get lots of touches for all the players.
  13. So (1) passes to (2) who checks to an angle to receive, (2) passes back to (1) who has checked off at another angle to receive, who passes into the path of (2) running towards (3) to pass to (3) and the cycle continues AT EACH STATION.
  14. Players pass and run to the next position.
  15. Several balls should be going at once and everyone is moving.
  16. Try different shapes with the players.

Make sure players check off at angles to receive the pass so they are side on and can go forward, to the side, and back with a run or a pass. You can start play from the keeper.





Players transition from a defensive shape to an attacking shape on the coach’s command.




Wide players cut inside to create space outside for fullbacks to overlap or to receive to their feet running at the defense.  

Have the players pass the ball around and then when it arrives at (6) that is the VISUAL CUE for the coordinated movements wide to make it easier for the players to understand when and where to make the runs.  


These two diagrams show both sides going at the same time but realistically it is better that one goes only to ensure we have stability at the back should the move break down.

When we go to an 11 v 11 with this system of play both fullbacks can go; as will be shown. So, we are preparing the players for these types of movements at a younger age so when they progress to the 11 v 11 they are already educated and trained in this.



Here the coach could dictate the movements to help the players more easily understand what to do. So, he could instruct the players to pass from (4) to (3) to (6) to (10) to (7) to (9) to shoot on goal. At the same time, he will have shown the players the interchanging movements to make to ensure this phase of play is developed correctly.

Once the players are comfortable with this they can then make their own movements and own decisions on where and when to pass.



Here (11) has pressure on the ball. (A) Cannot pass the ball forward, and this allows (2), (3) and (4) to push up to the half way line and condense the play from the back. Leave the opponents in an offside position (even though we do not play offside at 9 v 9).

If (2), (3) and (4) take their defensive shape off (C) and (B) and drop back then our team shape is wrong in this situation.



Let’s say (9) is close enough to close (D) as the ball travels to him. This is the BEST SOLUTION if it is possible to implement it quickly. High pressure close to the opponent’s goal may result in a quick shot on goal on regaining possession.  

High pressure like this also saves a lot of recovery runs for the rest of the team, instead they push up and close down the spaces in front of them and do not worry about the ball in behind them because the delivery has been stopped by (11) and (9) at the source.



Here, just as an example (because (9) would or should have closed down (D) already) we have (D) free and as the ball is played to him there will then be no pressure on the ball, so the opponents can play it forward. As the ball is travelling (2), (3) and (4) have to anticipate long balls to unmarked (B) or (C) that are free.  Practice: “When and where to Drop”    

By the time the ball arrives forward they should have enough time to recover back into position. The rest of the team can use this situation of a long forward pass to recover back too for the next phase on play.




Players drop back into position to avoid the ball being played in behind them.


Here we have possession and are moving forward and (6) has passed to (10) who is now in a shooting position.    

Use a CONDITION that the team cannot score unless all the team (expect the keeper) are over the HALF WAY LINE. This teaches the team to push up from the back; as if they score the goal is disallowed if they are not up over the half way line. This also trains any defenders you may have who mentally switch off and do not push up or are just lazy to do the right thing and get up as a unit.  

As they move to the 11 v 11 game and offside is applied, this will be a good education, IN ADVANCE for them on pushing up and leaving players offside and forcing them to work back (something strikers do not like to do). 




  1. If a player breaks wide into the outside channel on either side of the field and is in possession of the ball this player cannot be tackled. Defenders are not allowed into the channel.
  2. The players on the team in possession of the ball can run the ball into the channel or have it passed to them into the channel.  
  3. This condition plants the seed in the mind of the players to immediately play with width when in possession. Numbers for this game can be 3 v 3 and upwards.
  4. Our offensive team shape to begin. Four players give us width in attack.

Develop: The wide areas can be used to practice certain moves the players have been taught, especially at the younger ages where they need to be able to practice them without pressure. This allows for them playing in a game but also doing the move without pressure. 

Coaching Points:

  1. Create space wide when in possession of the ball  
  2. Building play from the back  
  3. Using width to attack  
  4. Developing Overlap runs

Both fullbacks (2) and (3) push forward. They interchange with the wide attacking players (7) and (11). (7) And (11) cut inside forming an offensive three in attack with (9).

This is a big overload from both sides of the field so (6) needs to sit in and cover for this should the opponents win possession and counter attack.

Players make movements off each other. Overlapping fullback (2) Gets the ball and has options in front of him, he can play a team mate in or run the ball to get into a crossing position.

Alternatively it could be the fullbacks (2) and (3) cutting inside and the midfield players (7) and (11) staying wide.


An alternate way to play is have both fullbacks break wide initially to offer to receive the pass in the buildup.

Once the side to attack down has been established we can then have our opposite side players adjust as shown, (11) still attacking but (3) dropping back in to cover in case of a counter attack. This gives more freedom to (6) to support the attack.  

Here we see the continued movements of the players in the attacking phase of play. We are compact from the back as the players move up the field to get up to the half way line as their guiding position.



Introduce 5 players to give an overload for the team you are coaching to give them the opportunity to have initial success.  

Opponents can only “shadow” the outside players and cannot enter the outside comfort zone.

Players can only stay outside in the channel with the ball for a few seconds then must make their move inside either passing it in or dribbling it in or it becomes too false a set up.

Building the session up using an overload situation to gain success.

Gradually increase the number of opponents until you finish with a 9 v 9 game situation. Building the numbers up as opponents should ensure a progressive situation where each stage of development is successful.



DEFENSIVE TEAM SHAPE: The team maintains its shape by only occupying three of the four zones.

Short and tight. If we are ultra defensive and playing low pressure it may be only two zones we occupy.


OFFENSIVE TEAM SHAPE: Now we have our offensive shape and the team pushes up with them all still in three out of four zones (except the keeper).

Wide and Long.



Just a one-word signal can organize a back four defense so everyone knows what to do and reacts together as a unit. Also, midfield players close by can react off the call too.

One-word calls ensure everyone will know quickly and effectively what they should do as a unit and as a team.

Hence the back players (and the keeper) can organize their movement as a unit (and therefore influence those in front of them) from five one-word commands. The momentum is triggered from the back and runs forward through the team to the strikers.


Game situation

The Opponents have the ball and pass it back towards their own goal for example or we pass the ball forward maintaining possession.

The coach can move around the field with a ball and the team can take their shape from that also.

All the movements are without a ball to begin.

Here in the game the players move up the field only up to perhaps five yards in distance (it may be only one or two yards), edging out waiting to see if we win the ball then they can apply the OUT call. 

Also it can be when we pass it forward and move up as a team. 

Units move up together maintaining the same distance between each other. They move up a short distance then reassess the situation (and reorganize) depending where the ball is. 

If it goes back again (we force them to play it back as a team) we can move a short distance up again. 

If they pass it a long distance back then as the ball travels back we travel forward too and it can be the OUT call instead (see next slide).


Game situation

We have the ball and have played it forward into the attacking third for example and kept possession (or not, maybe just played it behind the opponent’s defense and it takes time for them to get the ball and turn and pass it forward again). It can be a big movement forward of the team.

At Practice: The coach can move around the field with a ball and the team can take their shape from that also.

The team sprint out together on the OUT word until you say sit or stop in the practice, they then stop moving and sit down and you assess their spacing between players and between the three units. 

As they get good at this, speed up the commands until they are moving around the field quickly and efficiently with correct spacing. Eventually you can say the different words and all they do is stand still not sit on the stop command (in practice) so you can move them around the field at a faster pace working the transitions.


Game situation

Holding the line at the back of the defense and staying in the same place.  The back defenders neither drop nor push up. This could be when the opponents have the ball but there is pressure on the ball so can’t play it forward. 

The two opponents are included to show how this situation works; you wouldn’t necessarily use them in this practice though it may help the players to understand it better. This is a tricky situation to identify for the players and relies on good officiating plus positive direction from the player in charge. 

This can occur even if the opponents have the ball and are facing forward with it but the defending pressing player or players prevent the forward pass effectively. 

Decisions have to be instant here.

Our team lets the opponent’s strikers run off side.  Players can also use the UP call too in this one, just pressing a little to work the opponents’ strikers if there is pressure on the ball to prevent the forward pass. This makes it even more obvious the opponents have run offside as the distance between them and the back four is greater.


Game situation

They have the ball and are moving forward with it playing left to right; we are playing right to left.

Here the team drop back together recovering back to the goal. 
Again, it isn’t all black and white here as to when this happens but a situation could be when they have the ball and are moving forward and there is no pressure on the ball so the player on it can pass it forward and maybe in behind our back players for their strikers to run onto. 

To avoid this we drop back as a team behind the ball but in the game the closest player would go to the opponent on the ball delaying the forward pass to allow others more time to drop and get back behind the ball. 

For ease of practice to highlight the movement here we work all the players together to get the point across.

More attention to detail shows that you can break the situation down further to the player on the ball facing forward; 

  1. Do they have their head up and hence can see a forward run and play the ball in quickly and therefore the back four must drop, or: 
  2. Has the player got the ball at their feet and are facing forward still but their head is down and hence they do not see a potential run and in fact delay the forward pass long enough for us to actually DROP; HOLD the line or even press up with the UP call.

This delay may just give enough time to the closest player to the ball on our team to be able to apply pressure and thus stopping the forward pass.

Another variable, if the furthest striker is alongside the deepest defender, if that defender recognizes the moment quickly enough then that player can push up and play offside (and call UP) even with the opponent facing forward and ready to pass.

We rely on good officials to catch this!! 


Game Situation

Here the opposition has played the ball into a very wide area and we all move across the field.

Slide can be used when the opponents are taking a goal kick so there are players around the area where the ball is to be kicked.

Moving across the field, don’t take it literally at 90 degrees it could be diagonally in a game (45 above) but for our practice you could have them moving across the field like this just to get the idea across. 

In the game the ball may have been passed wide in the opponent’s possession and we move across the field as a team to close all the spaces around the ball to try to win it back.


Ultimately move the players around the field with the various commands keeping them in motion. You can introduce other players to pass or run the ball around the field and they must adjust off where the ball is. The team can only intercept passes not make tackles as we want them to move around the field off the ball.  

Once they intercept it they can attack the goal and try to score as a reward. Introduce this method into an 11 v 11 game situation as the final progression.


The team need to learn that the shout is SLIDE one second; then within a moment it changes to UP (maybe they passed it back), and within another moment the call is DROP (as they line up to pass it forward), then it may be the OUT call within another second or two because we won the ball and passed it forward quickly giving us valuable time to get out.

Train the players to be able to makes these decisions quickly and effectively, offer lots of situations where this happens and have them practice it.

Mistakes are expected, so we must correct them, and the time to make them and correct them is in training.