Composure Zones to Aid Team Play and Individual Development in a 9 v 9 - Training Center Exclusive

As an easy introduction to teaching players to develop play from the back without the pressure they would get in a game situation.

Builds confidence and composure in the players and you can increase the pressure as they improve.

Overload at the back. Striker can’t encroach into the 10-yard composure zone. Defenders pass ball across under no pressure until one is free to run it out, attackers can now try to win it back. Defenders can take the ball back into the composure zone for safety and this encourages spreading out and playing from the back. Be patient, keep possession; go forward at the correct moment.


A Transition game maintaining shape and balance throughout the team in a 9 v 9

Building 9 v 9 team play up through various conditions of play

  • Players stay in their own thirds to establish team shape

  • Transition between thirds

  • 9 v 9 rotation of players

  • Possible passing options

  • Overlap play from wide defenders

  • Introducing offside

  • Overload in attack to maintain possession

  • Transitions between thirds for defending team also

  • Working with four zones

Players stay in their own thirds to establish team shape

We start with 2 x 1-3-3-1-1 set ups. Players stay in their own zones initially until we get the game going.


Transition between thirds

An example: (6) bring the ball out and creates a 6 v 3 with the neutral player added also. Then a midfield player joins in the attacking third to create a 2 v 3 in there. Defending team players stay in their own zones.


9 v 9 rotation of players

1. Players interchange between zones one at a time always returning to original set-up. Check the balance of the team with and without the ball. We have created a 5 v 3 in midfield zone with player (6) moving up.

2. If they lose possession players either drop back in or you can develop the clinic to include pressing to regain the ball. E.g. If you are losing the game go full high-pressure and PUSH three players into the attacking third, three PLUS A NEUTRAL PLAYER in the midfield third and two in the defensive third.


1. Condition – Can only score if all players are over the defensive third line so reinforcing keeping compact vertically.

2. Restrict number of touches on the ball if they are able to do so to encourage quick passing and movement and to improve the speed of decision-making.

3. Vary play by encouraging defenders to pass directly to the forwards; midfield players can then support them facing the opponent’s goal (easier to support rather than receiving and having to turn with the ball).

4. If you have problems making the session work with equal numbers then reduce the game to a 9 v 5 situation using one forward, one midfielder, two defenders and a keeper on the opponents team until the players are comfortable then go into the full workout.

Possible passing options

1. Player (8) on the ball. 4 possible options to pass forward e.g. to (7), (9), (10, (11) or (N) If can’t go forward because of pressure, can go to the side to (3) or (2) or back to (6), and the keeper to keep possession until the situation allows for a forward pass again (you won’t obviously get all these options to pass but it shows how it can work).

Caution – in attack, be aware of quick counter if opponents win the ball i.e. we have a 2 v 2 at the back.

2. Discussion – You can get so much work into this session, every time you look there may be a new situation to effect. Choose a theme and stick with it and when you have established it with the players, only then move onto another theme (you can again use the same set-up, as it is so flexible).


A Transition game maintaining shape and balance throughout the team

1. To ensure the players have a chance to build up the play from the back have a 3 v 1 overload at each defensive third to begin to session.

2. We are looking to be successful with offensive play building up from the back and this gives it a greater chance of success and thus the positive reinforcement of the players.

3. As they get better at this and gain success you can change it to a 3 v 2 situation so it is more difficult to achieve. Á 3 v 2 means a 9 v 9 situation with the players developing play but staying in their own third to emphasize team shape through the units.


Transitions between thirds

1. Now we are transitioning between thirds and as a defender changes the balance in midfield from a 3 v 3 into a 4 v 3, a midfielder then moves into the attacking third to change the balance from a 1 v 3 into a 2 v 3. (7) Clears the space for (2) to bring the ball forward. (6) And (3) cover across behind the field to support and be in a good position to cover should the move break down. This is clearing the space in front of the ball and filling in behind the ball.

2. (11) Makes a run into the attacking third to be another target for (2) to pass to. If the player can’t go forward and has to play it back ensure the players behind the ball get in positions where they are free to receive it and able to support the player on the ball.


Overlap play from wide defenders

1. Here a full back makes an overlap run to provide an option for (8) to pass to. (2) Passes to (8), (7) clears the space wide to run into for (2) by taking defender (F) inside, and (2) runs onto the return pass from (8). The overlap can occur also from the middle third into the attacking third.

2. Wide defenders need to be constantly encouraged to get into good wide receiving positions to take the ball forward into attacking areas of the field.

3. The fact that (G) can’t track the runner into the middle third yet during this progression helps highlight the importance of this kind of attacking run from a wide area.

4. Likewise, (8) may change the point of attack and (3) can make the overlap run from the other side and on the blind side of striker (G). (8) covers for (3).


Introducing offside

1. Develop – Have offside from the defensive third of the field. (8) Passes the ball forward and (3), (6) and the keeper push up. Striker (G) is left offside.

(8) Passes to,(2) who moves up from the defensive zone to the middle zone to support. This type of transition movement is important because it allows players to move freely between the zones knowing they will have a team mate covering for them. In terms of the opposition this rapid movement and transition makes it difficult for them to pick players up, to read what your team is doing..

2. This means defenders aren’t just defenders, midfielders aren’t just midfielders and attackers aren’t just attackers they work to help each other through the three units of the team and are free to mix the game up. This is total soccer played to encourage the free movement of players throughout the teams.


Overload in attack to maintain possession

1. Here (2) plays the ball to (8) and (7) makes a run off the ball to support in the attacking third. Transitions can depend on the stage of the game; if your team is chasing the game to score being a goal down then (7) would probably stay in the attacking third, not immediately return to help (8) in the middle third but keep an overload in the attacking third situation there but the basis of the session is to show how to maintain a balanced shape in your team.

2. Practice movement (switching) of strikers and midfield players to move defenders around (especially if they man mark), so play isn’t in straight lines all the time.


Transitions between thirds for defending team also

1. Progression – Have players able to transition back into zones from the attacking third to the midfield third, the midfield third to the defensive third. Defenders still cannot move between zones.

2. Develop – Now Allow defending players (as above) to track attacking players into the other zones. When this happens the above situation means the defender (B) follows the striker (9) going short creating space behind for another striker to move into or a midfielder to break forward into (in this case 7 and 11). Ultimately open the game up so the players have no boundaries to use for focus and see if they can work out how to keep that balance and shape on an open field of play.


Working with four zones

1. We have essentially four - thirds to play in. The players can only play in three of the four thirds at any one time.

2. This ensures movement up and down the field maintaining distances between units.

3. Players cannot enter zone 4 until the ball goes into zone 4.


Working with four zones

The ball has been played into zone 4. Here the numbers team has moved forward out of zone 1 and into zone 2 and the whole team has moved forward one zone. This helps them maintain distances between the units and does not allow the team to get too spread out either attacking wise or defensively.


Progression development from start to finish

Set up is as follows; the field is arranged in thirds; defending, midfield and attacking thirds. In the set up we have here we have a 3 v 1, a 4 v 4 + neutral player and a 1 v 3.

Warm up: Objective: 9 v 9 with composure zones to aid team play and individual player development


Players stay in their own thirds to get a feel for how to maintain shape and how to use width in attack. Spread out in possession in a 3 v 2 overload at the back in the defending third to create a situation where the players are available to receive the ball in space and pass it forward.


Players are allowed to transition between thirds but only one at a time. The defending team cannot move between thirds to track the attacking players. When the attacking team loses possession they then become defenders and must immediately drop back into the third they started in. The reason for dropping back and not trying to win it back there and then is because we are working on offensive play and want both teams to have the opportunity to build up play. Can run the ball in, pass it in, or pass it in to a runner from your own third.


This particular type of movement is a very important one to develop in this session and the opportunities presented to do so will be numerous.


Introduce offside in the final thirds at both ends of the field. This encourages teams to move up as the ball is played forward.


Here we have worked the ball into the attacking third and we leave an overload in this third to regain possession should it be lost. This may depend on the game situation where we are chasing the game being a goal down and have to take chances.


Allow players to transition between thirds coming back as the initial movement, for example a striker may drop back into the middle third to receive. A midfielder may push on into the space the striker created by the movement.


Allow defenders to track players into the other thirds they venture into. Now all players can move between thirds but still have it only one at a time. This helps highlight how to create space for someone else by the movement of players; a striker comes short, pulls a defender with them and space is created in the area they came from for another striker or a midfielder to move into to receive the pass.


Open the game up. See if players can maintain their shape without the help of the thirds, if they can transition between units but also keep their balance. Try a game in quarters to establish movement up and down as a team.


Introduce a three, two then one touch restriction to see if the players can work more quickly and still gain success. This speeds up there decision making in the game. When it is one touch, condition it so they can take more than one touch (a pass may be so heavy they need two touches) but emphasize they use one touch if it is on to do so. This keeps it realistic. 


We have developed the clinic from working in thirds (or quarters), introduced many progressions to

work up to letting the game go free and observing if the players can incorporate into the free game

situation, all they have learnt.

I would recommend using this clinic on a regular basis and set it up for the scrimmage that is usually done at the end of a coaching clinic session.