Teaching Beginning Passing Tactics to Soccer Players 8 Years of Age and Under.

Posted on Sep 21, 2012 in CoachingCoaching Youth SoccerU7U8U9

Teaching Beginning Passing Tactics to Soccer Players 8 Years of Age and Under (U9)

By Dan Stratford

If there is anything I take pride in as a soccer coach it is this: I am open minded and always willing to learn something new. After 24+ years as a licensed, professional soccer coach who has over 1,000 hours of experience coaching kids from 9 years and younger to high school state champions to professional soccer players I am humbled by what 9 year olds and un trained parents teach me nearly every day.

In the last two weeks I have had two 2 coaching epiphanies:

  1. I feel like I cracked the code on teaching basic passing tactics and support to 8 year olds.
  2. I realized how to teach 7 and under kids how to perform kick-ins in 4 v 4 or 3 v 3 soccer leagues. You can read about this post here: Teaching “Kick-ins” to U7 Players

Teaching Beginning Passing Tactics to Soccer Players 8 Years of Age and Under…

Historically I have gone through this process of teaching young kids how to pass in soccer:

  1. Teach the techniques of passing
  2. Gradually introduce them to the concept of teamwork and team passing.

At a 20,000 foot view, that sounds great, right?

Of course, as we all know it’s the “how” to do this that is the toughest challenge.

I will write another post soon on the passing technique strategies I have uncovered, but today I want to address a technique for teaching beginning passing tactics.

As I mentioned before, I gradually introduce players to the teamwork concept and team passing.

One of the ways I do this is by teaching first 2 vs. 1 attacking. After all, if your players cannot competently, confidently and consistently execute a successful 2 vs. 1 attack, then how can you expect them to execute 5 vs. 5, 8 vs. 8 or 11 vs. 11 attacks!?!

After a session a few weeks ago of teaching 2 vs. 1 attacking to my U9 girls team, and then finishing with a team scrimmage, a parent said “I wish they would ‘call for the ball’”.

I usually get annoyed by this, because many coaches often tell their players to “call for the ball”, but do not explain how to call for the ball.
A light bulb went off for me at that moment:

I remembered the first time I played soccer as a youth with fairly well-coached soccer players (which was rare 30+ years ago in the US), I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I received the ball I immediately heard players around me saying things like “Trail” (if they were open behind me) and “Square” if they were open next to me. This was incredible and comforting to me because without even looking up I knew where support was.

When I teach 2 vs. 1 attacking, in the initial phase I emphasize the need for the supporting player to stay square from their teammate with the ball. So as one person is dribbling forward the other players stays even, and MUST avoid the temptation to move ahead of her teammate. This gives the person with the ball the best passing options and makes it more difficult for the defender to stop the dribble AND the pass.

It takes significant reinforcement to get the supporting player to stop moving ahead of their teammate, because they feel that being closer to the “goal” is better.

The challenge we all have is that while trying to get your young team to master this basic soccer tactic, you still have to play games in often a 5 vs. 5, 8 vs. 8 or more soccer environment. It is difficult to immediately apply 2 vs. 1 principles in a larger scale game, unless you constantly stop the match to point out 2 vs. 1 situations.

Here is the simple solution I employed that answered many of the challenges I referred to above:

I implemented this rule during the 2 vs. 1 activity:

  1. I require the supporting player to say (loudly) “square” when they get square, and while they are square. I would rather they say “square” 10 times than only once, but I hope they aren’t shy and say it 2-3 times.
  2. They are not allowed to say “square” unless they are square, and not allowed to receive a pass unless they say “square”.


  1. The players begin to associate what square means with the action of actually getting square.
  2. They reinforce their own behavior because they are saying what they are doing.
  3. It helps the supporting player stay focused on their responsibility of providing support.
  4. Their teammate with the ball feels supported.
  5. They are better prepared for team play as they get older.
  6. When we go to a full field scrimmage, the players know if they want the ball they need to get square of the person with the ball and call for it.
  7. We do not get called for offsides in games, because my players are rarely offsides-they are square.

Notes and Points to Emphasize:

The person with the ball should always consider the option to dribble. Many times dribbling is the right choice. When this happens, every once in a while point out  that because the support was square, the defender was distracted, so the attacker with the ball had an easier time beating the defender.

Keep in mind, this is beginning level recreational soccer transitioning from 3 vs. 3 or 4 vs. 4 to more team play, and that during the 3 vs. 3 stage and 4 vs. 4 stage in their development dribbling was the focus 90%-100% of the time.

That being said, even if your players are “more advanced” covering these basics is rarely a waste of time. Can your players consistently and successful execute a 2 vs. 1 attack?

During the practice scrimmage and the Saturday game I emphasize that defenders are to get square of defenders, midfielders are to get square of midfielders, and forwards are to get square for forwards.

Is important that the player with the ball knows that when they hear “square” it means they have a passing option-beating their opponent with the dribble is still an option and is often the better choice. The person with the ball needs to learn and discover when and what choice to make. They will make mistakes and learn from them with the help and encouragement from the coach.

I also taught the forwards to say “up” when they want the ball from the midfielders (but only when they are “up”) and the midfielders to say “up” when they are ahead of the defenders.

Notice I am not spending a lot of time on telling them when and where to run during the scrimmage, only telling them to look for opportunities to get square and to get up for their teammates.

As we get more advanced and begin to work on possession soccer with a lot of back passes we will begin to implement the word “trail” for support from behind.

Now as a team we have a language we all speak that is concise, uniform and to the point.

Again, you need to encourage them to dribble to beat players in a 2 on 1, not just encourage the pass. Especially when they recognize the defender is positioning him or herself to mostly defend the pass.

Next steps…
We need to begin to implement overlap and blind side runs in the context of 2 vs. 1, especially as we progress to 2 vs. 2.

As our opponents begin to do a better job of marking up we are going to have to emphasize that they may not want to say “square” or “up” if they are not actually open :).